Letter to Heathrow Airport

Dear Heathrow Airport,

I’m writing in regards to the recent incident involving the disposal of Alyssa Milano’s breast milk. As she stated, it’s not okay. I want to elaborate on why. Then I’ve got some questions as well as a call to action to change your policy. While currently the villain, I implore you to exit this story the hero. With a little humility, you can.

Your policy on carrying breast milk through security is as follows, “If you are travelling with a baby or infant you can carry a reasonable amount outside of your liquid bag for your journey. If you are not travelling with a baby / infant all your liquids must comply with the 100ml rule.”

The majority of lactating mothers who travel with their nursing infants feed them directly from the tap. Yes some moms exclusively pump. Some are shy and prefer to pump and bottle feed in public. But most simply breastfeed their children. There is little reason to ever carry breast milk on a plane with your nursling, though I am happy your policy allows for this.

If a mom does not have her nursling with her and she intends to continue nursing upon return from her trip, she must pump. Not just once or twice or when it’s convenient; travelling lactating mothers without their nursing child(ren) must express on a regular basis, every 3 – 4 hours, regardless of flight times and travel schedules. Thus, these mothers will have breast milk in tow.

How much milk will she have? Well, the average one to six month old drinks 24 ounces a day. Let’s say mom had a three day work trip – that’s 72 ounces, a far cry more than can be parsed out in 100ml containers.

Your policy demands that she make tough decisions. In addition to having a pump, having milk storage bags, making sure she has a way to keep her milk cool, and being willing to pump in airports, on planes, in the car, at work, and in undetermined odd locations – mom has to also consider the following:

  • While she’s in a city she may or may not be familiar with, she must locate and purchase dry ice with appropriate timing before her flight so that it keeps the milk frozen and she can check it. Because she has to check it, she may have to pay associated baggage fees. Not to mention her work trip demands long hours and high focus – so she probably has a lot of time to make this all happen.
  • Even if mom times things well so that her last pumped milk gets in with the dry ice and her next pump session happens post-airport security – even if she’s a Super Planner – she’s going to have to pump in the airport or on the plane. How does she explain her milk to customs? How is it okay inside her breast but a hazard on the outside?
  • Another potential is that she hook up with local moms who need donated breast milk. She can give away her milk to a family in need. In exchange, she has depleted 72 ounces of her stash at home in order to keep her baby fed while she is away (because she’s Super Mom and has that gold prepared in advance), and she is out the 72 ounces that she pumped on her trip. She’s got to build another stash up before going on her next trip if she is to sustain more travel and keep her child exclusively breast fed. But she helped a local mom in need . . . because she is internet savvy, found a community of nursing moms, identified a recipient family, drove her milk to the location of the mom in need – all in the middle of a quick paced busy travel trip.
  • She can pump and dump. Oh God, it hurts to write that.

You can say – well, look, that’s her choice to breastfeed. That’s her responsibility. That’s her burden. Yes, that’s her choice. It’s also her child’s choice. Probably her partner’s choice. It’s her community’s choice, her nation’s choice, the world’s choice. Do we want healthy children, who are equipped with the best immune systems and set up for optimal brain development? These babies are the friends, family members, and coworkers of tomorrow. It behooves us as a human race to bend over backwards to support breastfeeding moms and not isolate lactation as their choice and problem.

With regards to your policy on carrying breast milk through security, I’ve got some real questions:

  • Why is it a security risk for mom to travel with breast milk only but not when an infant is present? Are we afraid that lactating babyless terrorists are prolifically walking around? Are you so certain terrorists don’t have access to sacrificial babies? (I know, crazy talk! But, seriously.)
  • Your policy states a parent can bring breast milk through “if you are travelling with a baby or infant”. Are you aware that the World Health Organization “recommends breastfeeding up to two years and beyond”? Does “travelling with a baby or infant” include two year olds? Three year olds? Four? . . . Six?? I’m super curious as to whether airport security takes a position on the length of time a woman and her child should nurse. Would I be able to bring milk through with my nursing five year old travelling alongside me?
  • Why can toiletries be screened but breast milk cannot?
  • What is “a reasonable amount” of breast milk? Does that amount vary for each mother/child pair? Does it differ based on who is staffing security? Can a mother not be trusted to make decisions about how much milk she carries all on her own?
  • Who induces lactation for the hell of it? Are there women (men?) out there who take medication and pump around the clock in an effort to induce milk production because . . . because . . .  I’m just curious here. Why are you so afraid of the ill intentions of lactating persons? They have BABIES TO FEED.

I understand your policy. I understand that you confirmed with Alyssa Milano that you were in fact following your policy. Blindly following a policy rooted in erroneous logic and sexism is not admirable. And, quite frankly, it’s a cowardly excuse. For example, denying women the right to vote or couples the right to marry because it was against the law didn’t make it right.

That being said, you have a very public choice to make. Women and men of the world are watching for your response. Will you dig your heels in and stand by a policy that discriminates against parents? Against women. Against working mothers. Against parents who are painstakingly trying to give their children the best. Or will you pause? Call a summit. Face the reality that your policy is illogical, based on fear, and creates barriers to being a travelling mom. Bring in decision makers. Change your policy. Be a world leader. Apologize.

Should you do the latter, nursing moms will likely rally behind you. They will express genuine awe at your ability to reflect, regroup, and choose the rational and ethical path. They will forgive you. They’re super cool and understanding like that.

Listen, I was recently in Australia attending a funeral for the baby of my best friend. Due to the sensitive nature of the visit, my nursing 12 month old stayed in the US. After 12 months of freezing any overage of milk, I had about an 80 ounce stash (that’s more than most). I had multiple friends donate to bump me up to 120 ounces so that my son had enough milk during my absence. When I arrived at the Sydney airport to return home with my 100+ ounces of pumped-around-the-clock milk, I cried hard when they told me I had to discard it. One hundred ounces. Fortunately they were empathetic. They stood by their policy, but they gathered a cooler’s worth of ice, triple bagged it with my milk in plastic car seat covers, checked it, held the plane, and walked me through security to make the flight. However, they have yet to change their policy that an infant must be present to bring expressed milk through security.

Consider the burden you are placing on moms, on working women, on families. Do the right thing and change your policy. Be the hero in this story.

Sincerely,

Rachel Saunders, nursing and travelling mom for 7 years

 

UPDATED: Below is a letter I received in response to the above letter, from Passenger Communications:

Dear Dr Saunders,

Thank you for your email.

The regulations for security at all UK airports are set by the Department for Transport (DfT) and, as an airport operator, we are in constant dialogue with them to ensure we follow their requirements.

The DfT are explicit in their instructions to airport operators that an exemption from the 100ml rule for liquid baby foods can only be made if an infant is present. If the infant is not present, then the passenger must adhere to the 100ml liquids regulation.

We do, of course, empathise with nursing mothers and the problems they face, but It is the DfT who establish the regulations and we are not in a position to advise on any future changes to the current regulation.

I am very sorry that we are unable to help you further. Should you wish to take the matter up with the DfT directly, their contact details are: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-transport/about/complaints-procedure

Yours sincerely,

Maureen Bailie
Passenger Communications
www.heathrow.com
www.twitter.com/heathrow
www.facebook.com/heathrowairport
The Compass Centre, Heathrow Airport, Hounslow, Middlesex,
TW6 2GW

 

Here is my response:

Hi Maureen,

I fully understand that UK airport security is following guidelines set forth by the Department of Transportation. You mentioned that you are in constant dialogue with them about their requirements. The fact that you regularly discuss the policy to ensure you are following requirements and then enforce them lets me know that you implicitly agree with the policy. Inaction on your part to question a policy that clearly discriminates against nursing mothers greatly concerns me. I’m not inclined to travel through your airport. In fact, in fills me with anxiety to think about navigating that scene, as I am currently lactating.

If you truly “empathise with nursing mothers and the problems they face”, stand up for our rights. Make airport security the least of our troubles. In the US, nursing mothers are allowed to bring any amount of milk through security with or without the nursing child present. We realise there is no real risk in supporting mothers’ basic needs.

Don’t just blindly follow discriminatory policy – question it, suggest revisions, support your traveling moms. Please confirm with me that you will add to your dialogue with the DfT a revision plan. Please confirm that you will actively seek a policy that trusts mothers to make their own decisions about when they need to travel with breast milk.

I would be happy to work in collaboration with you to draft such a policy. We can submit it to the DfT. You would have the support of every nursing mom in your nation as well as nations world wide.

Respectfully,

Dr. Saunders

 

Posted in Positive Guidance Parenting | Leave a comment

A Little Common Ground

 

Unexpectedly, I was in a room with Dr. Andrew Wakefield today. What does this name bring up for you?

Dr. Andrew Wakefield.

A quick Wikipedia search defines him to be “a British former surgeon and medical researcher, known for his fraudulent 1998 research paper in support of the now-discredited claim that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.” (Emphasis added is mine.)

He was stripped of his medical license, his research proven fraudulent, and his financial conflicts of interest were exposed. Didn’t he run and hide in a hole somewhere after that world-scale disaster?!

No.

He’s alive and well, and for some reason continues fighting, undeterred. For some reason, he stands by his discredited research. For some reason, he’s still touting an MMR-autism link. For some reason, he hasn’t shut up.

Weird.

Anyways, unexpectedly, I was in a room with Dr. Andrew Wakefield today. The event was standing room only, and it seemed ALL the hands were up. I didn’t expect to get to ask a question – but I did. What do you ask a disgraced doctor who falsified data for financial gain and is crazy enough to keep preaching the Kool-Aid?

Before I tell you about my question, let me tell you a little bit about my stance on vaccines.

I’ve never liked groupthink, and I tend to steer clear of anything organized. I’m just more comfortable on the outside. For example, when I was in high school people used to analyze my lunch plate and ask me, “So, are you a vegetarian?” It really annoyed me. I’d say, “No. I just don’t eat meat.” “So you’re a vegetarian,” they’d declare. “No, I’m not. I told you – I just don’t eat meat.”

You see, if I’m a vegetarian, I must be an animal rights activist who looks at you and your dead cow burger in disdain. If I’m a meat lovin’ Texan, I probably eat vegetarians with my bacon for breakfast. In reality, I’m a health conscious, empathetic human who respects your right to make your own food choices. I don’t look at your sandwich and judge you. I see a common ground that has a lot of “pros” and no “cons”. I believe we can unite on the idea that there are far more ethical and health promoting ways to eat food in this country.

Similarly, I can’t jump on board with an anti- or pro-vaccine label. It’s so incredibly polarizing. Have you checked your Facebook feed lately? To be crass, it’s a Hunger Games battle where parents pit the pro-vax cancer patients against the anti-vax autistic kids. Everyone is an idiot, stupid, irresponsible, or blind. And absolutely zero collaboration is possible. The only answer seems to be mass conversion to one religion.

I understand the arguments on both sides. I believe in protecting our children from vaccine preventable diseases, and I hear the legitimate concerns about vaccine safety.

And science. Because science.

So here’s what I want to discuss with you: 1) First, I want to share my questions. I want to tell you what troubles me. If you are pro-vax, this part might be hard to read. So skip it if you want, no hard feelings. 2) Second, I want to offer a vision for collaboration. There IS a common ground. 3) Last, I’ll wrap with Dr. Wakefield. I’ll let you know my question and his answer.

