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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Birth History: Death in Childbirth


In the days of our great-grandmothers and beyond, childbirth was often a dreaded, formidable time. Hospitals were usually avoided as places where only sick people went, usually never to return. The possibility of death while giving birth loomed over a woman as she came closer to her due date, overshadowing any joy of her upcoming arrival.

Among the greatest risks to a woman in childbirth were childbed fever, toxemia and postpartum hemorrhage; the last two of which are still a major cause of maternal deaths worldwide today.

Childbed fever, or puerperal fever, is an infection of the female reproductive organs and was one of the most common causes of death in childbirth prior to the early 20th century. It frequently took the mother's life within days of giving birth and was extremely painful. And it was almost entirely caused by the hygiene practices of the birth attendant - which included midwives and physicians.

It's important to make this distinction, because many times people tend to think of midwives of that time period as uneducated, inept, or practicing witchcraft in an unsanitary, ramshackle house. While there were some that did, there were many who were very capable, some even experiencing fewer deaths than their physician counterparts.

A Lysol ad from 1937, referencing
infection control both in hospital births
and those that take place at home. 
It is also worthy of noting that, unlike with neonatal mortality rates, maternal deaths were more likely to happen among women in higher socioeconomic classes: likely because they were more apt to go to hospitals to give birth or have the finances to pay for a private physician.

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis is often credited with understanding how childbed fever was transmitted: he theorized, correctly, that midwives and physicians were spreading the streptococcus pyogenes bacteria through improper hand washing from patient to patient. He proposed that physicians wash their hands in a chlorine solution prior to delivering a child, an idea that offended fellow doctors. Despite his repeated attempts to educate healthcare workers on proper hygiene, they often ignored his requests and refused to believe they were, in fact, contributing to the problem - even as maternal deaths were decreasing among those who practiced Semmelweis' hand washing guidelines.

When he first introduced the protocols in a Vienna obstetrical clinic in 1847, the rate of childbed fever deaths in the doctors' wards was three times higher than that of the midwives' wards.

Decades before Semmelweis' work, physician Alexander Gordon made similar observations as early as 1790. His ideas were not well-received and he was essentially run out of practice. Later, physician Oliver Wendell Holmes came to the same conclusions, only to be equally rebuffed and ignored.

It literally took decades - roughly half a century - before physicians started admitting that perhaps they were indeed the cause of infection and deaths in so many women. And even then, it wasn't until around the 1930s when cases finally started to become scarce, due in part to better hygiene practices, more sanitary birthing conditions and the introduction of antibiotics and sulfa drugs. During Semmelweis' work in Austrian maternity wards, handwashing alone led to a dramatic lowering of maternal deaths.

It was 1925 when my great-grandmother delivered her last babies, a set of twins, at home. The doctor was called in - who I later discovered had questionable hygiene practices. Even then, after much was known about controlling the spread of infection, obviously some continued to disregard it. In my opinion, it's not enough to say "Women died in childbirth before modern obstetrics. You should be thankful your physician does X, Y, Z to make sure you and your baby is safe." Most of us know that maternal deaths were far more common, but do we understand why? One birth blogger who spent an unusual amount of time criticizing the natural birth movement wrote about 'those headstones in a graveyard of all those mothers and infants who had died because of natural childbirth.' (Paraphrasing a bit here, as it's been a few years ago since I read that. But still, that was the gist of the message.) One thing I have noticed: when discussing maternal deaths, many sources will completely gloss over the cause, as if it was just an unfortunate problem that happened for no reason.

Today:
Puerperal fever is still a risk of childbirth today, but in many cases we have different names for it. Although rare, it does still claim the lives of women. No longer known as 'childbed fever,' it is not unusual for women to develop fevers during labor, which are usually treated with imminent delivery, cesarean section (which alone can increase risk of infection) and antibiotics at the first sign of a problem. Chorioamnionitis, an inflammation of the fetal membranes, is caused by a bacterial infection that tends to occur in longer labors. Among the risk factors are repeated vaginal exams and internal fetal monitoring.

