An Allegory

My 13-year-old daughter wrote this story about our family’s experience with the recent legislation changes. New York, this is the sort of student you just kicked out of school.

 

Sunlight streamed into my face, warming my frigid nose. I stirred and groaned, not yet ready to leave the warm comfort of my covers. I was about to drift off, returning to my peaceful slumber, when a loud voice boomed through the house. “Hope! Get up or you’ll be late!” I groaned again, rolled over, and sat up. My long, frizzy hair stuck out in all directions from my face. I looked in the mirror to assess the damage, and internally screamed. This will be a nightmare to fix. I sighed, and got down to business. My yelps of pain filled the room as I tore mercilessly through my tangled locks. Once that mess was finally at least brushed, I set about fixing my clothes. I changed into my everyday wear, and pulled my hair into a tight bun atop my head.

My feet crashed down on each step, as I threw on my bonnet. I hurried to the table to grab some breakfast. “So,” My father teased “You’re finally up.” His shoulder-length salt and pepper hair was tied into a ponytail for convenience. He threw a bowl of porridge in front of me, and went off to work as I devoured it. “Hurry up. You don’t want to be late!”  I smiled, and then groaned aloud as I heard my brother stomp down the stairs. Caspian’s long, wavy, mouse brown hair was often even messier than mine, which is really saying something. He’s never been a morning person. “Caspian, look at your hair! At the very least, brush it out in the mornings!” he grunted and shoved me off. “Leave me alone.” I sighed, knowing it was useless, and went to wake my other siblings.

I poked my head in Ethan’s room, and found him wide awake, telling himself stories, as he often does when he can’t sleep. “Oh. Hi Hope!” his cheery voice called as he saw my face. “Time to get ready. You know how Miss Brown is when you get in trouble.” He nodded, and began brushing out his toffee hair. Smiling at his easy-going nature-Unlike some of my siblings– and went to wake Alina. Just as I’d predicted, I found her still asleep, huddled under her covers. “Alina! Get up!” I shook her awake, and she groaned. She wasn’t a morning person either. “Don’t make me drag you again. Get up, before your porridge gets cold!” That caught her attention. She dashed downstairs without even bothering to change. I sighed, then chuckled at her antics.

Lastly I poked my head in my mother’s room, only to find her already up, with her nose buried in a book.  Sean was huddled on her lap, still deep asleep. I walked up and stroked his shaggy blonde hair. “How are you today Mom? Any ideas?” She shook her head quietly, her face serious. “Hurry up, get to school. Don’t wake Sean!” she cautioned. I grinned cheekily, and walked down to help Alina get ready. She was never ready on time if we trusted her to do it herself.

As I stroke her golden hair, Caspian attempted to tame his with a comb. It wasn’t working. We all had a good laugh about that, but finally, finally, we were ready for school. Ethan and Caspian got into a heated debate on how best to go about stories, and Alina was, as usual, lost in her own little world. We were a of storytellers and dreamers, scholars and philosophers. It was in our blood to find our own inner sanctuaries. We were lucky to have parents who so highly valued educacion as well as stories.

We plodded along to the school house, and a familiar face showed up along the way, in the same place it always has. “Maggie!” I called, as she turned and smiled. “Hey Hope. House the pack?” she asked, gesturing behind me. “Oh you know how they’re like. Caspian’s brooding, Ethan’s arguing, Alina’s dreaming, Sean’s scheming.” She chuckled, and her cropped brown hair waved beneath her bonnet as she shook her head in mock-disapproval. As always when talking to someone outside, my hand ran over my head, hoping to smooth the incriminating flyaways. Thankfully, my own bonnet hid the fact that my hair was pulled back, and I was grateful again for hats being in fashion. We chatted the entire rest of the way there, each of my siblings breaking off to walk with their groups. The conversations were often lighthearted, but they sometimes took a nerve-wracking turn.

“Hey Maggie,” Alison called, her blond hair barely reaching her ears. “Did you hear the new joke about those Shaggers?” I tensed, bracing myself against the incoming unintentional insult. “So a Shagger mom was dragging her kid through town, right? She goes to the market, and begins arguing with the shopkeeper about their flour prices, saying that the prices at the florist’s were cheaper!” They both begin to laugh, and I awkwardly chuckle along, self-consciously lowering my eyes to the path. “What do you think Hope?” I paused, then forced a laugh. “That was pretty funny Allie. You have a new one every day.” They accept my non committal response, and I change the subject to an easier topic. I again unconsciously smoothed my hair with my hand, and attempted to disarm any more accidental attacks. Do I blame them? No, I could never. Allie is hilarious, and Maggie is kind-hearted. They don’t mean to insult me, or my family. They really are good people – just misinformed.