In no particular order, these are vaccine related thoughts that weigh on me:

1)   My home state of Texas has now introduced over 15 separate bills this session to limit vaccine choice rights. This is happening right now. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. Many states across the country are trying to pass vaccine mandate laws. Goodbye medical choice, personal liberty, and informed consent. This is of course in the name of the greater good. But in reality it is control over our bodies and our choices. That is anti American, y’all. It doesn’t matter if you are anti-vaccine or pro-vaccine – the point is that we are (currently) free to make those personal decisions. That right is at stake. Your new choice will be this: vaccinate your children or CPS will take them and vaccinate them for you. Is brute force the best solution? Really?

2)   Vaccines have questionable ingredients; Vaccines are 100% safe. Studies show they do cause autism; Studies show they don’t. Dr. Wakefield is a fraud; The CDC is a fraud. I’m not married to the answers here. But I do ask myself this question: If vaccines are so low risk, if they really don’t cause any neurological or gastrointestinal complications, how would you feel about injecting yourself with the shot ingredients, minus the virus part? If you hesitate at all at the thought, if that doesn’t seem completely innocuous, might it be a tad over reaching to say “vaccines are safe”? And what are we afraid of if the answer is “Well, they are 99% safe”? Wouldn’t we try to make them 100% safe? Why is there an insistence on their absolute perfection as they stand? Only 1% of the population has a peanut allergy. And we care deeply about the causes and researching a solution.

3)   The vaccine injured. Here’s the deal. 97% of the US population is vaccinated. There is a real subset of children who are permanently injured for life. The US government has actually made it illegal for these families to sue the companies who made the vaccines that injured them. Instead, they’ve placed a $.75 tax on each administered vaccine to fund a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. That’s cool, these children “took one for the team” and we’re going to take good care of them, right? Well, no actually. The vast majority of people who apply for compensation are denied because the burden of proof keeps rising. A family who believes in vaccination, vaccinates on time, and ends up with a legitimate vaccine injured child is quite frankly shunned. No one believes it was the vaccine. They are treated like they have the plague. They have to fight costly legal battles for upwards of 10 years *while* caring for their completely dependent special needs children . . . to often be denied. If they took one for the team, shouldn’t they be celebrated as heroes without question? Our society’s reaction to these victims unequivocally disturbs me. It would be like shirking the nut allergy victims, denying nuts caused their life threatening reactions, pushing further nuts on them, and refusing to look into causes and potential solutions for future nut sufferers. Aren’t we more curious, empathetic, and helpful than this?

4)   Why do we allow the government-CDC-pharmaceutical bed sharing? Why do we allow drug makers, who are paid by the government, to run efficacy tests on their vaccines that they then present back to the government? Whaaaaat?! No, really – where is the actual independent research with zero data fishing? Thanks to Dr. William Thompson, we know that the CDC has already done that research. It turns out there is an MMR-autism link. Except, wait, lemme just redefine age ranges, change my inclusion criteria, control for some extra stuff . . . yeah, there we go, no link after all. Phew!

5)   Why do we allow vaccine creation for treatable diseases with low risks of complications that by themselves offer life long immunity? Since I was a kid, the number of CDC required vaccines has tripled. Sweden currently gives 12 vaccines (we give 36), and they aren’t living in the dark ages. What’s driving this fixation on more and more vaccines – a genuine concern for public health or profit?

6)   How does an adult population who largely does not go in for boosters compromise herd immunity? We’re so worried about protecting our children from the very small percent of children who are not fully immunized, yet the majority of parents are walking around out of date on their vaccinations. Keep an eye out – a government mandated adult vaccine program is actually in the works.

7)   It’s all or nothing. Give all vaccines on the recommended schedule, or you are compromising public health. Period. But if you really sit down and think about this as 12 decisions (not one), I can’t help but wonder why we are giving two day old infants the Hep B vaccine. Unless s/he will be sexually active, using illicit drugs, getting a tattoo, or needing a blood transfusion, why is this necessary so early? Likewise, how does it make sense to give the HPV vaccine to prepubescent boys and girls? Why is it blasphemous to question this timing? Why is it impious to consider less shots at once in favor of more visits to the doctor? Why is it anti-vaccine to vaccinate?

8)   As a nation we polarize this debate. Why? Why do we want to force one side to it’s knees in submission to the other side’s will? Is there not a common ground for understanding and collaboration?

This brings me to the reason I am writing this post – collaboration. I’ll tell you a fact: Neither group is going to change the mind of the opposing group. We are spending enormous energy and dollars trying to do just that. How can we break through that tough exterior of “My way!” so that we can collaborate, not convince. How can anti-vax and pro-vax camps come together for the real greater good? Is it possible to put differences aside and effect positive change?

Here are some thoughts on how we can work together:

1)   Unite as pro-vaccine choice. Tell your representatives and senators that parents should make medical decisions for their children in conjunction with their doctors. There is absolutely no need for the government to intervene in that relationship. Tell them you do not support a mandate on childhood or adult vaccines and that you hope they do not either. Ask them to stand up for your freedom. Email, call, write.

2)   Demand actual vaccine safety. You may not know it, but once broken, a florescent light bulb continuously emits mercury vapor (a known neurological toxin) into the air. If you switched to LED or supported efforts to create another mercury free light bulb, would you be considered anti-light bulb? No. You’re not anti-light bulb. You happen to think light bulbs are pretty awesome, especially when the sun goes down. You just want a safer light bulb and know that to be a realistic possibility. When you shop for a cell phone, clothes, food, etc, do you look for the best product or settle for one that’s a little less than ideal? “This banana here is perfect, but I think I’ll choose the one with a small blemish – 99% of my banana will be okay!” Actual vaccine safety is achievable. It requires that we admit the current system is not 100% perfect, and it requires that pharmaceuticals lower their profit margins to accommodate. Demand it. It is our right.

3)   Demand CDC transparency. Give us the raw data! Let multiple independent researchers run the numbers on health outcomes. Just open source it. Enough of this incestuous money exchange for supposed sound science. Raw. Data. Now. And while we’re at it, how about efficacy stats for ALL vaccines EVERY year? Again, open source the data – there are plenty of us who will run the numbers.

4)   It’s hard to acknowledge vaccine injured families when you believe that vaccines do not cause neurological or gastrointestinal complications. Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer. And not everyone with lung cancer was a smoker. Likewise, vaccines do not equal autism. But I assure you, autism is listed on vaccine inserts as a possible side effect, and the government has backed this up with $3 billion dollars of compensation to injured families since the inception of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. So, support the vaccine injured. Believe people when they tell you that they have a nut allergy a vaccine hurt their child. No one who believes in the benefits of vaccination *wants* to turn around and say, “I think that vaccine hurt my child”. No one tries to fight 10 years for compensation without a legitimate basis. Demand a better system than the NVICP, one that adequately cares for all those who are vaccine injured. Demand that our government and society recognize and compensate these unsung heroes. Tell them you see their children. Tell them you appreciate the hours they spend giving their children the best life possible. Give them your empathy, love, and hugs. Tell them you will stand beside them in the fight for safer vaccines.

5)   Demand the option from your doctors for routine genetic screening before vaccination. We may not know every predisposition for vaccine injury, but we do know a few – and we CAN test for them. Here’s what we know:

  1. Individuals with low levels of glutathione are more susceptible to vaccine poisoning because they are less able to filter toxins out of their brains.
  2. Both aluminum and testosterone have synergistic (not additive) effects when combined with mercury. A trace amount of mercury in isolation has no effect – but when aluminum and/or testosterone are added, the effects are many times magnified.
  3. Mercury may have been almost entirely removed from the majority of vaccines (notably the flu vaccine still contains thimerosal), but it is all around us and inside of us. The level of mercury currently in your body can play a role in your reaction to vaccines that contain no mercury whatsoever. Babies can be born with questionable levels of mercury in their blood.

Before giving your child or yourself a vaccine, request that your doctor check your glutathione, mercury, and (if you are male) testosterone levels. Request they test for an egg allergy if you are giving a vaccine containing egg protein. Vaccine reaction is genetic – ask your family members if anyone in the past couple generations has reacted. Read vaccine inserts – not all brands are equal. Educate yourself on least toxic brands. Proceed with caution: when babies begin solid foods, we are advised to introduce one food at a time and watch for reactions – not six foods all at once. Don’t vaccinate blindly. Introduce a vaccine as you would a peanut. Most likely it’s gonna be okay, and you’ll enjoy the life long benefits of eating peanuts or eggs or avocados. But let’s support determining who is allergic and who is not.

6)   Last, demand research into causes of and solutions to vaccine poisoning. If we could identify people with nut allergies (pre eating nuts) and cure it, wouldn’t we? Don’t we want everyone to enjoy eating nuts? What other genetic predispositions exist to vaccine reaction? Combined with safer vaccines, we can limit actual reactions to miniscule. And for those reactions that do happen, demand research on how to detox and heal these individuals and families. Demand knowledge and support.

My question to Dr. Wakefield and the panel of vaccine experts at my standing room only event was this: Y’all have been doing this for 20+ years. How do you engage in a productive conversation? With each side so vehemently stuck with their heads in the mud, what advice do you have for actually making progress?

“Talk,” he said. “Don’t stop talking.”

Posted in Positive Guidance Parenting | 2 Comments

The Mixology of Mommyhood and Roller Derby

Breeder Crucie Jammer BeaniesBy Breeder (a.k.a. Rachel Saunders, Ph.D.)
*Photo credits to Lisa Edmondson, Jennifer Ramos and Bill Smotrilla

“Being a Mom and playing Roller Derby just don’t mix.” This is what a colleague of mine told me when I asked why his wife had retired early from the sport. When you have kids, you simply hang up the skates.

I couldn’t swallow it. I had an 18 month old when I started skating and was still rolling strong as he hit four. It was hard, especially while nursing, but we made it work. Was it easier for us because my son was past that grueling infant stage?

I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the answer to that question over the past year, as I’ve lived the Mama/Derby mix from its inception. My second son is nearing the coveted one-year mark, “when everything gets easier,” and I have new perspective and respect for the women who juggle these two seemingly incompatible worlds.

For those of you contemplating conception, for those of you currently gestating (BIG congrats!), for those of you supporting teammates through their pregnancies, for those of you wondering how, when, or if you will return to the sport after giving birth, read on. I’ll discuss considerations in breaking the news, when to stop skating, whether and/or when to start skating after birth, and some insights into the mixology of Mommyhood and Roller Derby during that critical first year.

Breeder Q Hit 2013Telling Everyone You Have The Plague
Roller derby is a contact sport.  Two or more gals, on wheels, throw themselves into each other, at high speeds and on purpose.  Beating up bitches on skates is perhaps not the smartest thing to do when you know there’s a microscopic life nestled inside, burrowing it’s tail off into your uterine lining, trying to get a secure hold.  From the instant you discover you are with microscopic child, full body contact may not be such a great idea.

Yet, most women aren’t ready to announce at 4 weeks gestation that they are pregnant.  Maybe they are worried about their spot on the team, maybe they have a history of miscarriage and don’t know if this one will make it, maybe they want to keep skating for cardio and don’t want the judgment from those who think they should hang up their skates.  Or maybe they do want to hang up their skates.

