If you’re trying to make a problem worse, I have trouble believing you when you say you’re solving it.

The New York Times recently published an op-ed arguing that all economic problems with abortion can be solved with private charity. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention how false that is.  It’s nice that, in the course of lying to you about breast cancer and depression and withholding your test results, a crisis pregnancy center might also hook you up with a low-cost car or help you with utility bills. But that only scratches the surface of the economic issues–everything from life-long medical costs from pregnancy complications to lower earning potential as someone with a kid to take care of. Crisis pregnancy centers frequently stop helping women as soon as they can’t obtain a legal abortion.  They’re certainly not going to help with daycare costs when the kid you didn’t abort is five, or help you out with the cost of insulin for the next twenty years if gestational diabetes never goes away.

It occurred to me that crisis pregnancy centers are, as far as I’m aware, the only charities working on an issue who are actively trying to make sure more people need their services. Every other organization at the front lines of addressing a problem at least encourages measures that would prevent the problems they address in the first place. Animal rescue groups hold free spay and neuter clinics and encourage people to get their pets fixed. Groups who help homeless people find places to stay are also often trying to address substance abuse, mental illness, and economic issues.  And you won’t see crisis hotlines for LGBT kids saying, “Sure, go ahead & reject your kids for being gay! We’ve got this covered.”

Crisis pregnancy centers, in contrast, actively oppose measures that would result in fewer unplanned pregnancies. The author of the NYT Op-Ed wrote an abstinence-only “sex ed” curriculum—the very kind that drives up teen pregnancy rates. Additionally, by trying to make abortion illegal, they’re looking to massively increase the number of people who need their assistance.

There were about 660,000 abortions reported to the CDC in 2013, and there are between 2300 and 3500 crisis pregnancy centers. Divided evenly, that’s a couple *hundred* additional people in need of help per clinic per year, without even counting the increased abortions if schools that are currently teaching medically accurate sex ed switch to abstinence only.

An American Independent article lists some statistics on the number of people seen by crisis pregnancy centers. According to the Family Research Council, approximately 230,000 ultrasounds were performed at a thousand centers, 230 per clinic.  Even if those centers only did ultrasounds for *half* of the pregnant people they see, providing services for the 650,000 people who currently have abortions would be a 50% increase.

Any other charity might panic at the idea of 50% more people needing their help.  Ask a homeless shelter to add 50% more beds or a cancer treatment center to see 50% more patients, and they’ll be frantically trying to figure out where the money, staff, and resources will come from. But a CPC’s apparent response is a shrug and a blithe “We got this.”  The op ed doesn’t mention any such numbers, or any concrete plans for how the author’s organization would handle such an increase, only the vague generalization that conservatives “must sacrifice their time and treasure to serve women in need”. It’s worth mentioning that this sacrifice of time and treasure is totally voluntary, with no guarantee it’ll actually happen if abortion rights disappear.

To me, that’s a pretty strong indication that CPCs aren’t looking to solve the economic problems associated with unplanned pregnancies as much as they’re trying to put a fig leaf over them. “See, women don’t need abortions! Crisis pregnancy centers will provide them with charity so they can take care of their babies.” Whether their help is sufficient for the actual needs of the pregnant person isn’t really their concern, as long as they prevent that person from having an abortion.

(Hat tip to @AnaMardoll for her thread on how disingenuous the idea that abortion isn’t an economic issue “because private charity” is)

The double standard of not taking women seriously

In the Washington Post, a few days ago, Petula Dvorak wrote that next week’s Women’s March on Washington won’t be taken seriously unless we step away from “well-intentioned, she-power frippery” like the pink pussycat hats.

While she has a point that we need to focus on the serious issues, she misses the fact that we can be as serious as she wants and still not be taken seriously, simply because we’re women. Hillary Clinton was nothing if not serious during her campaign. She put out reams of policy documents, and she discussed the issues in nuanced detail. The whole time, she was criticized for not being warm enough or likable enough. There is no appropriate level of seriousness where a woman will be both likable and respected. It just doesn’t exist.

Women aren’t demeaned and brushed aside because of pink hats or signs with glitter.  Things that are pink and sparkly are viewed as trivial and infantile *because* they’re associated with women. Look at the snarky comments about Teen Vogue and the absolute shock that people who write about fashion and celebrities for teenage girls might also know a thing or two about politics.