It is true that in many ways, modern obstetrics has saved countless lives of both mothers and babies. But you have to have some perspective on the reasons why many women died -  reasons that were primarily iatrogenic in nature - death brought about by the very people who were supposed to save them.

Links:
Childbirth in Early America - Digital History
British maternal mortality in the 19th and 20th centuries - National Center for Biotechnology Information
The Attempt to Understand Puerperal Fever in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: The Influence of Inflammation Theory: National Center for Biotechnology Information

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Birth History: A Dysfunctional Culture




May is Pregnancy Awareness Month, and while I've covered some of these topics before, I've been planning to put them together in more of a series for quite some time now. There is so much to learn while pregnant, and it can get quite overwhelming when you're faced with decisions that range from the mundane to the life-changing. So much of how our medical community views pregnancy, however, is still deeply rooted in old traditions and practices, some of which were, and continue to be, groundbreaking in the field of obstetrics. Some, on the other hand, not so much.

I once heard someone say how hard can it be? You go to the hospital and push out a baby. If only it were that easy. And if you go behind the scenes much, it's probably never been that easy, for reasons that are often not clear to us until we experience childbirth ourselves. Even then, without some historical perspective, we may not realize just how dysfunctional maternity care in this country still remains, probably a century later.

Many maternity care practices were nothing short of barbaric and humiliating, yet were seen as standard practice and therefore somehow acceptable. Whether it's having your hands tied down in labor, being given pain medication that you feel you don't want or need (as we see in Peggy Vincent's Baby Catcher) or given prophylactic episiotomies and forceps births (we'll get to that later), it's all been considered status quo in "modern" obstetrics. And yet, as we see with new guidelines on episiotomy, VBAC and other protocols, it can be painfully slow to implement these changes.

You can't begin to understand the 'typical' mindset towards birth today unless you understand its history. It is a bright spot in some places, in others very dark and tarnished.

You might want to read:

Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born

Friday, March 28, 2014

Buffalo offers nation's first abortion clinic/birth center in one facility

By now you've probably heard about the nation's first abortion clinic and birthing facility all rolled into one, located in Buffalo, New York. Not surprisingly, it hasn't been without controversy.

At first, the idea of it did bother me. But I began to realize that to me, at least, that's not even the issue.

When talking about this groundbreaking facility, many people - both those who are pro-choice and pro-life - focus primarily on the abortion aspect. The fact that it's opening a door, albeit a small one, to women who want to 'birth outside the box' has pretty much gotten lost in the discussion.

Some articles, like this one, do touch on the birth aspect but in a very general sense. Of course the writers at Cosmo probably have no idea what it's like to give birth here. But this area, which comprises an eleven-county region, has, according to the Yellow Pages, at least six facilities that offer abortion, which no doubt translates into dozens of care providers. How many freestanding birth centers do we have in the area? One. How many in the entire state? Three.

Three freestanding birth centers in the entire state. 


Image: Fernando Audibert/stock.xchng
I'm sure there are other states that have zero birth centers in them. But I bet even those states offer abortions, even those that "set limits" on doing them. But they're still doing them. Where are those places that have tons of freestanding birth centers? Or hospitals that are truly, instead of just on paper, designated as 'mother and baby friendly?' Why is the outrage over lack of access to home births, birth centers and non-traditional birth in general seemingly boxed into a very small corner and only discussed by relatively few people in comparison?

I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to find a number of pro-choice people who think home birth is dangerous, VBACs are reckless, and that hospital birth is the safest option for pregnant women. The sheer volume of abortion facilities tells me that even with limitations, there is probably more access to abortion than there's ever been.

However, if you're giving birth in Western New York, you may have obstacles depending on what kind of birth you want. While Buffalo is indeed a major city, there are also outlying rural areas that are up to an hour away from the city. One hospital has gone on record as saying they'd "get a court order at 2 a.m." if they had to, to prevent you from having a VBAC, but it's hard to say if that's true or just a scare tactic. If you're giving birth in that hostile environment, you may not be emotionally strong enough to take that chance.

Other options include a home birth, which not everyone is totally comfortable with. I know some who've birthed in their midwife's home close to the hospital, but again, the midwife can only see so many patients.