The timing behind announcing you are pregnant will depend on several team and individual specific factors:

-       Know your team’s policies on attendance, skating pregnant, and taking leave
-       Decide if/when you would personally like to stop contact and skating
-       Know your personal comfort with The Truth versus bending reality

Check your team’s bylaws. Some will have clear policies on attendance and pregnant skating that will influence when and how you tell your leaders. Some policies leave the choice up to you.

A quick comfort check is usually all that’s needed to know where you stand on contact while pregnant. You may have a harder time knowing whether you want to stop skating. Some skaters know they want to stop immediately, by the 2nd trimester, or sometimes the 3rd. Others decide they’ll stop when they start to feel their balance has shifted. Still others have no clue. If that’s true, know that pregnancy progresses slowly, and your body will tell you whether or when to stop. Personally, I made it comfortably skating no contact to 30 weeks before breaking a toe at home. Of course, pay attention to your own level of comfort – everyone is different!

Should you want to stop or be required to stop, know your team’s leave policy. Make sure to abide so that you can return (should you want to). Consider continued participation at the highest level possible – be that listening in on practices, off skates reffing, helping with drills, or coaching. Stay mentally in the game.

Be cautious of bending reality (aka lying). Gals have feigned many an injury in order to skate “no contact” while waiting out the early weeks of pregnancy – I did. This may seems legit for those who have a history of miscarriage. And it IS customary for many women to keep their news private and announce at the end of the first trimester, at about 12 weeks gestation. Because this is your team, because Derby involves foundational levels of trust, because you are always relationship building – my personal preference is to stay as honest as possible while at the same time holding your pregnancy as private as you need to. It might mean extending an injury so that you can continue skating no contact with no judgment, it might mean telling a trusted leader early on, or it might mean slightly twisting the truth. Do what’s right for you, but give the implications some good consideration before moving forward.

Pregnant JammingWhen To Stop Skating
Pregnancy bylaw clauses range from “No pregnant skating” to “Can skate no contact until 24 weeks gestation” to “Skate at your own risk” and so on.

Your team will likely have a rule about pregnant skating, and you will have your personal idea about what that rule should be – these two things could clash. Know that you may feel anything from peaceful acceptance to utter outrage at being “controlled and discriminated against.”

Rules regarding pregnancy are made with the best intentions. Leaders are usually concerned about safety – for you, your baby, and for your teammates. And sometimes rules are made by leaders who have never been faced with a decision about whether to skate pregnant. They have to go on best intentions and often err on the side of caution.

If your team has a restrictive rule that contradicts your desire to keep skating, consider opening a dialogue. Research other team policies and discuss. Talk to other skaters who have walked the gestational skating road. Educate. But in the end, accept. And find other avenues to skate if needed.

I was fortunate to be on a team whose policy was “Congratulations. Period. Or lack thereof.” I remember our coach telling me, “It’s your body. You make your own choices.” I had deep respect for her wisdom and confidence in me.

Should you continue to skate, consider your teammates. Especially as your belly grows, your participation in practice may begin to affect their experiences. Though you may feel you and your baby are perfectly safe, those around you may flip the eff out. There are those who may be desperate to stay away from you for fear of accidentally knocking you down. Should you discover you are becoming a stronger and stronger repelling magnet, you may want to extend an empathetic ear to the nervous skaters being impacted by your skating. This would be a good time for a team discussion. Balance your desires with their fears.

Breeder Helmet BabiesWhether you skate or pick up another athletic pastime, Lord knows you’ll want to stay fit! If you do prefer to hang up the skates, consider some activity to keep your endurance and core strength up. Many expecting Mamas have found yoga and swimming to be comfortable.

Breeder San Antonio 2014Whether And When To Start Skating After Birth
In Roller Derby, pregnancy is ominously referred to as “The Nine Month Injury”. But really, it’s more like “The Permanent Injury” because, statistically speaking, most new Mamas never come back.

From a biological standpoint, this makes perfect sense – new Mamas are wired to protect their infants. They are hyped up on some serious love hormones, and they have a strong drive to connect to, constantly be with, feed, and grow this beautiful new creature. Putting themselves in the middle of a war zone, on skates, is anti every biological urge they are feeling to protect their baby and be safe. Getting injured for real would hamper their ability to sustain this new life.

When I was pregnant the second time around, I asked several skaters, “At what point do new Mamas come back?”  The answer was always the same.  First awkward silence and then, “They don’t come back.”  As though my fate were decreed.

I’m sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, that’s it.  You trade your skates in for waking up night after sleepless night in a cesspool of leaky breast milk, infant vomit, blow out diapers, and tears. You’re a Mama now.

Okay, there’s that. But there’s also this unexplained addictive mad love relationship with a sport and community you may not be ready to give up. The pull between baby and Derby is intense, and there is no easy answer. Stopping all together or transitioning back in as a Mama is a super individual quest, and there will be an answer that is right for you.

Should you decide to stop or even just hit the indefinite pause button, Derby and your comrades won’t evaporate. War veterans always have each others backs. You may not be in the ultra inside loop, but there will always be welcoming arms and a gaggle of girls to instantly hang with.

Should you decide to start skating again, the question of timing comes up first. When do you put the skates back on? When do you start contact? When will you be bout ready?

Everyone told me six weeks after giving birth – wait six weeks at a minimum before putting on skates. I lasted until four weeks and very defiantly attended my first postpartum practice – on skates, full contact. Retrospectively, that was a hasty mistake. If you are as strong willed as me, I know you’ll make the mistake on your own anyways, so by all means go for it. Still, I’ll try to explain why chilling out may be a safer and saner path as you mix Mommhood and Derby.

Some Insight Into The Mixology of Mommyhood and Roller Derby
Assuming you’re a Mama who wants to play Roller Derby, here are a host of issues to consider:

Breeder Lore Centex 2 2014Pregnant Participation. While pregnant, stay mentally in the game. Participate at the highest level possible. Attend practices, participate by listening. If you are on skates but no contact, turn as many drills into no contact and endurance drills as you can. During scrimmage scenarios, be the jammer on the outside track – skate, skate, skate until the four whistles blow; try to out skate the jammer. Coach at bouts. Ref during practices. Offer strategy advice during drills. Ask questions. Offer feedback. Stay on the team.

Breeder Breastfeeding 2013The Art of Pumping. There is no way to describe the pain that is a can opener to 3 ounces of milk in the boob. Empty Those Ladies, my friends. Nurse or pump to complete deflation immediately before practice as well as after. (Minimize the time between those two nursing/pumping sessions to keep your supply up.)

If you are leaving baby at home with a partner or caregiver, it WILL pull on your heartstrings. But pump, leave the milk in the fridge, and know that all will survive. You will likely find that despite their initial protests, 5 mins later they are happily snuggling or playing (have them send you a photo/video for peace of heart and mind) – and YOU will feel empowered and an all around better Mama for having walked out that door to play Derby. Yours and baby’s attachments to each other will be strong. Nurture and grow that. Heading out for Derby practice is the beginning of small separations that will become longer and more significant over the course of your child’s life. Relish in your time together, AND nurture yourself by playing the sport you love.

Wall BirthBeware the Gina-Shinah. So you just defied physics and pushed a baby out your vagina? Goooo, Mama! However, you’re going to be sorer than you know, especially if, in a nice, low squat, you take a hip to the bum (illegal though it may be). Be cautious of contact early on, when you may not be fully healed. Ditto for birth by cesarean – being healed for contact is extra special different than being healed for typical daily routines. Please take it slowly.

Elastigirl. During pregnancy and for a while after, hormones cause ALL of your ligaments to loosen. This is great for all the stretching while growing and pushing a baby out, but this is bad-news-bear for being a safe skater after birth. It’s super easy to sprain an ankle or break a wrist when your joints are loosey goosey.

Personally, I thought this was hogwash, and I promptly sprained my ankle no less than three times in my first two months postpartum. I often said at practice – “I don’t know how to describe it, I just feel ligamenty.”

You are Elastigirl. Super power? Yes, for pushing babies out. Not so much for skating a contact sport. Pay attention to your elasti-feeling, and consider no contact until you feel less stretchy.

Shhhh, Incontinence. I know, it’s a dirty word. But it’s real. You’ll suddenly feel like a Grandma – not being able to jump on a trampoline, sneeze, take a hit, or stand on the jammer line without peeing your pants. For most women, this disappears by six months postpartum – for others, it’s a life long adventure, sometimes requiring surgery to fully fix. If this affects you while playing Derby, you might consider wearing a pad. Otherwise, just go with the flow – the tiny uncontrollable flow . . .

From Marsupial Pouch To Muffin Top. Your body is uh-mazing – it grew a baby from scratch! Once you split into two separate persons, you’ll feel the void, and your belly will take many months to shrink and tighten back up. Immediately after birth, you’ll feel like you have a very floppy marsupial pouch. If you still feel like this when you begin skating, consider a postpartum support belt to increase comfort. As the months carry on and you try to get back into your form fitting bout-fits, you may find you have a muffin top. Again, support belts. But also know that it took nine months to stretch your belly – it’s reasonable for it to take nine months to snap back. Likely no one will notice your “Mom Belly” but you. If you are self conscious, try on the badge of honor lens. You created the cutest, sweetest, most precious human being on this earth with your body – your belly is a reflection of that miracle.

Your Reserves. What, what?! You gained 40+ pounds during pregnancy? Me too. And a lot of other Mamas as well. You’ll drop 10 or so at birth, but the rest, I affectionately called “My Reserves”. My theory is that your body draws on these reserves for nursing and meeting your baby’s needs over the first year of life. It’s biology’s way of making sure your body has what it needs to feed baby if food is scarce. And if food isn’t scarce, it slowly lets go of these reserves over time.

Extra pesky weight that just won’t come off can change your skating game. Where you once felt muscular and agile, you now may feel like clunky molasses at best. Your feet will stick to the track, your reaction time will be slow, and your balance will feel off. It’s normal, it’s okay, and it will dissipate in time.

Breeder Lore Centex 2014Having The Life Sucked From You. I am die-hard pro nursing – there is nothing that will stop me from using my powers of lactation. Not even the consequences. You see, when you feed another human being with your body, it takes its toll. You consume extra food, your body works very hard to magically transform it into milk, perfectly your baby communicates with your breast to tell your body just how much to make, you expel milk when baby needs it, all while keeping your own body running, and repeat. This, in and of itself, is an exhausting full time job. But you want to play a full contact sport, sweat like a beast, build muscle, and push your endurance to the max, too? Three times a week? Go for it, yes. But know that you will feel a level of energy depletion that you may not have felt skating Derby in the past. The lactation/Derby combo could bring you to your knees. So just take good care of yourself, and get as much rest as possible.

Sleep Deprivation. Except now you will be experiencing the special form of torture that is sleep deprivation. Amazing hormones will carry you through those first 4 – 6 weeks of new parenthood, and the sleep deprivation won’t feel that bad. However, we’re building a cocktail here – you’re an extra-poundage, ligamenty, lactating, sleep deprived cow who wants to be a super star athlete and function at pre-pregnancy Derby levels. As time drones on, it’s a compound effect. The draw on your body’s resources to produce milk while only getting 2-3 hours of sleep at a time gets old by month 6, 7, 8 . . .

You may feel playing Roller Derby and being a Mama mixed just fine at month 2. Oddly enough, it’s tougher by month 6 – the height of nursing, the height of sleep deprivation, when baby is making huge physical and cognitive leaps and probably teething, too. Starting at 6 months postpartum, I often found myself participating off skates at practice because I just didn’t feel safe.

