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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Reproductive rights don't end with abortion

Everyone's talking about the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, especially celebrities. They are lending their voices and faces to the movement in hopes to get better access to reproductive health services for women everywhere.

That's all fine and good, but I think part of that puzzle is missing. What no one wants to talk about, it seems, are what happens if you want choices in childbirth. Aren't those reproductive rights, too?

Many pro-choice advocates like to say that Republicans "don't care" what happens if you decide to not have abortion. Maybe, but from the looks of it, they don't care, either - if you want a VBAC, home birth, natural hospital birth, unassisted birth, etc. where are they?

Many celebrity faces of the pro-choice movement include Meryl Streep, Ani DiFranco, Demi Moore, Cybill Shepherd and many others. Meryl Streep had at least one home birth, but I don't hear her ever mention it, much less do a commercial for it. Both Ani and Demi also had home births. Cybill Shepherd searched tirelessly for a doctor who would "let her" give birth vaginally to her twins. Why are none of these women on the street corner with other birth advocates holding signs that say "Stop banning VBACs!" or "Fight for normal birth!"? Demi Moore starred in the movie "If These Walls Could Talk" - perhaps she could play Laura Pemberton, the Florida woman who was taken from her home during a homebirth after cesarean and forced by the court to undergo a repeat cesarean?? I won't hold my breath.

While there are many childbirth advocates, one of the few celebrities standing on that side of the fence is Ricki Lake. A face and name you are likely to remember, with enough leverage to get her advocacy out there, she is equally praised and hated, it seems. While one side praises women for standing up for their rights to not carry a baby if they don't want to, others are demonizing those women who stand up for their rights to birth that baby in the manner of their choosing. Why are so many in the pro-choice movement silent on this?

I just read an article from the feminist site Jezebel that in a nutshell says, "Home birth is dangerous. Natural birth advocates are stupid," and unbelievably lists one of her sources as "Hurt by Homebirth," a website run by Dr. Amy Tuteur (who, I think we can all summarily agree, is someone who hates all women that exercise their childbirthing rights more than anyone I've ever known).

Why aren't they saying, "I personally wouldn't have a home birth, but applaud Ricki Lake for standing up for birthing women?" Instead of basically saying "I only support the reproductive freedoms of some women, not all." They similarly malign Michelle Duggar, mom of 19 kids.

We readily support advocates who sail into international waters to provide abortions to women in need, but where is the support for victims of forced abortions in China? I am not saying that providing abortions to women in countries where they are strictly illegal and maternal deaths are high is not a necessary service. But why are you only focusing on one aspect of reproductive care? What are you doing to improve birth outcomes and make childbirth safer for those women?

Where are Meryl Streep, Kyra Sedgwick and others when...
• a woman's doctor won't "let her" go beyond 40 weeks?
• a woman's doctor dispatches the police when she wants a natural birth and refuses the induction appointment?
• every hospital you turn to has banned VBAC?
• you want to have a home birth but your midwife could be arrested for attending it?
• you are bullied endlessly about scheduling an induction or cesarean when you don't want one?
• you want a doula but your doctor or hospital "won't allow" it?
• you are removed from your home during a home birth in progress, only to have a judge sign a court order and demand you have a cesarean? (see the Laura Pemberton link above)
• your doctor, nurses and anesthesiologist repeatedly badger you about accepting an epidural even though you don't want one?
• hospital workers dispatch CPS when you refuse a cesarean, or because you birthed a breech baby at home?
• hospital staff treats you badly during a homebirth transfer?
• your local hospital has a VBAC ban in place and says they will get a court order to force you into surgery even if you show up in labor?
Excerpt from the ICAN VBAC database (currently under construction
and now only open to paying members) 
Please note: The state of New York, or any other state, for that matter, does not have a ban on VBACs. Individual hospitals may have outright bans, or "de facto bans," which means they would allow it but no physician will support you in your efforts