I've heard people say they labored in the parking lot outside the hospital, knowing they'd be hooked up to monitors if they went in too early. Others willingly drive an additional 45 minutes to an hour away in another county to give birth at a "friendlier" hospital with a lower cesarean rate (but a much higher rate of births attended by midwives). Judging from the data, it's quite clear in a number of areas that evidence-based practices are not being performed.

So far several of our hospitals still allow VBAC, but in my experience it was hard to find overwhelming support from doctors (and even midwives) when choosing one (and the numbers speak for themselves). Many women, I'm sure, are easily swayed not to even bother attempting one if their doctor isn't enthusiastic about it. Besides myself, I know only a handful of women who've VBACed. The rest just look at you like you're crazy.

It saddens me deeply that among my friends and acquaintances, most of us have had cesareans, some multiple times. I myself have had two. Among the three women I've talked to recently, I realized that between us, we had ten cesareans total. If I widen that scope, it racks up pretty quickly - to the point where vaginal birth seems to be somewhat of an anomaly.

Why? One reason is likely because of inductions. That one act - inducing labor - can trigger a domino effect that can make your chances of vaginal birth slim, at least around here. I've known women who were induced simply because of their geographical distance from the hospital, with the doctor joking, "You don't want to give birth on the New York Thruway."

Here's how a few facilities in the Western New York region (which comprises eleven counties) stack up: (For the sake of boredom we'll look at two counties.)
Data is from 2012. Note the rate of induction, 
which is substantially higher than both state and local averages 
(down only slightly since 2011).  This hospital serves a number of rural
women in outlying areas surrounding the city. VBAC rates are much lower
than the already predictably low state average. The cesarean
rate actually increased slightly in that time period. 
When I first gave birth, it was at this hospital, and not a very happy experience. Maybe things have improved a little since then?

Across town, induction rates are just as bad, as compared to
state averages. Relatively few births (22 in all) were
attended by a midwife. Episiotomy rates dropped only slightly
from 2011, as did the cesarean rate. 
Located in a fairly remote area, your choices are
further limited in neighboring Niagara County. We can
reasonably assume the VBACs (and probably all breech
births in this entire data set) were unintentional. Still higher than
state average episiotomy rates persist, more than half of
women have labor augmented (which increased from 2011),
cesarean rates are high (which also increased, from 35.5%) and for
some odd reason, they had a relatively high rate of
cesareans performed under general anesthesia. No births
were attended by midwives. 
The c-section rate went up from 51.4% in 2011. There
were no births attended by midwives in both 2011 or 2012.
According to the ICAN VBAC policy database,
VBACs are banned at this facility, and they have one
of the highest cesarean rates in the state.  
A rather alarming episiotomy rate (that was 42.9% in 2011).
"We don't often deliver babies, but when we do,
they're mostly by c-section." 

It's such a hurdle, to essentially change the birth climate of an entire city, and even more so, the entire region - and like anything else, when change finally happens, it's often painstakingly slow. I bet most women in need of an abortion would know where to find one, but for a normal, let alone natural birth, they'd probably have to search, maybe even fight for it. With the overwhelming number of clinics throughout the state (New York City alone has dozens) that serve those who wish to have an abortion, it still seems clear that that is their primary focus, not how to have a happy childbirth. If we're going to recognize reproductive rights, we can't ignore the needs of the laboring mother.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why my child will never have a cell phone


I feel kind of sorry for my children. Because surely I must be the meanest mom ever.

My oldest is at the ripe old age of 10, and already is asking when he can have an iPhone. I basically tell him "never." Well, maybe not never - but I first emphasize to him that he is, after all, only 10. Then I remind him that I pay over $1,000 a year to have that phone. So far that seems to deter him, but I don't know how long it will last.
Why not? Everyone else is doing it! 
I somehow managed to go about well into adulthood without having one. I was already married before we purchased our first cell phone, a dinosaur of a Nokia that was functional but beyond that, mostly a pain in the butt to use. That was probably ten years ago.