The good news is that by one year, baby is typically nursing a lot less, sleeping much more, has cut those first teeth, and has accomplished some difficult and major milestones, and may even be walking or saying that first word! In other words, it’s awesome to jump back into Derby after pregnancy, it feels great – but it actually gets harder. It all may take a bit more time than you had hoped, AND after that first year, things will start to come together.

Eat The BabyBeing a Mama and having a family is HARD work. And babies do not keep. To Derby or not – that is the question. And there is no right answer. But you have support in going the direction that works best for you and your family. Personally, I feel forever indebted to the women who supported me and allowed me the freedom to skate. Thank goodness they didn’t try to eat my baby.

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In Joy Every Moment

You know that sweet old lady? The one leaning on her cart and smiling behind you in the grocery line. The one who – despite seeing you struggle as you make pointless attempts to wrangle your unwieldy, crying children – has that look in her eye. That rose-colored glaze of an idealized, selectively skewed memory as she mouths the words in slow motion, “Enjoy every moment.”

Every moment? This moment? Do you see my noodle-limp, screaming child flinging, oozing, and flash-painting every negative, heightened emotion all over everything??? Are you for real, or just a bit delusional? And don’t just smile, do something.

Well, hold up. Can she really be that out of touch with reality? And if not, what exactly could she mean?

It’s easy to brush the sweet old lady off. She’s chosen to remember the best. She’s forgotten the pain. She means well, but she doesn’t understand how her words sting. She doesn’t get that her advice is, well, bad. Right? Maybe.

I’ve read lots of blogs attempting to explain this phenomenon. There’s the perspective that “You chose this, don’t complain.” Basically – you got pregnant, suck it up, do this Parenting thing. And like it. Then there is the perspective that, “Yes, most moments are hard/joyless/painful even, but focus on the special times.” Essentially – parenting is really effing hard (also known as RFHP), but enjoy a couple of kairoses a day – stand still moments that unbind you from time and make you pause. I mean, yeah – both of these are pretty true. Still, they leave me feeling a lot bit crappy.

Maybe there’s more wisdom to the little old lady’s words than we know. Maybe she sees a bigger reality.

I’ve labored and birthed twice now. After the first experience, I described the pain as “an undiscovered circle of Dante’s Hell.” I believed my incoherent delirious state was a glimpse into Torture. I was to-the-core scared to ever go through that process again. Despite all this, within hours of giving birth the second time around, I claimed, “I want to do that again.” No, really. Right now. I want that. I need that. It was breath-stealing amazing, and I have to do that again.

Was the pain the same?

Oh yes. Maybe even worse the second time.

How could the same pain be experienced in such polar opposite ways? What if we could do the same with parenting? There’s a whole lot of difficulty, tiredness, joylessness . . . pain . . . in parenting. But what if reality were multi-dimensional? What if we could live a little less in the pain quadrant and a little more in the joy quadrant? What if every reality had a little bit of both? And what if we could “in joy” our experience?

I know, it’s rose-colored and fake seeming to suggest that we just find the joy in each moment. That’s not what I mean. I mean that every moment possesses rich dimension. And we can play around with where to place our focus. Interestingly enough, what you pay attention to has a profound impact on your experience of time, your perception of reality, your emotions, and even memory.

I’ll give you a somewhat innocuous example.

While the adults were bustling around in the kitchen, my nine month old found the Costco-sized bottles of olive oil and balsamic. Though we’d never seen him unscrew a lid, he deftly removed both in a matter of seconds. Quietly (because it’s always silent), he emptied half the contents in a large puddle around himself. Because he’d been “a little too quiet” for over a minute, the collective adult awareness shifted. “Where’s the baby?”

My memory of that scene could have been pain. Anger at the mess to clean up. Regret at the wasted money and resources. Frustration at having to field an impromptu bath. Angst at searching the house for all baby accessible twist caps. Negativity toward the baby for creating such a hassle. And I had all of these thoughts!

But here’s what I also noticed. And here’s where I spent my focus.

How sweet the balsamic smelled! The wonder and joy in my child’s face at experiencing gravity, new textures, new abilities. The laughter of the adults. The reminder that all things – oil, balsamic, clothes, flooring – are just things. The reality that accepting what “is” brings such peace. Thankfulness for a family that seamlessly works together. I made a conscious decision to live my focus here.

Living that moment “in joy” didn’t deny the pain of it. Nor did it stop me from hopping over to the quadrant of pain every now and then. (Much of that balsamic/oil blend is, by this time, nicely congealed out of reach under my stove. You know, because, feed the ants.) But making conscious attempts to step back into joy and spend my time there changed my emotions, my perception of time, and my memory of the event. I can still smell the balsamic.

My experience so far is that parenting is a lot like labor. There is undeniable and inescapable pain. And we are committed. Like the pig at breakfast (think sausage), there is no going back – we are fundamentally and forever transformed. We aren’t getting out of this journey, and we must walk forward. So why not play with focus? Is there a downside to spending a little more time in the joy quadrant?

No matter how I try, I remember my first labor as Dante’s Hell. To a degree, I simply can’t reframe – I can’t change where I spent time in my quadrants of reality. I can’t change my emotional experience. But I know differently now. I know that it doesn’t have to be that way – because I tried it again and did it a different way.

We are in a constant state of bringing our children into being. Of witnessing. Of teaming. Of walking parallel and fused paths. We get chance after chance to play with focus. To change our experience of reality. Reality is multidimensional – and all dimensions deserve acknowledgement. We don’t need to deny pain. But we don’t really have to live in it to the extent that we often do. We can live a greater percentage of reality “in joy”. If we pay attention.

The little old lady sees your unwieldy child. I’m convinced she does. Age doesn’t make us blind to reality. But her focus is different. She sees children unfolding. She knows their story is bigger and is mostly untold. She knows this moment is rich and fleeting. She is your witness, and her smile is her love and support for you, a kindred spirit. She sees all dimensions of reality, and probably spends a little more time in joying every moment.

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The Nine Best Infant Toys

Crucie in boxA few years back, Jonathan Liu of wired.com reviewed all the toy products to narrow down the five best toys that no child should be without: a stick, box, string, cardboard tube, and dirt.  This is a fantastic list! In fact, I’m surprised these things are still in stock since I’m pretty sure we have all of them from everywhere. (If you need to borrow any, they lay on the floorboard of our collection-mobile or stockpiled in the closet.) No stick, box, string, tube, or pile of dirt has been left unseen, fetched, loved, and retrieved from the trash or recycling bin by my older son.

While I stand solidly by Jonathan’s spot on list of best toys, most of them are too grown up for new and growing babies. Infants have a while to wait before they are mobile and can fully partake in the fun. Meanwhile, parents struggle with how to occupy their mostly stationary little people, who want all of their attention all of the time.

Sure there is a huge selection of “must have” infant toys out there that are meant to satisfy. A host of overly priced and very plastic options pervade the market. There are teethers, rattles, stacking cups, plush animals, crib mobiles, and musical devices. “Make you smarter” electronics, vibrating chairs, and deluxe swings. Never mind the space takers: activity centers, gyms, walkers, and exercisers. Despite all of these niceties, parents still find it hard to get a free moment (while simultaneously experiencing guilt from not stimulating their very, very bored infants, whose brains are surely and rapidly gelatinizing).

Good news! It’s not true! Your little one’s brain is more invigorated than you know. And most of the aforementioned toys are unnecessary. Below is a list for YOU, parents of tiny critters! Here are some “toys” that are tried and true and sure to occupy your little ones as they begin to explore our world:

  1. Your face. Believe it or not, your smiling, love struck face is the single most interesting thing on this planet to your newborn baby. At birth, babies can see clearly up to about a foot. Holding and making eye contact with your baby aids brain development on so many levels – she can focus on and see you, prefers to look at human faces, listens to your words, and is looking for you to be expressive and responsive. Your mindful and loving presence is so meaningful, as it lays the foundation for social exchange. So spend ten-ish minutes at intervals throughout the day giving your baby undivided face time. It’s better for her brain than Baby-Einstein-anything. An easy way to do this is during feedings. Your baby will take breaks and look up at you. Be ready to smile and chat, and keep that smart phone in another room. (Imagine baby looking up over and over to see you zoned out.) Feeding is your baby’s first efforts at communication. Simply being present is enough to keep her brain plenty active.
  2. This Grandma is spoken for!Your body. Your baby will know yours and your partner’s bodies better than anyone else. As the primary caregivers, she’ll know your heartbeats, warmth, voices, movements, and the unique ways you comfort and hold her. Splitting at birth into her own independently functioning little body is brand new and an altogether different existence than her cozy last nine months. She will be most happy living, breathing, sleeping, eating, and (yes) pooping attached snuggly to you. Bide your time, Mama or Papa. Too soon will come the day when you send her off to college. Relish in those early days and wear that baby. Little by slow she will sleep and eat without you. By staying close, you build a love and trust that all of her needs will be met. She’s learning about this brave new world, and you can ease that transition and reassure her that it’s safe by keeping her near.
  3. Contrast. As your baby increases her wake times, you’ll be able to put her down more often and for longer. Parents typically worry that their babies are bored during these times, and they tend to over stimulate with high sensory knick-knacks. Don’t do it! Your baby’s environment is plenty interesting. Babies love shadows, contrasts, and well timed scene changes. Corners at the ceiling are absolutely enthralling – especially if one wall is painted another color. Between an accent wall and the shadows that are cast by three walls coming together, your infant may stare (what seems like) mindlessly at the merger. She is processing depth, which is important for her vision. Red, black, and white are great contrast colors, but so are other combos – place your infant so that she can see and process contrasting colors (you can buy a contrast mat or just use what’s in your environment). When she’s done, she’ll let you know, and you can easily change her scene. Look for signs that your baby is tired or over stimulated – she may turn her gaze, get fussy, make fists, or kick.
  4. Ceiling Fan. Babies are unreasonably fascinated by ceiling fans, which most parents discover during diaper changes. It’s almost disturbing how they blankly stare for an uncomfortable amount of time at the rotating blades. Fans hit on several biological triggers for infants – babies are wired to pay attention to motion, contrast, and rhythm. Simply put, a fan is the perfect storm of everything your baby’s brain wants. They’re baby crack. So let her infinitely stare, she is learning more than you know! Do be careful about brightness if your fan has a light. Run the fan by itself and use a different light source if possible.
  5. Reusable nursing pad. Milk leakage is the bane of most nursing Mama’s wardrobes, as it is highly annoying yet guilt inducing all at once. Despite the loss of liquid gold into the nursing pad, there is a way to somewhat salvage the milk. Rather than toss your reusable pads into the laundry, consider tossing one to your baby. She will go to town chewing and sucking on it. The milk is quite possibly her favorite smell in the universe, it will have a comforting effect on her, and it will buy you a good five minutes of freedom if not more. Also consider tossing a heavily soaked pad directly into the freezer. You can pull it out later to help soothe your teething infant. (Please do not try this with disposable pads – I’m quite certain those materials are not to be ingested.) If reusable pads are not your thing, never fear. Soaking a small washcloth or cloth teether with some milk will also do the trick.
  6. Strap. A strap is an elongated piece of fabric or leather, and babies love them. As they get older, strings and ribbons are more fun and versatile, but string isn’t yet appropriate for our youngest humans. The right strap will keep your baby occupied chewing and grasping for many more minutes than commercial toys. Check out your bags, your clothes, belts, and household objects – you’ll find straps on backpacks, laundry baskets, reusable grocery bags, baby carriers, and more. Be careful to avoid straps that baby can wrap around her neck or get caught in. Straps are most safe when they are shorter or affixed to other objects.
  7. Paper towel roll. Cardboard tubes are one of Jonathan Liu’s original Five Best Toys. I wanted to single out a paper towel roll specifically for infants. They have just enough give to maul yet are robust enough to not break down too quickly. They do soften and start to tear with mouthing, so you have to be deft at switching them out. But they are perfect for grasping, swinging, smashing, mauling, rolling, and chasing. Your child will play with this far longer than a rattle. (Please do not give your child toilet paper rolls – there are obvious sanitary issues with mouthing these, and they are not as stout as a paper towel roll.)
  8. That's right people, I eat avocados too.  I eat ANYTHING.Spoon. As your child becomes interested in solid foods, she will be overjoyed to hold and mouth a spoon. You can give her a spoon while you feed her or just to occupy her. She will practice hand to mouth coordination by putting the spoon in her mouth as well as grasping by picking up the spoon each time she drops or throws it. You might be worried about letting her on the loose with a spoon, which looks like it could impale her. Be smart – don’t let your newly walking baby toddle with a spoon hanging out of her mouth. But also take a look at her other infant toys and realize there are many impaling hazards. Bottom line, always supervise your infant with a spoon AND a spoon is uber happy making.
  9. Water bottle. As your baby is learning to sit, try giving her your water bottle. She will enjoy grabbing it, pushing it over, and sucking on the lid. She watches you drink from it many times a day – nothing will excite her more than getting to do the same! Because she is not accustomed to drinking water yet, it likely won’t frustrate her to not actually drink from the bottle. As she begins to crawl, you can set it a few feet away to entice her. The weight of the water bottle, it’s shape, the reflection of the water, and the fact that it is something special to you all make the water bottle something your child will want.