School was boring, as always. Caspian brooded quietly in the back, Ethan was constantly fidgeting, and Alina’s large blue eyes were always focused on something just beyond our sight. Thankfully, we weren’t required to remove our hats at school, though most did anyway. In a wave of short, neat hair, I felt uneasy. It was easy to forget I was different when everyone had their hats on. I know they’ve noticed, I can feel their stares burning through me. I hope they don’t suspect anything.

My family has endured this our entire lives. I know it must seem silly, to face such prejudice for something as simple to fix as a haircut, but it’s part of our way of life. We all love our hair, and, though it is a hassle, keep it clean and tidy. We aren’t as stupid, illmanered, or dirty as people think. Just because we like our hair long doesn’t immediately mean it’s crawling with lice and germs, matted into a bush, and appears black from filth no matter the color. If anything, we put in more of an effort than the normal populous to keep ourselves clean. Still, they’ll probably never believe that. We’re just an idea, and object of ridicule, no actual people with actual feelings. This is why we put in such an effort-to prove them wrong.

This is why it was such a nightmare to see the urgent news in the article demanding that the entire town line up each september and march for biannual haircuts.

Our entire family, our entire way of life, had been shattered before my eyes. No matter what protests we gave, they would not, would never listen to us. We couldn’t just let them take away such an enormous part of our identity! Do we run, to a place where having long hair is okay? Or do we stay, keep a low profile, and hope no one notices us?

 

As you’ve probably guessed, this is the same problem my own family is facing at this very moment. Because we’re against vaccines, we could be chased out of our home, ridiculed at school, or be pulled out of school entirely. If you want to see a happy ending to this story, please, help me write it. Help my family keep our home, and our way of life. We’re people too, no matter what choices we make, and we deserve the ability to make those choices. At the very least, think before you speak. Try to understand before you insult. I’m tired of bearing this burden in silence.

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In Which I Draw a Line in the Sand

We have a problem when anyone who expresses anything less than complete confidence in all vaccines is labeled antivax, and therefore worthy of all scorn.

There, I said it.

I tried to lie low for over a decade. I feared persecution and my children being judged because of my decisions, decisions they had no control over. I also wasn’t keen on having heated, unproductive conversations. However, recent political activity across the country and at the federal level prompts me to take a stand.

If that surprises you, it shouldn’t. I’ve held some variant of this view since 2006. No, Andrew Wakefield and his 1998 paper had nothing to do with it. I hadn’t even heard of Jenny McCarthy yet. The books and movies currently being pulled from Amazon were not a factor, although eventually the CDC’s Pink Book played a substantial role. Good luck banning that.

Instead, I watched my four-month-old daughter spike a fever and scream for three days. Normal? Yes, it falls within the range of expected outcomes after a well baby visit. But it started me thinking, especially as I wondered about symptoms my son exhibited after his visits. What cinched my decision to dive deeper was the Gardisil vaccine that was brand new and all the rage that year. A nurse cheerfully told me my daughter would get it someday and I heard myself say no, she wouldn’t, that I didn’t think it was necessary.

Cue the paradigm shift. Why was it so easy to dismiss a new product and yet not question the existing ones?

I’ve been told “Vaccines are safe and effective.” I find this simplistic and self-contradictory. Completely safe means inert, and therefore ineffective. To be effective means eliciting some response in the body, which always carries some amount of risk, and is therefore not safe. Is it safe for the people who experience adverse events? Is it effective for the people who experience primary vaccine failure?

I’ve been told “Vaccines save lives.” So can most pharmaceuticals. And yet, it doesn’t seem controversial to say that antibiotics need to be used judiciously, that opioids can cause addiction, and that a cocktail of prescriptions can interact in very negative ways. Somehow vaccines escape all of this, despite being manufactured by the same companies, and being exempt from direct lawsuit.

I’ve been told “Take a science class!” Hm, would I have taken a science class to get a master’s degree in genetics? I may have to double check my transcripts to see if I find anything fitting the description of “science class”. I think it came up once or twice, but I’ll have to look again to make sure.

I’ve been told “Vaccines protect the vulnerable through herd/community immunity.” I opted out of all public spaces for my micropreemie’s first winter and most of his first year because it was no one else’s responsibility to keep him from getting sick. No one owed us their vaccination status or their immunity.

But my favorite bumper sticker slogan is “The science is settled.” Really? There is nothing else to learn? We’ve plumbed the depths of physiology, virology, bacteriology, microbiology, toxicology, epidemiology, chemistry, human development, and any field even tangentially related to vaccines? No stone left unturned? Does science actually settle?