Obviously technology has improved greatly and most of us are a long way from that old flip phone. As a mom, writer and whatever else I do I cannot imagine living without my smartphone, that honks a reminder to me when I need to be somewhere or sounds the alarm for the kids when it's time to head out the door. It's been great planning directions en route, not getting lost at crucial moments, calling ahead for pizza or sending a quick text to tell relatives we made it home from our long trip.

Call me old fashioned, though, because I just can't see how those applications that make the lives of adults easier can be applied to a kid who still sucks his thumb or watches cartoons on Saturday mornings. Why complicate things that just don't need to be complicated?

I can see how some parents would find them useful for certain things, probably for things I cannot relate to. For instance, we live in the country, so my child isn't around town by himself taking the subway. He's not at after school programs without me, or at any of that stuff that some other families might do. Don't get me wrong, we do have a life.

Several times my son has told me about the basket on his teacher's desk: it holds over half a dozen phones each day while he and his classmates are in school. Why they bring them, I don't know. I see one child's mother every day in the parking lot, without fail, so it's not like there are complicated pick ups and drop offs that mean mom and daughter won't see each other much. In fact, it seems like quite the opposite when I see them together, as if apart from school, they never leave each other's side. Even if her mother forgot about her, the school would take her back inside for shelter and wait with her until her mother showed up. And guess what: they'd let her use their phone to call home, just in case.

He has told me that several kids have shown him games on their phones, which leads me to ask about what else is on their phones:  can they access the internet? He says yes - that sometimes they watch YouTube videos. I want to make sure he's not exaggerating, that perhaps there are some parental controls on their phones because hey, they are kids, after all. But then I think to myself, don't count on it. I remember the days when VCR's and DVD's first came onto the market - and hearing how the preschool-aged kids could operate and manipulate them better than their own parents.

Aside from bullying through social media, the latest concern are photo apps like SnapChat, whose novelty seems to be that it can take photos and share them with others and then quickly delete them. Only the problem is that it doesn't really delete them, especially if you know how to do a screenshot. Supposedly the sender will be alerted if a screenshot is taken of their photo, but who cares - the damage can still be done. Some are worried that the supposed disposability of these photos will make users think they can send photos without consequence. It seems, though, that when it comes to the Internet and it's possibilities, both positive and negative, that nothing can be sent without some consequence.

(And guess what, folks - there's a new app that can bypass the screenshot notification - as well as a few new tutorials on line about how to take secret screenshots of SnapChat pictures. Wonderful!)

And the makers of SnapChat, as well as other popular brands like FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube ultimately care little about the content that might be visible to your pre-teen, but rather seem them as a marketing tool and little else. How hard is it to just lie about your age when you get an Instagram account? (By the way, there are literally millions of FaceBook users under the age of 13, which is probably a conservative estimate.) How hard is it to even find the privacy settings, much less fully understand them, before blasting your photos to the entire universe? As many have said of sites like FaceBook, it's like they want you to "overshare," and you realize little just how much info you're giving away over a given period of time.

Images: marketingland.com
At least 20 percent of teen users have 600 or more FaceBook friends.
How many of those 600 people do they actually know?
Thankfully the vast majority of them make their settings private, but a good portion do not. 
Again, when you consider the minimum required age to use FaceBook (wink wink, nudge nudge) is 13, and how utterly ridiculously hard it can be to keep on top of all the changes, settings and everything else the website throws at us (hey, did you know we can use your photos for public use in ads on our site? Thanks!) I imagine some people either fail to see the scope of what they're sharing and with whom or just throw up their hands and say screw it because it's so overwhelming.

We can also see trends in what kinds of information teens are sharing, perhaps without even thinking (and let's face it, adults do it too).
Image: marketingland.com
We make it pretty easy for people to find us
when we share this kind of information. 
I think it's fair to say that we shouldn't just call out teens for this potentially risky behavior; adults do it, too, sometimes unintentionally. And if I hear one more sanctimonious adult say, "Who cares, I have nothing to hide" one more time, I'm going to slap them. 