There you have it, Mamas and Papas. Super easy “toys” that will pique your babies’ interests and grow their brains. Take a deep breath and rest assured, you and your environment are more than enough to keep your baby happy, well stimulated, safe, and growing strong. Much love.

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The Evolution of Community, A Tale of Three Women

At 30 weeks, she was undeniably pregnant.  People didn’t have to hide their thoughts; strangers confidently asked questions, not doubting the nature of her bump.  Most common was, “Is it a boy or a girl?”  She didn’t mind this question so much.  Her baby girl was exactly the gender she’d hoped, and she smiled each time she proclaimed, “A girl.”

More annoying was the advice – unsolicited, usually about sleep, and often just bad.  “Rest while you still can!” or “Nap when the baby naps!” or “You’ve got to let them cry it out!”  Did this advice ever actually work for the people spewing it?  She wondered about their motives, concluding this onslaught of over-eager and non-helpful admonitions was at best an unsuccessful attempt to self-soothe.  Clearly these people had fallen short when parenting their own children.  She usually smiled politely, said thanks, and rolled her eyes as she turned away.  How could sleep be that big of a problem?

Worse than unwanted counsel was unwanted touch.  It had only happened twice with a stranger, but countless times with colleagues, friends, and family.  What about a pregnant belly says community property?  Any unwanted physical contact is an invasion of privacy and personal space, she thought.  The last time a stranger had embraced her belly, she reached around with both arms and grabbed his ass.  Shocked the guy for sure, but drove home the point.

People need to walk their own paths.  Leave pregnant women be.  Less questions, please.  Stop reliving your parenting mistakes through the advice you compulsively force on others.  And for the love of human decency, don’t touch other people’s bodies.

She looked forward to not being pregnant.  Her body would be her own.  Yet she wondered how she and her partner, who both worked full time, would add a baby into their lives.  Both of their parents lived in different states.  And they weren’t really close to any of their siblings.  Most of their friends didn’t have kids yet.  They planned to hire someone to help them in the evenings, at least in the beginning.

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At 30 weeks, she was undeniably pregnant.  People didn’t have to hide their thoughts; strangers confidently asked questions, not doubting the nature of her bump.  “How are you feeling?” and “When is the due date?”  She enjoyed the questions, though it felt a little awkward to talk so openly with strangers.

These same strangers often offered advice.  She listened and took note.  “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” or “The breast is best!” or “Laundry can wait, but babies don’t keep!”  Most of it she filed away, knowing these strangers meant well.  And while she respected their experiences, she had her own ideas about what would work best for her family and her child.

On occasion, people would reach out and touch her abdomen.  She didn’t know how to react.  It was a strange sensation for someone to deliberately put their hands on her body, but she liked the joy it brought others.  She usually stood somewhat frozen and smiled or laughed awkwardly until the Buddha rub ended.  She wondered about this urge others had to connect with her growing belly.

Taken in concert, it was the overarching kindness of strangers towards pregnant women that perplexed her most.  She enjoyed the purposeful eye contact, the smiles for no reason, and the unsolicited help, but she fumed after.  She was upset that this lack of façade in favor of raw realness was reserved but for a small window of another person’s life.  How different the world would be if we embodied this unabashed, presumptuous love at all moments.  She wished that each of us euphemistically swelled with child, so that kindness would be ever present.

While she looked forward to meeting her baby and reclaiming her body, she wondered if the same strangers would be as kind after the baby was born.  No matter, she would have a beautiful child to care for.  She planned to take some time off work to be with her baby those first few months.  Her mom was going to stay with her family during the time leading up to and following birth.  Between her mom cooking meals and the food tree her friends planned to build, she knew they’d have help with the transition.  Still, she worried about becoming a family of three.  While she didn’t know exactly how she’d transform, she knew it was possible.

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At 30 weeks, she was undeniably pregnant.  People didn’t have to hide their thoughts; strangers confidently asked questions, not doubting the nature of her bump.  “Do you know the gender?” and “How is your sleep?”  She relished in answering, eager for the basic human connection.  Simple questions led to full on conversations.  Each person she met was uniquely interesting and beautiful – she was thankful for the intersections of paths.

Everyone offered advice.  And she listened with attentive reverence.  She hardly cared whether the advice was relevant to her.  More important was the underlying story.  She knew that advice was born of experience.  And experience shaped the emotions and perspectives of the strangers standing before her.  She listened out of respect for their unspoken tales.  And she learned a great deal about the wisdom of a people.  She knew that this wisdom would profoundly impact the relationship she was already building with the child inside her.

She often grasped the hands of strangers and placed them on her abdomen.  This is how we all started. An entire people grown and born from the sacred belly of Woman.  You and I are the same.  We share this fundamental truth, and we must protect and revere it.  She wore the gift of humanity with a selfless, calm pride, and she celebrated this magic with anyone her belly could embrace.

Strangers, family, and friends – we are one people.  She found that all questions, all advice, and all touch illuminated.  She welcomed a community to witness her protection and care for a unique expression of the Earth as it grew inside her.  She needed the support of a tribe as she swelled nearer a split into two conscious beings.

Before child, pregnant, and postpartum, she stood in awe of her body, welcoming each state as she experienced it.  Her body was transformative, and it was a constant reflection of her baby, who was so loved.  Not just by her and her partner, but by their people.  A community raised her as a child, a community birthed her as a Mother, and a community would swaddle this baby.  She didn’t worry about food or how she would care for her baby.  She knew that we would care for her baby.  She was doubtless of the support that surrounded her and had the confidence of one rich in community.

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What Is 1 + 1? What’s It Like To Have A Second Child?

When we found out we were pregnant with our first child, we jumped wide-eyed, face first into classic Fairytale Land.  We were going to be the Perfect Parents of the Perfect Baby with the Perfect Life.  Despite every other family in the world falling prey to sleepless nights and an unwieldy newborn, we would single handedly achieve baby nirvana.  Because, unlike 100% of “everyone else on the planet”, we would do the “right” things and have a baby who smiled, cooed, breastfed like a champ, and slept on demand for the appropriate amount of time.  Our lives would remain unchanged, but for this small, mostly unnoticeable bundle of joy.

Enters baby.

Well, y’all know where this story goes.  New parents plus one baby equals what I described at the time as “an undiscovered circle of Dante’s Hell.”  Not only was my perfect, painless, orgasmic birth NOT, but I’m unsure how all three of us made it through that first year on the atmospheric side of the grass.  We didn’t die a literal death.  But, like a phoenix reborn, we unwillingly burst into euphemistic flames and rose from the ashes anew.  We somehow transformed.

Our lives moved on, our baby became a toddler, a preschooler, a hopeful big brother.  We developed a new routine and sense of balance, even among the ups and downs of parenting a head strong little boy.  A creature who was now able to walk, talk, and express manifold desires and visions for the world.  His world and our world became one whole, and we felt increasingly comfortable as a family of three.

Because I knew what it was to add a child to the mix, I couldn’t fathom adding a second.  I was smart enough to surmise it must be an equally revolutionizing process.  So I started to ask people, “What is it like to have two children?  What is one plus one?”  And I was told repeatedly, “Ohhhh.  One plus one?  One plus one is ten.”

Ten?  By “ten”, my friends were telling me that another baby didn’t add just a little complexity, but a lot.  That another life to care for would create a new, qualitatively different level of conflicting demands on time and energy.

Well, then.  I would not be having that second child unless it was the immaculately conceived Son of God.  I donned a sperm-repelling aura, impenetrable by the most microscopic offenders of life.  Yet, four years later, caught off guard, we acted before thinking.  (Because if more of us thought about having children, our species would last not more than a generation.)  Nevertheless, here we are – a family of four.  We’re not dead, but we’re certainly in a process of transformation.  And in my timeless warp of love and exhaustion, I’ve had some brief moments to reflect.

Just what is one plus one?  So far, in this first month, the answer to that question has evolved . . .

1 + 1 = BLISS.  A woman’s body is Uh. Mazing.  I pushed a flipping eight-pound human being out of my vagina.  Twice now!  No kidding.  I’m a freaking Super Hero Mama who can do anything.  Literally anything.  What an inexplicable rush of intense polarities, including pain and love, loss and birth, delirium and reality.  All blanketed by an overdose of secret-love-cocktail hormones, creating an inflated sense of Super Self who loves everyone and everything and can take on the world.  Y’all.  Can you think of all the stupid shit people would do in this state if they weren’t encumbered by a severely assaulted perineum and a helpless creature who needs them, like, every second?  Thankfully, hormone crazed Super Humans have beautiful babies to blissfully pour all of their Super Powers into.  Love.  Unabashed, unapologetic love.  And as any Super Mama hyped up on these hormones can tell you, one plus one is pure, unadulterated bliss.  But those love hormones fade, replaced by a slowly invading and rude sense of reality.

1 + 1 = I CAN DO THIS.  As my midwife told me, you’ll know you’re coming down when people around you start doing stupid stuff.  She’s a level ten fortune teller, and as promised, people started doing really stupid stuff.  The rosy glasses defogged, and realism set in.  I needed to wean myself from these stupid people (whom, just yesterday, were my community of helpers that I unabashedly loved).  Still infused with a false sense of energy, I got real, and each day I tried to add in one more vital task of life.  I made it out of the room to get myself food – no problem.  I put on the first cloth diaper – easy.  I did a load of laundry – I got this.  I made a meal – check.  I picked my older son up from school.  I attended an “elimination communication” class and went four days without having to change a poopy diaper – cuz I was that good and caught them all.  I put two children to sleep, on my own, and was successful.  I can do this. One plus one is doable.  This is going to be okay.  But then exhaustion creeps in.  Oxytocin, adrenalin, and endorphins run dry.  And having unknowingly run on overdrive, Balance pays a visit and expects you to pay up.