I see this as a first amendment issue,  the state-established religion that is vaccine compliance. The basic tenets of this religion are:

  • Babies are born with the original sin of deficient immunity.
  • They must be baptized by doctor/priests with the holy water of vaccines.
  • Parents who so much as question the ritual may be bullied into submission. If that doesn’t work, they are shunned as heretics.
  • Now there is a nationwide witch hunt to root them out.

Do you think this will stop with vaccines? I don’t. Is this the America you want? I’ve already called and written to my state and federal reps, and the next step is face to face. Part of me thinks, I don’t have time to get into this. But a bigger part says, if not now, then when? If not me, then who? I don’t see this getting better anytime soon. I may as well stand up and be counted.

I thank the anonymous author who wrote this list. It’s sobering.

  • Less government, except with vaccines.
  • We shall not comply, except for vaccines.
  • Do not take my rights away, except with vaccines.
  • I am pro life, except for vaccines.
  • My body my choice, except for vaccines.
  • Don’t trust the government, except with vaccines.
  • The government/big pharma is poisoning our food, except for vaccines.
  • Glyphosate is bad, except in vaccines.
  • Mercury is bad, except in vaccines.
  • Aluminum is bad, except in vaccines.
  • I am vegan, except when it comes to vaccines.
  • I can sue if any product kills me or my child, except for vaccines.
  • Informed consent, except for vaccines.
  • Animal rights, except for vaccines.
  • Religious freedom, except for vaccines
  • Philosophical freedom, except for vaccines.
  • All lives matter, except for the ones harmed by vaccines, because of the “greater good.”
  • One size does not fit all, except with vaccines.
  • Your health conditions matter, except when caused by vaccines.
  • Your consent matters, except with vaccines.
  • My truth matters, except with vaccines.
  • Transparency matters, except with vaccines.
  • We believe her, except with vaccines.
  • All lives matter, except the ones used to make vaccines.

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For the Last Time, Again

I’m on my second last child.

Six-year-old Lenore was our fourth and supposedly last child. I desperately wanted a fifth, but for a multitude of reasons that was not happening. I simultaneously celebrated and mourned each of Lenore’s firsts, because they were my lasts. That culminated in her first day of preschool. While it gave me regular kid-free time for the first time in 11 years, it was without question a difficult transition. I made the best of it, mostly with more horse time, but I knew I would always regret that fifth baby we wouldn’t have.

Then along came Malcolm. Born five and a half years after Lenore, Malcolm reset the clock on kids at home. And once again I find myself celebrating and mourning all the firsts, because for the second time, they are my last firsts. In a way, it’s worse this time, because I know for sure how quickly the phases and stages come and go. Plus, Malcolm is in a race to get through them. As our pediatrician remarked at his one year check up, “He’s blowing right through all the developmental milestones!”

Today Malcolm and I spent some time at the park. During the 13 years we have lived in this area, our family has spent hundreds if not thousands of hours at this particular park. Malcolm is a pretty solid walker now, but climbing play structures is still relatively new to him. I walked with him as he edged to the top of a toddler-sized slide and made his way down. I saw how worn this little slide was, no doubt from legions of other kids. “That includes my other four,” the thought came to me. That struck me for some reason. However small, our family has had an impact on this park. My two oldest are now in middle school, and are just too cool for playgrounds anymore. My middle two are now getting their swing and slide time at their own school. That leaves the baby brother to make his own mark as he learns how to use his body.

For the second time in parenting, I am forcefully realizing what it is to let go of this phase of life. This time however, I have the newer insight that no matter how many babies there are, the last one will be a little bit sad. And even if by some miracle there is another baby in the future for us, the time of infancy is quickly passing for Malcolm, as it already has for his brothers and sisters. He is looking less babyish everyday. His hair is now long enough to again see the tint of strawberry in the blond. It was present in his newborn fuzz, but once it fell out and became full blond, I thought I must have been nuts to see it. Now it’s back, only this time the face it frames is decidedly not newborn. It’s that of a growing boy who has many of his own opinions.

I love watching my kids grow, and rediscovering everything all over again. I just know from past experience how quickly it all passes. In a sense, a parent’s job description includes making themselves obsolete, or at least moving from care giver to friend. I look forward to all of that. And yet, it’s difficult to picture a time when there won’t be a significant amount of nostalgia for the baby era, when everyday is something new.

With that in mind, I raise a proverbial glass to Malcolm’s first birthday, and my second last first birthday.