How many times have we seen inspirational or uplifting photos that say "If such and such a photo gets one million likes, X will happen." Within mere days or even hours of posting, they've already reached half that goal or more. That can be great if you want to share something, and can be devastating if you don't. Like the gossip grapevine, word travels fast - even faster if it's spread through Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, or through whatever flavor of the month app people are using. It was noted that among one recently publicized teen suicide for social network bullying, the perpetrator obtained nude photos of the victim through an online chatroom, only to send them to just about everyone in her school. When she moved to another district - guess what, he continued to send them to students at her new school. 

Because of the advent of social media, it also means that all those typical teenage habits can be instantly photographed and shared with everyone. Gone are the days of "remember when we toilet papered our teacher's house and then got drunk? Good thing no one took pictures." Unfortunately sophisticated camera phones, coupled with instantaneous access to the internet, mean those memories are documented in real time and then, moments later, can be broadcast everywhere, many times with disastrous consequences. 

As technology changes and our boundaries concerning it are bent, shaped and sometimes broken, it's increasingly important to educate not only our children, but ourselves, in all the new ways it can be used and abused. Respecting not only yourself, but other people's boundaries, even if it seems harmless and in good fun, are becoming more and more important as well. I once had some strange creep blatantly take my picture in the grocery store check out line. Who knows where and how that ended up? 

As more and more stories of teen cyber bullying hit the internet, one thing I cannot understand is why people consider it a form of punishment to take away the cell phone of someone who is being bullied. Sure, if my kid were the one bullying someone, you can bet their phone would probably end up under the tires of my vehicle in a dramatic display of just what I thought of their behavior. But I'm beginning to think it's equally important to take a stance when your child is on the receiving end, if not for one important reason: your child's mental health. Receiving hundreds of text bombs a day, scanning updates on FaceBook from people you once thought were your friends who are now gossiping about you, seeing constant reminders in your face all the time, can have their lasting effects. Limiting that contact, and then redirecting into a more positive interaction, can potentially help them to see the negative, detrimental effects that it can have on their lives if left unchecked. Deleting the account, deactivating it, or putting the phone away for awhile might be worthwhile as you focus on something else that is more productive. As adults, we see our FaceBook friends do this all the time: announce they're taking a leave of absence to get away from toxic environments, or just to get work done or pursue other things that are more important and then poof, they're gone for months. Maybe forever. Why can't we encourage our children to do the same? 

I like the idea that this teacher came up with: show a picture of herself illustrating how fast something can be shared on social media. It's important to remember this is just one fan page that may have shared the image, at any given point in time. There could be many, many others - including this blog and whoever reads this post! 
Image: FaceBook/Time 4 Learning Timeline photos
The above photo received over 600 shares and nearly 8,000 people liked it -
this particular time it was shared. How many times was it shared on FaceBook
in total? Huffington Post estimates this photo was shared at least 16,000 times
and liked by more than 600,000 people. That's like the size of a small city.
Or, a large college campus…. 
Aside from the lesson learned in the example above, this article highlights how manipulating this photo - sometimes with funny results, sometimes not so much - can further lead to trouble. 

Have your kids had a bad experience with social network bullying or experienced negative consequences from cell phone use? 

More reading: 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Breastfeeding and jury duty

Only twelve states exempt breastfeeding women from jury
duty. 
I live in New York State and have been summoned for the dreaded jury duty twice. Both times, I panicked - not because I wanted to shirk my public duty, but because I was the sole care provider for a breastfed infant. I lived hours away from family, had some neighbors - but they either worked or had their own kids to care for. What was I going to do?

Thankfully I was exempted. Maybe they think I'm still breeding, because they haven't called me back (perhaps I'll jinx myself by saying this).

Unfortunately this Missouri mom wasn't so lucky - her state does not have a breastfeeding exemption, and the judge gave her two options when she showed up in court holding her seven-month-old son: put him in childcare or bring someone with you to watch him while you sit in court.

The judge apparently said she could take breaks to pump (and someone else said 'to feed' the baby but these are two entirely different things), but I don't see how this would help her if her child refuses to take a bottle. I'm also curious where she would be allowed to pump: a judge's posh quarters, or the nasty public bathroom down the hall? Hmm... sounds like a tempting offer.