1 + 1 = TEARS.  Suddenly, things got tough.  Those kids that I put to bed?  Not once could I recreate it with ease.  I started to feel socially isolated.  I realized I nurse for eight hours in a 24 hour period.  Sleep was broken into hour intervals – and every hour I had to fully wake in order to keep another human being alive.  The next morning I had to function as a parent to my older child.  Feeding myself was a challenge – but I had to find a way because that food became the food for my helpless infant.  Grandma, who’d been here for a month, was actually going to leave us – nay, abandon us.  I realized I’d been wearing the same breast milk and vomit soaked clothes for . . . how long?  When did I last shower?  I started to resent the stupid people whom I once unconditionally loved, so long ago.  You are not tethered, you can leave the house.  You are not up every hour indefinitely.  You are not producing the life sustenance for another human being, storing it, and releasing that energy from your body.  You don’t have hormones playing with you.  You don’t have life as you knew it 100% changed, forever.  Tears.  Tears started flowing.  One plus one equals flood gates.

1 + 1 = BIOLOGICAL WARFARE.  At the same time, I was a hormone crazed, sleep deprived, lactating cow.  Breastfeeding is tough.  It is SO not “easy” whipping out the boob to satisfy your calm, loving, cooing child.  Oversupply, breasts rock hard, waking up in a cesspool of milk, infant vomit, blow out diapers, etc and having no idea how you ended up in this crime scene.  That feeling of desperately needing your infant to nurse but he won’t.  So you try to channel your long gone Super Powers in order to will the milk out of your body.  It doesn’t come because you’re too anxious.  You hurt.  Meanwhile, your infant has tummy problems.  You feel guilty – if only you knew the appropriate combo of probiotics, diet changes, nursing positions and timing, and could strike the right fore/hindmilk balance in order to minimize your baby’s discomfort.  Never mind World War III in your uterus.  Combat zone.  One plus one is biological warfare.

1 + 1 = HARD WALL.  It all adds up.  Eyes bulging and bloodshot, hair frizzy and unkempt, smile and nod that are a little too eager.  Being mercilessly whiplashed by bipolar feelings, sleep deprivation, realizing you can’t “do it all”, craving contact with the outside world – you inevitably meet a Hard Wall.  For me, this happened after a night of nursing every 30 minutes.  I took my son to school the next morning, tried to appear human by meeting other parents out for coffee, but ultimately broke down in an incoherent blubber at my midwife’s office that afternoon.  It was a good place to hit the Wall, because she’d seen many a Mama run bleary eyed into the very same bricks.  She also had relevant advice.  “You need to keep the baby alive, feed yourself, and sleep – if it’s not one of those three things, let it go.”  I stopped cloth diapering, I stopped elimination communication, I introduced a pacifier, and I decided everyone else could feed themselves (my son can reach the Nutella after all).  Laundry is a luxury, dirty carpets and sheets build the immune system, and the sink is just bowl like shelf for dishes.  One plus one is a Hard Wall, and if one can just scale it, maybe there is sanity on the other side.

1 + 1 = MEDITATION.  I read a passage recently that likened Baby Land to Meditation.  It’s the perfect analogy for what happens after hitting rock bottom.  On the other side of helpless despair is a relinquishing of control, a willing acceptance and determination to move forward.  You let go of time in favor of being in the moment.  You accept the loss of your old self.  You engage in long walks going nowhere, chant monotonously to the baby, and submit to a repetitive timelessness.  You realize that most of what you thought was important is actually expendable – hard fought to let go of, but then easily pushed to the periphery.  Because you love, because this baby needs you, because when you look into his eyes your heart is full, because he is a reflection of all that is good.  One plus one is a deep mediation, where love hits the pause button on time and Mama and baby dance.

1 + 1 = A FAMILY OF FOUR.  Although you know from the first time around that the baby changes and grows, you start to tuck experience under your belt once again.  This Too Shall Pass, you remember.  On the one hand you are eager to make it pass – be it sleepless nights, inconsolable screaming, or eager hourly nursings.  On the other hand naysayers taunt in your head, “Enjoy This Moment.”  You brush both away and decide that this time warp is simultaneously hard AND blissful.  You look for kairotic moments – supreme “stand stills” of time in between, when something special sparks.  A smile, first coo, connecting gaze, or soft skin.  And you keep moving forward, transformed, into a family of four.

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Innocuous Blog Post

Double rainbows.  In the mountains.  Silence, and the smell of rain.  A promise of sunshine, muted by the clouds.  Beauty.

Unconditional love.  Gravity defying safety and timelessness in another’s arms.  Spontaneous smiles born without reason.  Because there is you.

New life.  Puppies.  Springtime.  Dew.  Thankfulness for consciousness.

Sleep.  Restorative and weightless sleep, unbound by time.  Deep and impenetrable rest.

Space.  Quiet and infinite vastness of calm.  Without weight.  Nothing and everything all at once.  A wisdom and history of time.  Something bigger than ourselves.

Death.  A culmination, a completion.  A natural, linear end.  The feeling of relief, a relinquish of control, letting go.  A vast unknown.  A new experience.  Peace.

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So I Haven’t Had An Abortion (According To The State)

Good news!  My cases of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy are excluded from the legislation recently adopted by Texas in section 171.061 of the Bill.  For a miscarriage, women will still be able to take an abortion-inducing pill in their home rather than a surgical center.  And if they need a D&C and their doctor offers it in house, that is still an option.

After this was pointed out to me, my first thought was – phew!  But then I had a host of secondary questions.  What exactly is an abortion according to the State?  Why are my cases excluded?  If the requirement of an ambulatory surgical center is a measure of safety, does the State not care about my health?  Or are the abortion pill and a D&C procedure somehow safer when the fetus is dead?

Let’s take a look at semantics first and explore the term abortion.  Then I’d like to share some conversations with you – in an effort to gain clarity, I was able to speak with a staff member of the Capitol, a representative of Planned Parenthood, and a couple of friends whose abortion experiences are broader than mine.

Language Matters – What Does Abortion Mean Anyways?
Upon learning that I’d had two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, a lot of people commented that I had not actually had an abortion.  And to imply that I had was presumptuous.  So I wanted to break down the definition for you – from a medical standpoint, through a popular lens, and in the eyes of Texas.

Medical definition of abortion: Termination of a pregnancy, whether spontaneous or induced.

Popular definition of abortion: Elective termination of a healthy pregnancy.

The definition of abortion in the current Texas State legislation closely resembles the popular definition with specific exclusions:

  • Spontaneous abortions
  • Ectopic pregnancies outside of the uterus
  • Pregnancies endangering the life of mothers
  • Pregnancies causing physical impairments of major bodily functions
  • Pregnancies where fetuses have severe fetal abnormalities

It’s important to note that “other psychological conditions” are specifically included in the State’s definition of abortion.

Abortions are medical procedures.  Therefore it makes sense to be respectful of the medical definition that includes all reasons for termination of pregnancy.  Yet this definition gets popularly narrowed to only include healthy fetuses.  It makes me wonder – why does the State of Texas target only crazy/healthy moms who want to kill their innocent, perfectly formed babies?

Whoa, hold up, why did I just go there?

Because by narrowing the definition of abortion to the elective termination of healthy fetuses, we covertly introduce an inherent, negative judgment.  We begin to vilify abortion and think of the mothers who seek it as misguided, immoral, and even callous.  When in reality, as I suggested in my previous post, this mythological mother does not exist.  Or she may, but in such small proportion as to make legislation directed at her (and at the expense of the rest of us) incomprehensible.

The Sorting of Women
The truth is that women seeking elective abortions are human beings, with complex circumstances, a host of valuable emotions, and decisions to make about their bodies that are neither flippant nor fun.  To siphon this group of women off from the “legitimate” women who abort is to deny their feelings, their humanity, their experiences, and their rights.

Further still, this actually dehumanizes women seeking “legitimate” abortion help.  My experience was minimized on many occasions after my original post because “it is immoral for her to say that she had an abortion” or because “a miscarriage is nothing like an abortion.”  Suddenly both groups of women have illegitimate experiences of loss.

So.  I will continue on with my use of the medical term, abortion.  And I stand by having had two spontaneous abortions and one elective abortion.  My experiences are unique, and I am thankful for them.  In no way do I compare these experiences to any other woman’s experience of abortion, regardless of the type.  And in no way should any woman’s abortion be minimized.  Especially by those who cannot walk her path.

Still, according to the State of Texas, I have not had an abortion.  Again, my first reaction was relief; the 35% of women who experience spontaneous abortions will not be affected by the newly adopted State legislation.  Except that, they just might still be affected.  When I explored my secondary questions with both the State and Planned Parenthood, a complex story of safety emerged.

Conversations with Representatives of the State and Planned Parenthood
The staff member at the Capitol was gracious in giving me time and offered a helpful perspective.  As I asked questions, a picture of two different women emerged, the woman who miscarries versus the woman who electively aborts.  And I needed to understand the differences in safety concern for these two groups.  Below is a review of our conversation.  These are not direct quotes; they are my summation.

When a woman has a verified dead fetus, can she take abortion pills in her own home or will she need to make an appointment at a surgical ambulatory center?

She would be able to have pills prescribed by her doctor, fill the prescription herself, and take the pills at home on her own.  She would follow up as instructed by her doctor.  A woman who elects an abortion of a living fetus would need to go to a surgical center for administration of the pills.

When a woman has a verified dead fetus, will she still have access to a D&C in her doctor’s office, or will she need to make an appointment at a surgical ambulatory center?

If the doctor’s office offers the procedure in house, she can still have it done in the doctor’s office.  A woman who elects an abortion of a living fetus would need to go to a surgical center for the D&C.

Are there disparities in safety that I may not understand when a woman with a dead fetus ingests abortion pills versus when a woman with a living fetus ingests abortion pills?  Why is it safe for a woman who miscarries to take the pills at home, but a woman electing an abortion of a live fetus needs to be in a surgical center to be safe?

I’m not really sure that a doctor administering the pills makes it any safer.  The issue is the after care of the patient.  The legislation is really intended to ensure doctors see patients for follow up.  When you are under the care of an OBGYN and know your pregnancy is ending, that doctor is more likely to follow up to make sure the pregnancy fully ends.  And you are more likely to follow up when you have a relationship with a physician.  In clinics, doctors travel and may not be available for follow up if a patient has a problem the next day.  By requiring the doctor at an ambulatory surgical center to meet with a patient and give the patient their number and contact information, you set the patient up to be able to follow up.  They may not do it, but they have the option – where they may not have this option in a clinic.  They may not have talked to a doctor at all in a clinic.  The difference is that you have a personal relationship that’s being monitored.  Also, a person with a miscarriage is much more likely to seek medical care.

Are there disparities in safety that I may not understand for a D&C performed on a woman with a dead fetus versus a living fetus?  Why is it safe for D&Cs for miscarriages to happen in a doctor’s office but D&Cs for elective abortions must happen in an ambulatory surgical center to be safe?