Mark Your Story

“Now here you are with your faith, and your Peter Pan advice.
You have no scars on your face, and you cannot handle Pressure.”
– Billy Joel

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This is Mr Te O’Lena, AKA Teo. He’s a 26-year-old Appaloosa/Quarter Horse cross. (Mr T was a much bigger deal in 1991 when Teo was born. The Te is from his Appaloosa side and the Lena from the Quarter Horse side.) He came into my life in 1995, and has accompanied me on every move since then. I wish sometimes that he had an odometer so I could know how many miles we have clocked in 22 years. However, he does have one, or rather, several things that help me remember where we’ve been: scars.

 

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This is the first one we added, at age 4. It happened so long ago that it’s no longer visible. There used to be a long pink line from the tip of the nostril to his lip. Within a week of getting Teo, and moving him into our first barn, the mare next door bit him on the mouth. He was minding his own business when she came around the corner and split his lip. We debated whether it needed stitches, but in the end it closed on its own, and within a few years, the scar faded.

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Left hind leg. That horizontal line halfway up occurred at age 6. I let Teo loose in a sandy enclosure, surrounded by five bar pipe fence. As usual, the first thing he did was get down and roll in the deepest sand along the fence line. Then he rolled all the way over, as most horses do, and in the process stuck his left hind leg through the bottom two rails. In a panic, he jumped up and dragged his leg back through the fence and sliced it open. To this day, 20 years later, he will not roll all the way over, even if there isn’t a fence in sight.

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Left foreleg. Those white marks on the front are leftover from the one bad case of scratches he had at age 8. Sometimes scars result in white hairs.

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I have a scar on my right shoulder to match the one above his eye. And the show bridle I carefully picked out and saved for was never the same again. When he was 7, we went to a clinic with a new trainer. While cantering around the very deep arena, Teo found an uneven spot and we both went down, head over heels. I got back on, but we were both bloody.

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Right hind leg. Here’s another example of the body’s amazing ability to heal. If you see a circular white spot in the middle, that used to be a piece of proud flesh. (Don’t google it. Seriously.) He had it from age 10 to age 13. It bled horribly anytime it was bumped, but most vets only talked about how inconvenient it was to cut it off, and that often it would likely grow back anyway. Then our vet in Oregon suggested we try caustic powder. Lo and behold, within weeks, it was shrunken and smooth. Hallelujah.

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Right rump. You really can’t appreciate this scar unless you feel it. Just looking at it, you wouldn’t notice anything. And then you touch it and your finger sinks a half inch deep in what should be muscle. I’m not sure the exact pathology that led to this, but Teo came in from the pasture one day about 10 years ago with a bloody patch of missing hair. Nothing too noteworthy. Horses rough each other up all the time. It scabbed over as usual. However, when the scab fell off, the skin was depressed. It never seemed to bother him, but it’s jarring if you run your hand over it, and the landscape changes unexpectedly.

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Left shoulder. Another pasture casualty. If you use your imagination, it’s just about the right size for an equine tooth.

 

Left foreleg again. That missing patch of hair happened when he sideswiped himself galloping on a trail ride. Even he would tell you it was worth it.

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I was sad the day I realized I could no longer see the hoofprint on my forearm. When Teo was learning to jump, our trainer had us try jumping with no reins and no stirrups. It’s a pretty common exercise, but not usually done on young inexperienced horses. The reins ended up by Teo’s ears, and when I reached for them, he freaked. With no stirrups to balance, I slid right off and underneath him. The footing was deep, otherwise my arm would have broken. I didn’t fully add up what happened until my arm started swelling and bruising. The shoe and nail prints were plainly visible. It was the coolest scar, and it’s no longer part of my body’s story.

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Scars aren’t something to hide. They remind us of our story, and they remind us how quickly things can change.

There is riding a horse, and then there are those rides where you find yourself on a different plane of existence. It’s more than just being technically correct, executing all the right moves, and receiving all the right responses. Words can’t quite do justice to the feeling of uniting with a horse. It isn’t just the speed. You can get that anywhere. It’s a sensation of flight. It’s the trust in the relationship. It’s the realization that there isn’t conscious thought, that your two bodies are actually in synergy to make something extraordinary.

The memory of those amazing rides keep us going when we have the opposite experience. When the chips are down, we have to admit how much more powerful horses are than we are. That wonderful ride on a quiet horse changes very quickly when something suddenly pops up in the periphery. A spooked horse can jump right out from under you. Or, as I’m living proof, one bad step can bring that thrilling run to an end. Anyone who rides long enough will experience these things and more. While it can make a rider fearful, the knowledge that the possibility is always there adds to the rush. Even if the odds are one in ten thousand that any given ride will go south, the fact that you both made it out unscathed gives you just a hint of that cheating death feeling.