Only twelve states exempt breastfeeding mothers from jury duty. This is pathetic. And while Trickle's state recognizes 'undue physical or extreme financial hardship' as a reason to excuse someone, I'm almost sensing here that the court thinks that because she's a stay at home mom with presumably no income to lose, that there's therefore nothing lost because she's not earning a paycheck from a "real job."

Judge Marco Roldan, who is presiding over the case, said in the past he's exempted potential jurors because of a death in the family (did they provide a death certificate? *eyeroll*) or teachers who were scheduled to give mid-term exams. Seriously? You're joking, right? 

Of course, like any other mothering/childbirth/pregnancy/breastfeeding topic, it comes with no shortage of public outcry, usually from people who understand little about the mechanics of the subject. So as a former breastfeeding mother who has spent ... let's see.... roughly 6 1/2 years of her life nursing a child of varying ages, I can say that it's definitely not easy, especially when there are ridiculous limitations like this creating even more roadblocks to a successful breastfeeding relationship.

When you realize how engrained infant formula has become for decades - since probably the 1940s and 50s - it's not a wonder that many people just don't get it or even understand what the norm is for a breastfed baby. And this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all, let's not forget that recent studies have shown that breastfeeding can reduce cancer rates - yet we put up more hurdles that discourage or inhibit a mother's ability to nurse her child.

Many moms, myself included, cannot pump. It's not a sign that something is wrong with you; it's totally normal to be able to successfully breastfeed a baby but be able to pump next to nothing, even with a good pump. It doesn't matter anyway if the child refuses the bottle; some mothers try countless nipples (and they do come in a myriad of shapes and sizes) with no luck.

As far as childcare, when you're a full-time stay at home mom, you probably feel there are few reasons to really need it. I still don't have a regular babysitter whom I trust not to text the entire time she's watching my kids, and mine are 9, 7 and 4. I live hours away from family members, and many of the moms I know are either working by now or have kids of their own to watch; I cannot imagine handing off my baby to them for several hours a day for the duration of a trial (which can either be short and sweet or drag on for weeks, if not months). If you're paying for childcare, usually you have to agree to it long-term, and it can be hard to find one that will agree to short-term care. And of course, daycare is extremely expensive to boot.

The judge's other option was to bring someone with her to court so she could nurse the baby on breaks.  I hope she has really, reeeally good friends, because I personally know no one who would've been willing or even able to do this for me. Again, I'm sure many, if not most, of Trickle's friends either have infants of their own to care for or, if they don't, are working. Even if she could find someone, are they going to hang out all day wandering the courthouse, waiting for the next feeding? Perhaps set up a Pack-n-Play on the front lawn? Would she have to endure more financial hardship by providing additional monies for gas and activities if the babysitter decides to drive all over town day after day keeping baby occupied?

It all seems ridiculous and overly complicated when it doesn't really need to be: just exempt the breastfeeding mother.

More reading:
Jury duty is sometimes a trial for nursing moms - Best for Babes 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Doing the unthinkable: questioning Breast Cancer "Awareness" Month

Right now, as I type this, a college friend is going through what we can only guess are the final throes of brain cancer. It has been a horrible downward spiral to watch, dragged out over the course of several years, that - like most cancers seem to - started out as a battle initially won and then proved to be much, much worse.

Why is that? Have you ever noticed that "survivors" often end up getting cancer a second time, this time much more aggressive than the first? I am so sick of "pink ribbons" I could scream: namely because it seems few people really understand the truth behind them, or the often subversive, misleading marketing behind it. But how dare you ask? How dare you question it?

It's a reality that many of us probably think about, dread, pray will never come knocking at our door. It seems every time you turn around, someone you know or a friend of a friend has it. And it also seems that while advancements have been made, the medical community knows just as little about it as they always have.

Years ago when I was writing for a newspaper, I interviewed a top cancer surgeon at a nationally esteemed cancer facility. He told me that around the turn of the century, there was little they could do for cancer patients, and death from it was often brutal. You were basically just left to die, he said.