Also, matching hats have been kind of a thing in the last election. Funny, I don’t recall anyone criticizing Trump supporters’ “Make America Great Again” baseball caps as insufficiently serious, even though no one could point to what they meant by great or what period of greatness they wanted to go back to. There’s nothing inherently more serious about a red baseball cap than a pink knit hat with ears, except that one is coded as masculine and one is coded as feminine.

For that matter, Dvorak alludes to the fact that feminists will be criticized no matter what we do or don’t do when she mentions bra burning.

Bra burning. That’s the trope that folks have been using to dismiss feminists for nearly half a century.

In fact, no bra was burned at Miss America protests in 1968 and 1969. Feminists threw false eyelashes, mops, pans, Playboy magazines, girdles, bras and other symbolic “instruments of female torture” into a trash can. But the Atlantic City municipal code didn’t allow them to set it on fire.

Yet because the idea of a burning bra was so lurid, it eclipsed the fact that in the 1960s, women couldn’t get a credit card without a husband’s signature, couldn’t serve on juries in all 50 states, weren’t allowed to study at some of the nation’s Ivy League schools, couldn’t get a prescription for birth control pills if they were unmarried, were paid 59 cents for every dollar that men earned and could easily be fired from a job if they got pregnant. Among other outrages.

Because of this stunt, she argues, feminists were painted as foolish and extreme, and attention was drawn away from the serious issues they were fighting to address. But, as she points out, no bras were ever burned. That didn’t stop bra-burning from being a go-to insult against feminists. If anti-feminists need excuses to dismiss us, and the impossible double standards of sexism don’t provide them with one, they’ll just make one up.

 

 

Infertility sucks, but no one owes you a baby

Let me start this post off with a little about my own infertility. I have PCOS, and have been unable to have a child. I’ve had two miscarriages (at least), and another failed IUI. After three rounds at the fertility clinic, my husband and I decided it was time to give up. The stress and near-daily doctor’s visits were taking their toll. The expense didn’t help either. We could have afforded as many rounds of IUI as we’d wanted to do (though IVF might be a stretch), but the idea of spending all that money and not necessarily having a baby to show for it was hard for me. I felt like I was putting my life on hold in hopes of something that might never happen, so I chose to let it go and live the life I have, even if it’s not the life I wanted or imagined.

Anyway, Kate Harding pointed out a really gross Federalist article, whose basic gist was that women who can’t raise children are there to be brood mares for infertile couples.

With the help of the many people everywhere in this country and world who are waiting to surround and support you, you can go through pregnancy and birth and raise your child. If you are really young or in really terrible circumstances, that might be exceedingly difficult. So you have another option to give your child a happy life with a mother and father who will read him or her picture books, take your child on walks, hold your child’s hand during an emergency room visit, and wake up a dozen times a night when that sweet baby has a fever.

It’s called adoption. Thirty-six vetted, loving, wonderful families are on waitlists to adopt every single available baby in this country. That’s right: for every child in this country up for adoption, 36 families desperately yearn for the opportunity to care for that baby. They are aching to give your baby a good life.

First off, raising a child is difficult for *everybody,* not just teenagers or people in really terrible circumstances. It’s more than a lot of people can handle, whether that’s due to age, money, temperament, health, or any number of things. It may be hard for an infertile person who’s desperate for a baby to believe, but there are people who just flat-out do not want to be parents.

Secondly, can we please stop pretending that pregnancy itself is, at worst, mildly inconvenient? Women die in childbirth. At higher rates in the US than is acceptable for a supposedly civilized country. And those rates are higher for poor women and women of color, or for women with existing health issues that make a pregnancy more dangerous. Even if a pregnancy doesn’t kill or cripple you, it’s still a potentially disabling condition, especially if you’re disabled or ill to start with. I somehow doubt that all those so very supportive people are going to move in with a woman whose chronic pain is exacerbated by pregnancy, and help her stay bathed, fed, dressed, and gainfully employed with free 24/7 care. Or baby-sit the other kids of the woman with severe depression, so she can go get a massage, or do yoga, or whatever other self-care steps are serving as a poor substitute for the psych meds she can’t take while pregnant.

But third, and the focus of this post, is that infertility does not entitle you to the use of another person’s body. Yes, I understand the empty sense of loss and the aching jealousy that can boil into rage and hate if you let it. I still remember sitting in my OB/GYN’s waiting room during my first miscarriage, *hating* the heavily pregnant teenager in the room with me. Because why should she have what I wanted so badly? (Those ugly thoughts passed, and I try not to resent people for having things I want, when they have struggles of their own, and it’s not their fault I’m infertile anyway.)