No one is immune to the unexpected. We have the scars to prove it. The beauty is, we saddle up anyway.

 

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On Joining the Ranks of the Fatherless

In October of 2009, my parents came to visit me. Fall foliage in our area was in full swing, and I had a few things planned for us to do to enjoy the season. During the first day’s outing, it was clear Dad wasn’t relishing all the walking with his usual energy. That night, he and Mom tended to some painful looking ulcerated wounds on his legs that I hadn’t seen before, and he admitted to me that he wouldn’t be up for another day like that one. That was a shock coming from the man I had seen fly around the world at a rapid rate. It hit me that I was witnessing the beginning of the end, and that Dad wouldn’t be with us for much longer.

In March of 2010, I got the phone call I had been expecting since the previous fall. Dad had gone through emergency surgery, was in ICU, and things were looking iffy. My four siblings dropped everything and rushed to be there and I had a decision to make. I lived farthest away, and there aren’t great options for getting across the country when you need to be there yesterday. Plus, I was still nursing my third child. Leaving him home with no clear idea when I would be back didn’t seem like a good plan. But bringing him with me would add to everyone’s burden. I thought back to the last conversation I’d had with Dad, where we discussed a lesson I was preparing to teach at church. We’d had a great hour long discussion of gospel principles, and I realized I was okay with that being our last conversation in this life. Reluctantly, I decided to wait for the funeral I was sure would happen soon.

Step by shaky step, Dad progressed through ICU, and after several weeks moved to a step down unit before finally coming home. However, he would never again be the man who showed up and helped out with home improvement projects, or rallied the troops for a day of sightseeing.

There were still good years. We still had family reunions, and my parents still visited, but Dad was in constant pain and moved ever more slowly. Every call from home, especially at odd hours, I expected to be the big announcement.

After a hospitalization last fall, it seemed clear Dad wasn’t recovering up to previous levels. It was a one step forward two steps back process. Two of my sisters spent time with him and decided we all needed time together. That happened in February of this year. My siblings gathered for a weekend. I took the opportunity to announce my fifth baby, 20th grandchild overall, who is slated to join us in September.

My oldest sister was preparing for her wedding and wanted to do some shopping. That’s definitely not my thang, so I stayed with Dad while Mom and the others headed off to bridal shops. Dad wanted help getting out of his chair, so I positioned his walker and got him standing, and he started shuffling his way through the house. I turned my back for a moment and heard him fall. Over the next hour, I helped him slither across the floor and then crawl back into his chair. The whole experience left me very rattled. Dad seemed so fragile.

In May, my nephew received his mission call and my sister booked a Memorial Day weekend trip to see my parents, and make sure her son saw his grandpa before he left for two years. Her report of Dad’s decline just since February was sobering.

Only days later, Dad fell again, this time injuring himself to the point of requiring surgical repair. While the surgery itself went well, the long recovery was full of complications. On Father’s Day, Mom put Dad on the phone as he lay in a rehab center. It would be my last conversation with him. I thought there were cans rattling in the background, but it turned out to be Dad’s breathing. I didn’t sleep at all that night, absolutely positive the final phone call would be coming.

Just over a week later, Dad was brought home for hospice. This time, at my sister’s urging, I dropped everything and hopped on a plane to see him one last time, six months pregnant and all. I was the last one to arrive. I went in Dad’s room and spoke to him, and he tried to open his eyes. It was the last time I saw him respond to anything. I put his hand on my belly and the baby kicked while I talked about everything. That was on Thursday evening. Dad lingered until early Sunday morning.

In the days in between, my siblings and I sifted through hundreds of old photos, read aloud from Dad’s journal, laughed and cried together, and had some the most open and frank discussions we’ve ever had. We talked about our sister’s death nearly 28 years ago, how it affected us individually and collectively. We talked about the first time we thought Dad was dying. We compared our experiences growing up, which varied widely due to the long span of years from oldest to youngest. We made funeral plans and arrangements. And finally, we all joined hands around Dad’s bed while my brother gave Dad his final blessing. The spirit in the room was palpable.

Dad’s funeral was a great send off. Each of us kids spoke, my husband and I sang a duet, one sister sang while another played, my nieces played prelude, and I played postlude. We buried Dad in the family plot, next to my sister, near his parents and two of his brothers. Then abruptly, our time of commiseration and mutual support was over. We all went our separate ways, all of us going home to our new normal.