I'm not saying I necessarily agree or disagree with abortion; what I'm saying is that vocal pro-choice advocates should not draw the line at abortion. They should not turn their heads or walk away from those who advocate for choices in childbirth, call them "crazies" or degrade their efforts. If you are pro-choice, I merely ask you to consider directing your energy and focus into supporting the reproductive rights of all women, not just some of them.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Breastfeeding in Public: Crappy Toilets

I can never understand why people are so casual and quick to tell a nursing mother to go into a bathroom to nurse when, like most everyone else, they'd hesitate to go pee there. Many of us will hold it - maybe until we find someplace else, or until we get home - and yet many times the first thing out of someone's mouth is, "You should go to the bathroom to nurse that baby," in disgust.

Why is it perfectly okay to reject that same bathroom because it's even unfit to pee in, but perfectly okay to feed your baby in?

Recently a nursing mom-restaurant manager made headlines when she nursed her baby as she was clearing tables in order to help out her staff. I imagine the baby must've been in a sling, otherwise she was pretty darned coordinated to hold a baby while nursing and clear tables at the same time. At any rate, the child would likely have been held comfortably against her breast, and since most babies I know of nurse with their mouths open and are secured firmly to the breast, the milk really has no opportunity to go anywhere except into the child's mouth. Even if it doesn't, it will likely drip down your stomach, onto the baby or be absorbed by clothing before it shoots across the room and hits someone.

Restaurant patrons were apparently offended by the "display," and food safety inspectors were dispatched to tell her to nurse the child in a separate area. Some claimed "food safety concerns," as if somehow her breastmilk would make it into the food. (Even the health inspector sounded dubious.) Since she said she never nurses while preparing food (presumably because she's smart enough not to want to burn her child by accidentally spilling hot food or beverage on the baby) I think the chances of that happening are slim.

Again, it occurred to me that patrons are worried about their own safety when eating around a breastfeeding woman, but couldn't give a crap about 'food safety' or anything else when they suggest that same mother breastfeed in a public toilet.

When you're in and out of a public toilet to do your business and leave, that's one thing: exposure is at a minimum, and hopefully, you wash your hands (although many admit to not washing their hands after using the bathroom - disgusting!). It's not uncommon to see used toilet paper and paper towels on the floor, urine on the seat, or much worse - and that's just the stuff you can see. What about what you can't see?

Pretty much every surface in a public bathroom is covered in germs, among them including streptococcus, staph, e. coli, as well as many others. While the toilet seat itself is usually the cleanest part (unless someone "missed") other surface areas are generally pretty gross. They're on surfaces, even in the air every time someone flushes (multiplied by X number of stalls)  - and yet, your baby is supposed to eat in there?

Combine that with the pressure to nurse in secret when you have other children in tow: how are you supposed to feed the baby and prevent other children, who touch everything with reckless abandon and quickly insert fingers into their mouths, while you're hovering over the toilet?

Several years ago, I happened across a sight in a public bathroom I will likely never forget. Thankfully my children were not with me, and I didn't have a hungry baby to hide while nursing - because you know the restroom would have been full to the brim except for that one, lonely, extremely disgusting stall.

I casually walked in and stopped in my tracks. Some poor soul obviously didn't make it in time, because there was fecal matter, to put it delicately, on the toilet seat. On the handle. On the wall. Horrified, I backed up and quickly left to go find an employee, and ran into one that I knew.

I hesitated, not exactly sure how to tell her that she was in for a monumental job. "I'm really sorry, but the restroom...." My voice trailed off, while she just looked at me with a sad expression.

"Let me guess," she said, turning around to open a supply cabinet and extract a super-duty pair of rubber gloves. "The stall's a mess. It happens all the time." I so did not envy her at that moment. I think I was so horrified and distracted by the whole thing I actually forgot that I had to pee. Whatever - it could definitely wait because I was not going back in there.

As much as people hate to use public toilets, it seems like they suspend all disbelief when they decide that while it's unfit to urinate in, it's okay to breastfeed in.

More reading:
Public bathrooms are filled with various types of bacteria - LA Times