I was thinking today of my friend and wondered, if in some ways, that's not still true. Treatment options might work - or at least appear to - and then wham, a recurrence hits you like a ten ton truck several years later. This seems especially true with breast cancer, everyone's favorite 'pet project.'

And I just realized - it's October! Hey, Breast Cancer "awareness" month. Yeah, you're aware of it. But do you really know anything about it? What your risk factors are? How much money is poured into research that is inconclusive, misguided or redundant? The financial toll is one thing; the human toll is unspeakable.

Take a moment to consider:

• A company can merely slap a pink ribbon on a product that makes you think they're "doing something" for cancer research, when in fact they may not be donating anything at all
Products that contain known carcinogens (like personal care products) are often touting that cancer awareness ribbon

The documentary "Pink Ribbons" alludes to the fact that many studies are irrelevant and seemingly poorly organized. In one such study, a commenter responds that while an effort was made to do studies on breast cancer among black women, all the subjects were white. (Seriously?!) How is that making the best use of the millions of dollars funneled into "research" every year? If that's the best they can do, should we be more inclined to just hope for the best and take our chances?

Sometimes the treatment sounds scarier than the disease itself, and yet even if you're questioning traditional medicine at this point you're almost too scared not to seek it, even if it won't be successful. The last I knew, our friend has been reluctant to admit this might be the end, and I'm not sure who is worse - her tenacious (but completely understandable) struggle for survival or the doctors who keep pumping her full of this that and the other, doing surgery after surgery, instead of just addressing the truth head on. The same thing happened with another friend of ours who succumbed to brain cancer nearly 18 months ago. Literally days before he died, there was a medication switch, as if in some last-ditch effort to save him from one of the deadliest brain cancers there is. Why? To practice on him like some kind of guinea pig?

We've been so hopelessly exposed to chemicals in food, pesticides, plastics and who knows what else that of course, there's no surefire paper trail of where it comes from so all we can say for now is "Who knows?" and move on. It doesn't explain why some people get sick and some don't. I personally think the effects are cumulative, no doubt starting with our parents, grandparents, maybe even great-grandparents. Slowly, generationally, we are a nation of sick people - with everything from ADD to cancer, obesity, hypothyroidism, diabetes and a host of other things that seem to crop up in larger and larger numbers. When a company can produce products that cause cancer and then fund cancer research, it should make you seriously question where priorities lie, both in ourselves and in the industry that fuels this paradox. And why won't they tell you when they've got too many fingers in one pie, or conflicted interests that show you your health is really not their top priority?

Our age of quick fixes and 'feel as little pain as possible' living has far removed us from the idea that, really, there are no guarantees in life.

More reading:
Flawed research appalls cancer patient
Medical research studies: Are too many using flawed designs?
Conflicts of interest often under-reported in clinical trials
Clinical trials flawed by biased reporting

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Overachieving" moms, unite!

Lately I've loved being in the kitchen,
doing a ton of baking, canning and
cooking. Except I'm not wearing a bra.
Don't hate. 
I'm sure we've all seen those blog posts about how 'overachieving' moms try too hard, make the rest of us look bad, give us a false expectation of reality, etc. I wish I could find the original article I read - full of positive affirmations that we're all doing a good job, we're all good moms, blah blah blah.

Well, of course. Why does it matter if someone is addicted to Pinterest and loves to craft and make exquisite Christmas cookies and you don't? Since when is this a sign that you're a "bad mom?"

As I canned what seemed like my 500th jar of applesauce this morning, I thought about that article - and how it's often perceived that anyone who so much as turns on an oven is thought of as a "overachiever." I sometimes wonder what people think when I post pictures of all the canned goods, birthday cakes and Barbie clothes I like to make. I wonder what the other moms think when our kids line up at Halloween, and my child is wearing a hand-made costume that took weeks to make while the kid next to her is wearing something they bought on clearance the day before yesterday.