I’m left wondering about grief and loss in general. How much can I now relate to everyone else who has lost a parent? Is losing a father like losing a mother? Is my relationship with my dad comparable enough to someone else’s relationship with theirs? How much does cause of death factor into the overall grief? And surely losing a parent as an adult is different than losing one as a child, or never having known them. Maybe I should consider myself lucky I got 35 years with him, and it shouldn’t affect me the same way it would have had it happened when I was very young. Either way, I have concluded that a very visual, tangible link to my own history is now gone, something that would be a common experience for everyone who loses a parent or grandparent. Whatever stories he knew and didn’t tell, whatever memories he had and didn’t share, whatever advice he had and didn’t give, it went with him, along with a piece of my own past.

Grief is very individual. Each person’s loss will be felt and dealt with differently, even if they were comparable relationships. And yet at the same time, it is unifying. It will happen to everyone eventually. All you have to do is outlive someone to experience their loss. One blogger put it:

“And yet you are full of death and your heart is as broken and so I invite you up here on the stage to claim your loss, too. To everybody who wrote to me, come on up. To everybody who lost a pet who was their only child; who lost a parent they thought they hated but they can’t stop sobbing; whatever your loss, let it be what it is. We have all lost. One and all. Come on up here and make room for the gal next to you. All of us smushed up on this enormous stage are all the Biggest Losers. We have all earned our title.”

My dad lived a long full life. He accomplished great things, saw much of the world, and made long lasting fulfilling relationships. His family will miss him everyday. Thank you Dad for everything you taught me. And if you see your newest grandson up there, keep him occupied until September. You two probably have a lot to talk about.

 

Please Don’t Say This to THAT C-section Mom

This blog post is getting some national attention. Jenny Witte, AKA Mamatoga, is pregnant with her fifth baby and planning a fifth c-section. She’s tired of certain responses when people find this out. Some express sympathy that she’s had so many c-sections. Some question her on how well she knows her available options. She’s here to tell you that she doesn’t want your pity and she’s very well-informed, thank you very much.

If it isn’t already obvious, I had a very visceral reaction to her post. On the one hand, I perfectly understand where she is coming from. People make thoughtless comments right and left on any aspect of our lives, but probably none more than pregnancy, birth, and early parenting. Whether it’s the fact that it’s such a unique time of life that invokes strong feelings in everyone, for better or worse, or simply that we want to connect with someone at such a special stage, sometimes it feels like new moms can’t get away from unwanted commentary on what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their bodies and babies. I understand and agree with the idea that we should simply be more supportive of one another. As wonderful and magical as these times of life are, parents are also stress-filled, sleep-deprived, and self-doubting. Why should we add to that already great burden?

You sense a but coming, right? It’s a big but. BUT, I resent the premise that these are things that shouldn’t be said to any c-section mom. The very title implies all c-section moms feel this way. While the author has since clarified she never intended to speak for all women like her, she did nothing to change the post itself to reflect that. In a way, it would seriously weaken her argument if she changed her title to, say, “Please Don’t Say This to Me.” That might make her sound whiny and self-involved. Instead, she invokes the power of an entire classification of women, many, but not all, of whom feel as she does.

I’d like to address a few specifics on her post. Her first baby was born by unplanned c-section after a long difficult labor. “Being upset that the plan I had for giving birth didn’t work out is not something I waste time on. Ever.” I’m so happy she came through that experience with no lingering trauma. Unfortunately, too many other women weren’t so lucky. Too many other women did not choose to “waste time” on PPD, PTSD, nightmares, and panic attacks, all of which I experienced after both my first (a vaginal birth) and third (a c-section) births. Women like myself did not make the conscious choice to feel as we did, and her implication otherwise is offensive.

Next: “I have read countless Facebook announcements along the lines of “My wife was a true warrior, giving birth naturally and with no drugs!” That’s great, and I am happy for those women, but I’m a warrior too, let me tell you. Just because I require a different, less “natural” way to get those babies into the world doesn’t make me a failure at giving birth.” Those countless Facebook posts weren’t about her. They were not directed at her. Those people did not post on her wall bragging about their births and shaming her for hers. She took personally a post to all their friends. This makes me doubt her claim that she chooses not to “waste time” on her birth plan gone awry. If she wants people to simply congratulate her, then can’t she reciprocate and not take personally something that was not even remotely about her?

Now, I know, from experience, some of you are going to argue with me about c-sections, and here’s where I am going to shut you down. Giving birth naturally isn’t an option for me, so this is how I am going to do it.” I simply disagree with her wording here. I always question in my mind when someone says “it’s not an option” because here’s the secret: you always have a choice. Always. It may seem like you don’t if one option is the clear winner, but it is always your choice. Mamatoga’s choice is for a repeat c-section and that’s fine, but what that means is she rejected the option of VBAC, not that VBAC doesn’t exist.