There is a difference in standard of care between a physician and those who perform abortions in a clinic.  The doctor who is able to perform abortions in his office has admitting privileges.  If something goes wrong, he has easier access to a nearby hospital.  Clinics don’t have doctors with admitting privileges.  Even though it’s possible that doctors in clinics are more experienced at doing abortions, there aren’t the same doctor-patient relationships, a patient may have an unexpected reaction, a uterus could be punctured, or the clinic may not have life saving equipment onsite.  In some clinics there’s not enough room to get a gurney down a hallway.  An ambulatory surgical center has life saving equipment, oxygen, and cleanliness standards.  And this legislation sets up a relationship between doctor and patient for follow up care.

I also spoke with a representative of Planned Parenthood, who equally gave time and provided further perspective.  Below is a review of our conversation.  These are not direct quotes; they are my summation.

Does Planned Parenthood offer services for miscarriage?

It really depends on stage of pregnancy.  That would have to be evaluated individually.

Are there follow up procedures for abortions?

All patients are requested to have routine follow up visits.

Do you know statistics on what percent of women have complications from the pill or a D&C in a clinic versus under an OBGYN?

There are lots of theories and musings, but very little empirical data to point to.  If data existed supporting the State’s claim that we have a women’s health care safety issue, they would have put it out there.  It would strengthen their case.  You would think they would produce that data when all major medical groups say they oppose this legislation.  But they don’t.  The doctors of clinics are just as credentialed and certified as hospital affiliated doctors.  Based on belief rather than data, the State is making assumptions about the safety abilities of clinic versus hospital affiliated physicians that simply aren’t backed up.

If there is an emergency related to an abortion, what life saving equipment do you have or not have that is different from an ambulatory surgical center?

There is equipment for safety and to save lives.  There are many specifications for ambulatory centers that have no bearing on safety for abortions.  For example, I’m not sure how having 8-foot wide janitor closets makes anyone safer.

Do you feel there is a difference in women’s willingness to follow up after an abortion if they’ve had a miscarriage versus an elective abortion?  Have you found these two groups to be fundamentally different in any way?

I can’t really speak to this, but I’m not connecting how the requirement of doctors to provide a phone number makes any woman healthier or more likely to follow up.

With the majority of clinics closing in the State of Texas, what routine health care services will be unavailable to women?

To name a few: breast cancer screening, hypertension screening, HIV screening, STD testing, anemia testing.   When Texas refused federal funding for women’s health in 2011, it caused over 60 Planned Parenthood clinics to close – not one of those provided abortion services.  Planned Parenthood clinics that provide safe abortion are operated as a separate non-profit.  When Texas took away “abortion”, what they actually did was close women’s health clinics, claiming concerns for women’s health as impetus.  Women in those communities affected have literally no options.  And the State has yet to reinstate those funds.  With the new legislation, all other clinics that provide both health services and abortions are in danger of closing.  Women’s health care services across the State will further be limited.  Is it safer and beneficial to women to have literally no options for health care in her town or the next town over?

Anecdotes from Everyday Women
The staff member of the State described two very different women to me: 1) The woman who miscarries and has access to a physician.  She has a relationship with her doctor.  She cares about both the baby she lost and her health.  She is likely to responsibly follow up.  She is likely to make safe choices on her own and can be excluded from the State legislation.  2) The woman who electively aborts at a clinic.  She doesn’t have a relationship with a doctor.  She did not want her baby.  She is not likely to responsibly follow up.  She is likely to make unsafe choices on her own, and legal measures must be put in place to set up a potential relationship between her and a qualified physician.

And I thought – with a 35% miscarriage rate, surely there are women who both miscarry and electively abort healthy fetuses.  Do they have dual personalities?  Depending on circumstance, are they more or less likely to be responsible about their health?

Here are the testimonies of two such women:

Testimony #1.

“I’ve had one ectopic pregnancy, four miscarriages, two elective abortions, and I have two children.

I don’t think the standard level of care at abortion clinics is unsafe.  They had the same level of care at a fraction of the costs.  I couldn’t afford a surgical center, I would have just figured out home remedies to abort – meat tenderizer, papaya, or just ask my doctor for a packet of birth control pills and take a week’s worth at a time to see if that would have done it.

I had follow up appointments for my abortions with Planned Parenthood.  The follow up care for my miscarriages at my doctor’s office wasn’t better, they just tell you to go home and they’ll redo the pregnancy test next week.  It wasn’t a big deal.

With my abortions, I never felt dismissed like I did at my regular doctor’s office.  I had a Christian OBGYN when I wanted my first abortion, so I actually didn’t tell him I had the abortion since I knew he was against it.  At Planned Parenthood, they were always very sympathetic, understanding, and supportive.  If I’d had any complications, I would have felt more comfortable going back to Planned Parenthood.

I did notice the access to drugs and painkillers was better during my abortion.  They cared about my pain level and addressed it, whereas my doctor didn’t. When I miscarried, I just had to suffer through it.  The doctor saw it as menstrual cramps.

The follow up care stuff is ridiculous. The care isn’t better at a doctor’s office or a surgical center.  It’s a huge assumption that I would trust my doctor to follow up on an elected abortion if he believes it’s wrong and that I’d killed another human being.  Miscarriages aren’t your fault so they don’t tend to give you shit afterwards.”

Testimony #2.

How many miscarriages/elective abortions have you had?

“Abortions – 4 (2 as a teen and 2 before I turned 23)
Miscarriages – 2 (in my early 30’s)”

How was your follow up care the same or different for your miscarriage versus your elective abortion?

“The loss and trauma after either procedure is horrible.  You’re in a state of loss but just need to try to move on.  I think most women have minimal follow up and try to move forward.  There is little emotional or psychological support in either case. Abortion and miscarriage are stigmatized to further alienate the woman who has experienced the loss. The miscarriage experience for me where I naturally miscarried was worse than the miscarriage when I had a D&C.  I learned on the day of the procedure I could have the same procedure done as an abortion for half the cost. I was very upset. There was no psychological or other follow up other than me paying to see a mental health professional or more doctor’s visits to be put on antidepressants for postpartum depression, which were my own responsibility.  There was no formal process.”

Did you feel like one was safer over the other, having an elective abortion versus miscarrying?

“The psychological impact on me was bad in all cases.  I don’t think a miscarriage was in any way “better”.  When I miscarried the second time I was under so much stress waiting for the fetus to pass naturally.  It made my loss experience more traumatic.  The D&C for the first miscarriage was still traumatic, although I was not worried about my physical safety.  The psychological impact needs to be addressed more systematically.  I think safety risks from not following the guidelines from the doctor about what to avoid like tampons and intercourse for the specified timeframe are real.  Everyone should follow those guidelines.  The mental health follow up does not exist as a systematic discharge process and it should for miscarriage and abortion.”

How do you feel about the State of Texas’s requirement that elective abortions be done in an ambulatory surgical facility?

“I think forcing anyone in a desperate, hopeless, traumatic situation, whether abortion or miscarriage, into a specific type of medical facility should be approached with caution.  There should be ongoing funding for the psychological needs of the woman who makes a decision or must make a decision to have either an abortion or a miscarriage related D&C.  It’s the long term impacts on the woman’s body and mental health that should be funded in the case of abortion and miscarriage.”

What Does All This Mean?
After really listening to the staff member of the State, to the representative of Planned Parenthood, and to my two friends, my take home message was this: All parties are genuinely interested in their vision of safety in women’s health.  And it is clear that those visions are inextricably interwoven with their beliefs, their experiences, and their compassion for women.  I am grateful for the opportunities I had to listen and to digest.

While I have my own beliefs, biases, and interpretations of the above conversations, you too will come to your own conclusions.  We may not agree, but that’s OK – most important is that we’re having the conversation.

My Two Cents
For weeks, we have listened to the State of Texas say that this conversation is about safety.  The safety of ALL women.  Strange then that many cases of abortion are actually excluded from the Bill.  Does the State care about the safety of women who don’t have access to a doctor and miscarry naturally on their own?  What if they don’t have complete abortions and need follow up care?  Are women who treat their ectopic pregnancies with oral medication in any less need of mandated oversight?  Just because a woman has access to a doctor for her miscarriage, does this really make her more likely to follow up?  Why do we trust her and not “the other” group of women?

If the State genuinely cared about safety, efforts would be made to:

  • Make sure all women have geographical and financial access to health care
  • Accept federal funding related to women’s preventative and health care services
  • Partner with existing clinics and surgical centers to evaluate safety – work together to fund agreed upon modifications so that necessary safety standards are in place
  • Make sure women who experience any type of medical abortion have access to affordable and safe intervention
  • Fund mental health services for women who experience spontaneous as well as elective abortions
  • Fund and promote sex education
  • Actively work to lower abortion rates via access to education and contraception

But I don’t think the State’s fundamental motive is safety.  I believe that this conversation is about fear, judgment, and control, driven by a moral obligation of some to stop elective abortions of healthy fetuses by any means.  When faced with difficult choices about her body, the State fears that a woman will act immorally and kill her baby, an inherent judgment.  So the State uses noble sounding language, hiding their objective to target and control this perceived immoral group.  They are bullying a woman who elects an abortion into medical care that is expensive, inaccessible, humiliating, and qualitatively no safer because they simply disagree with her.  Texas women will now be presorted into “responsible” and “irresponsible” based on their choices.  And for those women deemed untrustworthy, Texas is denying them of their right to autonomy.  For now.  This is a battle I believe the State of Texas will not win.  We are, after all, half the vote.

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So I’ve Had a Few Abortions

The first time I miscarried, I bled for 87 days straight.  That’s the equivalent of about 15 back-to-back periods.  A year’s worth of periods all at once, complete with cramping but add to it bi-weekly blood draws to check hormone levels and never really knowing when the baby had passed.  Emotional, bloody, depressive Hell.

When I found out I was pregnant, it was an orgasmic, blissful, “out of the movies” fairy tale event.  This baby was REAL.  He would be born, he would be beautiful, he would make me a mom, and life would be PERFECT.  He caused my husband and I to engage in an instant and irreversible reframe of our worlds moving forward.  Every thought was reconceived in terms of our bona fide baby.  To lose this person was to lose our memories, experiences, and love.  Sure we’d very vulnerably and naively prospectively written our future . . . and it hurt something awful to have that reality ripped away.

We hadn’t told anyone about the pregnancy.  I found out that the baby was dead by myself – no heartbeat at a routine doctor’s visit.  Because I couldn’t hold myself together enough to walk to my car, the doc let me cry alone in an exam room, and I ended up late to a meeting with my boss.  When I finally made it to the car, I called to let her know my doctor’s visit ran over.  She asked, “You’re not pregnant are you?”  Frozen and numb, I very somberly vocalized my first admission to another person about my pregnancy, “No, no I’m not pregnant.”  She sighed and said, “Oh good.  Good.  Because that’s something I would need to know about.”

I cried for the next 3 days straight and wouldn’t leave the bed.  I’m not sure if my husband fed me, but he did convince me to call a friend.  The best decision to have made, for this friend told me about her five miscarriages before successfully carrying a child to term.  (Other people miscarry?!  I didn’t know the stats.)  She told me that it was OK to be uncontrollably sobbing.  She empathized that it wasn’t fair.  She said I could stay in bed if I needed to.