I am not going to let that stop me, though, because you know what - it's my passion! It's what I love doing. And if those other moms don't, so what. I'm sure they have passions and interests that I don't have; things they know how to do that I wouldn't have a clue about. Why are we turning this into another mommy war? Why are you letting someone else make you feel inadequate? And why is this even perceived as an inadequacy in the first place?

One of my favorite DIY bloggers is Ana White - a wife and mother who knew nothing about power tools and building stuff and then decided to learn. Now she is building her mother a freaking house! Can you imagine? I bet she's doing it all to make the rest of us look really bad ....

I can't wait to make this and show the entire world
how awesome I am. *sarcasm*
Photo credit: lynneslovables.com
So far this summer I've canned, tried a buttload of new recipes, and picked fruit with my kids (cue the happy music and images reminiscent of a J Crew catalog), have plans to make more Barbie clothes for a craft show and am constructing a replica of a toy fashion shop and modeling runway to showcase my stuff. Because I'm nuts. And because I freaking love it and think it's fun. Not to make you feel like a bad person, so get over yourself already. (said in the most polite way possible)

I like to write, do family genealogy, bake and cook, photography, make beaded jewelry, make Barbie furniture, antiquing and yard saling and probably a bunch of other crap I can't even remember. While I'm not very good at decorating cakes, I still enjoy doing it. And when I've posted pictures before (of the ones that actually looked presentable), I've heard comments like, "You're such a good mom." Why?! Because I baked a freaking birthday cake?! Our culture has become so used to just opening a box and dumping it out and voila, you have a meal. And while I certainly make my share of Stove Top stuffing, it makes those of us who actually like to slave over a hot stove doing this stuff feel like freaks, like we're only doing it to show people up.

Before modern packaging, people canned and preserved food because that's all that was available. Things like store-bought sugar were a luxury. Handmade clothes were the standard because nearly everyone knew how to sew, and mass-produced clothing was a sign of status and wealth.

Pardon me while I post my pictures on FaceBook - because I want to share in a way that was shared with me, and sparked an awesome idea. That is why I sometimes wish I could live in Pinterest. So many great ideas, and who cares if you don't do them all? Who is ever going to know but you?

It can be so gratifying to take something from raw material to finished product (finish a project? What??) - whether it be sewing, hunting, carpentry, cooking or whatever. Instead it's almost like they're saying, "How dare you know how to do all that stuff, then have the audacity to share your ideas! Shame on you!"

I think our ancestors - you know, the ones who lived on farms and knew how to build and do things for themselves because there was no other way - would be laughing at us because many of these skills are a lost art. Gone are the days of little girls sitting quietly, cross-stitching a sampler (I wonder if that's a discipline skill in and of itself). I am amazed when I read the book Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder: an account of her future husband Almanzo's family, an entire chapter is devoted to what the kids do all on their own while the parents are away for a few days. They use up all the sugar to bake goodies and make their own ice cream, and when a problem arises that could get them in some serious hot water, older sister comes to the rescue by meticulously patching up the wallpaper and scrubbing the entire room. Wow. A kid knows how to do that, all on her own?

An awesome photo collage wall that
I've been wanting to do for at least
five years now. I *will* do this. Someday.
I'm fortunate to have the time to dabble in a variety of things because I'm a stay-at-home mom, but I think I'd be doing this even if I had a "real" job. Sometimes, it comes down to priorities and making time for your hobbies - which can be a great stress-reliever! And sometimes I wonder if women, more so than men, create these inner and outer battles with themselves and each other - dwelling on what other people do and gauging their own abilities based on their perception of someone else. My husband is crazy busy with work but makes time to go hunting - because it's therapeutic, it's a passion, and a craft, so to speak. Are other men jealous of my husband because he hunts and can field dress a deer? I doubt it. So if someone is putting smiley faces on their kids' sandwiches and enjoys it, so be it. If you feel like a "bad mom" simply because of this, please don't. Sometimes I think the only one making you feel inadequate is you.

And if you'll excuse me, it's time to put my handmade-from-scratch calzone (no premade dough here!) in the oven. (My kids are eating cereal instead.)

If you're interested in seeing my (inadequate) craft blog, click here. Not updated very often, but I try. LOL