I also have very personal reasons for disliking the idea that “it’s not an option.” Mine was not a typical c-section. It was done at 26 weeks due to a placental abruption. Because it was so early, the surgeons had no confidence they could perform the standard low transverse incision on the underdeveloped lower uterine segment and instead used a classical (vertical) incision. For those who are blessedly unfamiliar with this concept, a classical incision is the scarlet letter of c-section scars. Official guidelines from governing obstetric organizations state that women with classical scars should have scheduled c-sections for all future pregnancies, and in some cases earlier than the standard 38-39 weeks of most scheduled c-sections in order to avoid any signs of labor. I knew all this going into that c-section. I knew what I would be up against should I choose to buck the system and pursue VBAC anyway. I count it a miracle that, after a long search, I was able to find supportive care providers who assisted me in my full term VBAC of baby #4. That was my choice, when I very easily could have accepted the repeat c-section and said “VBAC wasn’t an option for me.” Since then, I’ve connected with dozens of women who have made similar choices through Special Scars. While not every special scar woman pursues VBAC, they learn from the organization that others have done so and it is an option. They generally won’t learn that from their health care providers. That brings us to our next excerpt.
Mostly, what also bothers me is when people will ask WHY I had a c-section, and then will speculate on whether or not THEY think it was “necessary.” Not one of these people have been a medical professional, and it is rather offensive to assume I haven’t educated myself on what is going on with my body and the way I am going to give birth to my children (yes I have heard of VBAC and no it was not an option for me). Thanks for the rundown on c-section statistics, but if I have any major questions about it I’m going to go ahead and ask my doctor.
I get it. I’ve made some unpopular decisions in my time too. I’ve put countless hours of research into those decisions and I’m not about to go into great detailed descriptions for every last person who questions me on the matter.  However, while I won’t speak for the motives behind the people questioning and speculating about Mamatoga’s situation, I can state that my reasons have much less to do with a desire to be right or to feel superior than they do with a deep desire to spare other women what I went through. When I ask another woman how well she knows her options, that is mostly my own trauma talking. I want every first-time mom to know that she has the right to say no, and even eject people from her health care team who are doing more harm than good. I wish I’d known that 12 years ago. I wish I’d known it was well within my rights to decline interventions, especially those that were non-life-saving and simply for the hospital staff’s convenience. I wish I’d known, simple as that. I will risk offending someone like Mamatoga if it means another woman will come through her birth feeling healthier than she otherwise would have.
Finally, Mamatoga closes with this gem: “What is one piece of advice I will give to moms who are having a c-section? Be sure to ask to hold the baby afterward, the same way they do for “natural” births to get that same “skin to skin contact.”” I should have done that with my 26 week preemie, who was immediately put on a ventilator and taken to the NICU where I didn’t hold him for a full week due to the sensitivity of his skin that required a high degree of humidity and where he spent the first 99 days of his life. All sarcasm aside, if they could have intubated him and inserted the IV line in his umbilicus and everything else they did on my chest in the OR, that would have been wonderful. Seriously unlikely, but maybe it could have happened. But it hightlight the problem with her advice, which is that it paints the picture of a very calm scenario, one that simply isn’t the case with many births. That brings me to my final point.
No matter how you are going to bring that baby into the world, keep your eyes on the prize, a healthy mama and a healthy baby, nobody should ever be sorry about that. And us c-section moms don’t need to have your pity, we need to have your congratulations and support.” C-sections do not guarantee the health of either mom or baby. Mine did not give me a perfectly healthy baby and my future reproductive health was compromised. We both came through it still having a pulse, but there is far more to health than simply having survived the experience. This could be a separate post all on its own, but in my 12 year history as a mother, I have never, ever agreed with the sentiment “All that matters is a healthy baby” and it’s variants.
After my first son was born and I was traumatized and looking for validation, mostly what I heard was “At least you got a healthy baby.” First of all, how many helpful comments actually begin with the words “at least”? Secondly, I was my baby’s mother, his primary care giver. I spent more time with him than anyone else. Did these people think I was unaware of his health? Did they believe they were giving me new information? The kicker came after my third birth. It was a long time before I felt comfortable bringing my preemie out in public. By the time I did, he looked, to all outward appearances, like a normal healthy baby. That’s because we didn’t go about our daily lives with an entourage of all the specialists who were still following him. We didn’t carry his medical chart to show to complete strangers. Health isn’t always obvious to the casual observer, and you have no idea if you are rubbing salt in a raw wound with that “healthy baby” comment. And finally, healthy babies matter, but so do unhealthy ones. Do you know what happens when you have one of those unhealthy babies? Do you reject them? No. You love them. You take care of them. You do your best to meet their special needs and raise them for whatever amount of time you may have with them. People matter, whatever their health.
So what should we say to moms? It’s hard to go wrong with “How are you?” Then listen empathically. Don’t interject advice unless she asks. More likely than not, she simply wants someone to listen.