I don’t know if the doctor mentioned a D&C.  I don’t recall if the doctor offered pills.  I don’t remember him explaining “natural miscarriage.”  I certainly didn’t want to do anything unnatural to my baby!  So I waited.  I waited, knowing my baby was dead inside of me, for weeks to start bleeding.  And then I bled.  For 87 days.  A spontaneous abortion that my family and friends would not know about for years.  This one I shouldered on my own.

The second time I became pregnant, I had an elective abortion.  The baby was fine, it had just implanted outside of my uterus, on top of my right fallopian tube.  (Way to go the extra mile, little sperm.)  It caused excruciating pain, and I likely would not have survived without medical intervention.  This was less emotionally traumatic because I had refrained from a reframe of my life – I had yet to believe I was actually having a baby.  Still, I told no one besides a solitary friend.  My family found out after the surgery, and my Dad lectured me about having life threatening procedures without telling anyone.  Because CLEARLY this was about the emotional impact on him.

My last miscarriage was a little over a year ago.  Because I’d miscarried before, because I already had a son, I could hear the doctor discuss options with me (albeit through tears).  A D&C was expensive – about $1000 with insurance.  Abortion pills were cheap, fast acting, and could be taken in the comfort of my own home.  And Lord knows I did NOT want to bleed ambiguously for 87 days again.  The doctor explained that 87 days was super abnormal – a natural miscarriage should only take a week or two.  He wrote me the prescription in case I decided to use it.

Filling the prescription was super embarrassing.  My head was filled with my conservative family’s spin superimposed on the pharmacist in front of me – was I killing a perfectly formed fetus with teeth and nails or was I helping along a verified dead baby?  The pharmacist would never ask such a question, but I couldn’t handle the perceived judgment.  I played it off by offering information under the guise of seeking clarity, “I’m miscarrying and have never taken these pills before – can you tell me what to expect?”  “No.  I’m a pharmacist – that’s between you and your doctor.”  But I didn’t really expect an answer – I’d cleared my conscience of its right-wing ghost.

Still, I wanted to know the answer to that question.  So I asked a couple of friends who had taken the pills before.  “Get in your PJs and plan to hole up in your room for a couple of days.”  “Do it over the weekend.”  “Preemptively take the vicodin, you’ll need it.”  “Oh yeah, I spent a lot of time in pain on the bathroom floor.”   “World.  War.  III.  But in your uterus.”

My mother-in-law happened to be visiting, and as much as I tried to avoid telling people about my miscarriages, it wasn’t possible to keep this one a secret.  She went over the options with me – D&C, abortion pills, natural miscarriage – and made a kind offer, “Do the D&C and I’ll pay for it.  If money is all that’s stopping you, realize that $1000 isn’t worth sacrificing your emotional health.”  It was Thursday.  I had already filled my prescription, I scheduled the D&C for Tuesday, and I sat in a depressive state, not knowing what to do.  I didn’t want to spend the money for a D&C, I didn’t want the pain and loneliness of the pills, and I didn’t want to bleed for 87 days.  Meanwhile, I had a dead baby inside of me . . . again.  My hormones were wrecking havoc, and I fled to my room to cry.

I didn’t ask anyone to take care of my child while I wallowed all weekend.  His grandparents picked up the slack without batting an eye and allowed me to limbo.  The universe and my body were kind, and I had a natural miscarriage over the weekend that lasted a mere 4 days.  I was able to cancel the D&C, and I still have my abortion pills.

What I want to tell you is that these experiences are common.  I don’t have “extenuating circumstance” stories.  They’re not even heartbreaking, really.  They are routine events that up to 35% of pregnant women experience.

They are, however, experiences that are being rewritten in the State of Texas.  The pharmacist’s words are now out of date – this is not between my doctor and me.  Between my doctor and me are the State’s iron fists, up my vagina as well as down my throat.  It’s actually NOT comfortable.  My decision to fill a prescription, swallow some pills, and experience pain and loneliness in the comfort of my own home is no longer my decision.  The State must put those pills in my mouth, and they must do it in a sterile, unfamiliar, and cold environment that costs me a lot more money – location and time decided by them.  How wonderful for the 35% of women who routinely miscarry.  Because CLEARLY that is safer for me.

Anecdotes are important. To my anti-abortion family and friends, I never expect your minds to change.  I secretly hope it, but I don’t foresee it.  Still, I know you care about me, and perhaps you can humanize women as a whole by keeping my personal experiences in mind.  So, at the risk of losing you, let’s go ahead and broaden this discussion.

Rights.  I read a perspective that I want to share with you.  Let’s say you go into renal failure.  For whatever reason, your kidneys are shot.  Hey, we’re the same blood type, and I could give you a kidney to save your life.  But I don’t have to.  It’s my kidney, and I get to decide whether you can have it or not.  If I choose to keep my kidney, you die.  Corpses have the same rights – no matter how life saving their organs are, no living person has a right to those organs unless consent was given by the individual prior to his or her death.  A fetus requires the mother to act as a host – putting her body and all of her organs on loan while he strives for viability.  Without it, the fetus dies.  Saying that a mother cannot choose whether to offer up her body as a life support system is saying that both that fetus and any corpse have more rights than a living, breathing woman.  Let that settle in – Texas is pushing laws that strip living women of rights that we respectfully give to her corpse.  She has more rights over her own body dead than alive.

Regardless of where you fall on the issue, currently in the United States of America, women have a constitutional right to an abortion prior to viability of a fetus.  Viability is defined as between 24 – 28 weeks of gestation.  Texas is passing a ban on abortions at 20 weeks, following the footsteps of a handful of other States.  These laws are a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and are systematically being overturned by higher courts because they are blatant violations of women’s reproductive rights.  Way to be an aggressive abuser of women, Texas.  And I don’t say that lightly.  This is an abusive relationship.  There is no being respectful of each side’s opinions.  Women will fight for their human rights, and this bill will be overturned, despite Texas legislature’s misguided dominance.

Safe Access.  The second bill up for adoption in Texas severely restricts women’s access to *all* abortions, regardless of gestational age, by requiring clinics to adhere to expensive standards without providing funding.  In 2011, Texas already forced the closure of the majority of the State’s clinics by refusing federal funding for women’s reproductive health services.  (Realize that most of those services were not abortion related – they were preventative and health oriented services.)  Of the remaining clinics, 90% will be forced to shut down with Texas’s new law.

I don’t understand why this is technically legal, as making abortions *effectively* unattainable seems analogous to an all out ban.  Women who seek abortions will simply be unable to get them (safely) in their area.  I say safely because they will still be getting abortions.  History and research are clear on this fact – just like banning alcohol didn’t decrease consumption, neither does banning abortions cut down on the procedures.  The procedures just end up killing women.  Great.  We didn’t save the babies, and we lost the women, too.  Continued abortions – despite bans – is documented fact.  Why then does an effective ban make sense?  In the face of historical data, do anti-abortion activists believe in magic?  That a ban will somehow do what they wish it would do rather than what it actually does?  What it actually does is make abortions unsafe – abortions that will continue to happen.

Expense.  With insurance, my D&C would have cost $1000 and would have been performed in my doctor’s office.  With insurance, my abortion pills cost under $50.  Without insurance, those prices proportionally skyrocket.  Under new Texas laws, the fees go up because both procedures must be done in an ambulatory surgical center.  Filling your own prescription is far more economical than being required to check into a surgical facility and have a pill administered by a doctor.  Likewise, D&Cs are cost prohibitive for most when done in a surgical center.  Not only does this make abortions financially unattainable, it creates disparity in options for women experiencing miscarriages.

There is no data showing self-administration of pills at home is unsafe.  Nor is there data that D&Cs in a clinic or doctor’s office put a woman’s health at risk.  Those are made up ideas in an effort to pass legislation that renders options in health care financially inaccessible.  We’ve essentially accomplished putting women at risk while feeding more money into the medical system (for those who can afford it).  We have not solved any real problems.  And we have not lowered abortion rates.

Lowering abortion rates.  No matter how much you want to save unborn fetuses, banning abortion does not lower abortion rates.  I’m not saying this because I have a belief that it’s true or because I wish for it to be true.  I’m stating a fact based on historical data collected by unbiased researchers.  And not just data in the United States – statistics are consistent world wide.  Banning abortion has never lowered abortion rates, anywhere, at any time.  It simply makes them unsafe.   Safe and legal go hand in hand.

So if legality does not affect abortion rates, what does?  Ironically, the very thing many conservatives actively fight against.  Sex education.  Abstinence-only education does not lower teen pregnancy – accurate information and access to birth control DOES.  Does it not make sense to lower unintended pregnancy rates?  These are proven statistics – accurate information about sex and pregnancy coupled with access to birth control pills and condoms reduces unwanted pregnancies and hence abortions.

The real issue here is that many conservatives want kids to not have sex.  But just like banning abortions does not lower abortion rates, teaching abstinence only does not lower sexual activity among youth.  Again, I wonder about the magical thinking of parents pushing abstinence only with no other option.  And I ask how the fear of your child having sex can translate to restricting their access to information about how to be responsible and safe.

Saving lives.  When I’ve had discussions with family about abortion, we usually make our way to an immovable stone – saving the life of that innocent baby.  You and I would both like to save the life of that child.  No dispute.  But we have a very different underlying assumption about that child’s mother.

In theory, we both value her life.  In theory, we both see her circumstances as difficult.  In theory, we both love and respect her.  In practice, I trust her experiences, I do not fear her choices, and I reverentially defer to her humanity and autonomy.  In practice, you do not trust her experience, you fear her choices, and you try to control her humanity and autonomy.  Why?  Because you believe her to be a mythological creature.  A heartless soul, devoid of maternal instinct, who has no remorse about killing a baby she refuses to acknowledge as living.  A woman who aborts her baby without feeling or regret.  Sometimes repeatedly.  Your fear of this mythological creature translates into an unconstitutional control of real women, facing emotionally challenging and life changing decisions about their personal property – their bodies.  In your effort to control a person who does not exist, you sacrifice the health and well-being of all fetuses and women alike.  And you lose lives in the process.

If anti-abortion advocates truly cared about saving lives, they wouldn’t discriminate against those actually living.  As a society, we would care for the poor, we wouldn’t execute criminals, we would eat less meat (not necessarily to save the animals but to feed all humans), we would live within our means, we would act more as givers and less as takers of the world’s resources, we would team with other countries to solve poverty, hunger, and oppression, and we would care about the homeless.  But no.  Instead there is such intense focus of energies on saving those unborn babies by creating laws that kill those babies and their mothers.  I remain in absolute awe of this short sightedness.

Is it possible that our efforts are misplaced?  Is it possible that in the quest to save unborn babies, far more lives are hurt?  Is it possible that we are missing out on opportunities for common ground?  To truly save lives and keep babies and women safe, we need accurate and accessible education as well as geographically attainable and affordable health care services.  We need social services for impoverished families.  We need to meet the basic needs of the living.

I don’t expect you to change your mind.  I expect you to keep fighting the good fight against those mythological mothers.  I expect you to say my experiences are sure unfortunate, and so are the experiences of all women who have miscarriages, unwanted pregnancies, or difficult choices to make about abnormalities of their *wanted* fetuses.  But they are worth the sacrifice in your mind.

The good news?  You won’t win the legal battle.  Just as women gained the right to vote, just as racism is being eliminated, and just as marriage for all couples is gaining legal equality across the country – so too will women fight for and gain back the right to control their own bodies.  Rather than being forced by fear and control, women will be free to parent by choice – their choice and their constitutional right.

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