A Netflix Effect

I have a confession to make, just between us. I’ve watched way too much Netflix in the last year. I’ve already written about a few things that came to my attention through the wonders of streaming TV shows, but I skipped over the implications of having spent the time watching them.

It all started as we were preparing to move. I found a show to watch while packing boxes. Periodically, I would finish a set of boxes before the episode was over. Then the next episode would start of its own accord. Pretty soon, I was hooked into yet another. It’s kind of a miracle I got anything done.

It has been interesting to compare and contrast watching a long running TV show over the course of weeks or months versus live. Like most things, there are trade offs, and it depends on the type of show whether more is lost or gained by mass consumption.

I watched The X Files in the ’90’s, along with millions of other fans. Each week, I turned my lights off and tuned in. I can remember calling a friend during commercial breaks when Something Big had happened. The next day, it was talked over, analyzed, and theorized. Summers were long and we wondered whether Mulder had really died this time. It was a rush to see the movie on opening day with other ardent fans. The show was one of the first to gain a large internet following, and the so called X Philes are credited with coining the term shipper, to describe fans of a particular romantic relationship. And yes, I was absolutely a Mulder/Scully shipper.

The next show I watched live was Fringe, almost 10 years later. I caught up on the first two season over a summer and joined in for seasons three through five. By then, the internet was very well established part of life, so along with other fans in between episodes, I picked apart, wondered, and even created. Yes, I’ll admit it. I am guilty of theorizing through fan fiction. The show was multi-layered and full of Easter eggs for the observant, so plenty of fans pulled together to decipher it all. We also fretted over ratings, which steadily dwindled until the show ended.

I contrast that with watching Buffy, Angel, and Lost over a short period of time, years after their finales. It’s so much simpler to sit back and watch when the next episode to start automatically, than it is to attempt spacing them out and allow time to digest and speculate about what is to come. Much of the fan-generated content is still out there for each of these shows, but it feels obsolete as those mysteries have largely been solved. And while the short time span allows a viewer to remember much of the complicated mythology and back story unique to each show, you barely have time to absorb anything before the next episode starts. I missed both the fan camaraderie and the chance to savor each new development.

Other shows are less complicated and start getting stale on a binge watch. Most sitcom episodes begin to look alike after awhile. Then there are shows like House, MD and Bones that are a series of standalone episodes. They tend to be formulaic and become predictable. I find it easier to get my fill of House or Bones because there isn’t a central theme story arc carrying from one episode to the next. And while their fandoms may be just as dedicated, I personally find less need of it because of there isn’t as much to wonder about where the story is going.

I have wondered if a currently airing show’s availability on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime has reeled in new live viewers. I caught up to Fringe and watched to the bitter end, but I wouldn’t have been willing to do that if I’d had to start in the middle. Last year, I caught up to Supernatural and I watch it live now too, because it’s another show that lends itself well to long terms story arcs and fan theories.

When I went looking for evidence that current long-running shows gain new viewers from the internet, all I found were laments from TV networks about the loss of live viewers. According to Fortune, as much as 40% of the decline in TV viewing is directly attributed to online streaming services.  Forbes shows the trend has been going on for years. Digital Trends places Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon far down the list of ways to view if you want your favorite show to be renewed.

Then there are those who are a bit paranoid about the effect Netflix is having on our viewing habits. Salon says we’re being turned into puppets. Netflix records every time we pause, rewind, or fast forward, and looks for trends.

“Perhaps the action slowed down too much to hold viewer interest — bored now! — or maybe the plot became too convoluted. Or maybe that sex scene was just so hot it had to be watched again. If enough of us never end up restarting the show after taking a break, the inference could be even stronger: maybe the show just sucked.”

I wonder if the powers that be at Netflix have clued in that I tend to fast forward through scenes of childbirth. I can’t stand the way it is generally portrayed in movies. Regardless, this is a new capability that no one could possibly have done 20 years ago when I happened to rewind and watch one or two especially sweet Mulder/Scully scenes.

For better or worse, TV watching is changing. Really, the only claim live TV has left is sports events, and advertisers know it. How many non-football fans watch the Superbowl knowing the quality of advertising will be a cut above the usual? But sports fans and players pay the price in the form of longer games with more interruptions,

Big changes are ahead as technology continues to evolve, but who knows exactly what they are and how they will affect fans of good storytelling. Fans will adapt as always, but I will probably continue to feel nostalgic for the simpler time of the ’90s