Sadly, the truth is that life is not fair. I didn’t “deserve” infertility, nor does anyone else who suffers with it. No one deserves war, or famine, or illness, or racism, either. But the fact that you’re suffering doesn’t mean that someone who has a thing that you want owes it to you. Especially when that thing is a pregnancy that will take nine months of their life to complete, will permanently alter their body, and may injure or even kill them. This is major, life-altering stuff. It’s not like we’re talking about making the five-year-old who’s hoarding all the candy share some with the other kids.

It’s deeply *wrong* to treat women with unwanted pregnancies as baby-making machines who exist for the benefit of those who can’t have children but want to. It also results in all kinds of abuses. In the course of a discussion with another pro-lifer, I came across this article, about a woman who was charged with murder for refusing a C-section. He had painted it as a heartless woman risking her baby’s life because she didn’t want a C-section scar. But that doesn’t necessarily hold up, considering that she had had previous C-sections. Between her mental illness and her cocaine use, she may not have been thinking clearly at the time, but there’s much more to the story than a vain, selfish woman who’s okay letting her kid die so she doesn’t get a scar.

But what struck me the most about this story is that this was a mentally ill woman who’d been transported by an adoption agency from Florida to Utah, to take advantage of lax adoption laws and provide babies for someone who wanted them. They’d put her up in a hotel on a $100 a week allowance. So, here she is, all by herself in an unfamiliar place, being treated by doctors she doesn’t know. She described a C-section as “being gutted from breast bone to pubic bone,” so clearly she was terrified of the procedure. Anybody would be scared in that situation. So, she fled, like scared people do.

But the big take-away for Twitter Pro-Lifer had nothing to do with the woman’s health or safety, and everything to do with how evil she was for not consenting to a C-section. But what if she had actual support? Not an adoption agency who wanted to use her as a brood mare and doctors who were openly hostile to her, but people who actually cared about her? What if she’d gotten to have her babies in her home state, surrounded by people who care about her? Would she have been more willing to undergo a C-section with a doctor she knew and trusted? If she really wasn’t competent to make the medical decision, she deserved to have a family member there who could do so on her behalf, or at the very least, a social worker who’s job it was to advocate for her. There’s no way to say whether the overall medical outcome would’ve been better, but the stress she underwent certainly can’t have helped.

The Nation article pretty well covered what Utah’s reaction should have been:

 Melissa Rowland’s case is one that never should have happened. Instead of arranging her auto-da-fé, whether for murder or child endangerment, the State of Utah should be asking itself how it can improve services for poor, pregnant, mentally ill substance abusers–and maybe take a look at adoption agency practices, too. When doctors and nurses take the time to know their patients and treat them with empathy and respect, patients usually follow their advice.

The thing that I cannot stress strongly enough is that pregnant women are people, not walking incubators. Melissa Rowland was treated like a walking incubator, and that should never have happened.

Anxiety on the edge of something terrible

As someone with anxiety disorder, I’ve gotten used to telling myself that my fears aren’t rational, that the things I worry about won’t really happen.  Usually, this is true. This week, however, it doesn’t seem to be.  I worried that people would elect a known racist and sexual predator who has promised that the Constitution will only apply to white Christians and that the undesirables would be rooted out of our country, making it great again. And here we are.  I worried that every Hitler wannabe would be emboldened to go out vandalizing property and harassing and intimidating people.  And here we are.

So now, I worry about things like, “Is it safe to wear my Hillary shirt the day after the election?” or  “The truck that was burned and spray-painted had a coexist bumper sticker.  I know it was a trans woman, and I’m cis, but does having that same bumper sticker make me a target?” or “When I tweet at Donald Trump about all the evil that’s going on in his name, am I going to start getting death and rape threats from neo-nazis?” (The answers are “Yes, at least so far,” “Who knows?” and “Not yet.”)

I also worry about getting pregnant in Trump’s America, which is kind of ironic, since I’ve spent years trying to get pregnant with only two chemical pregnancies to show for it.  (That’s a miscarriage before your 8-week sonogram, called a chemical pregnancy because the only way you know you were pregnant is your hCG level.) But, between following pro-choice websites, having a lot of friends and family who’ve had scary pregnancies, and having my own miscarriages, I have heard all manner of horror stories.  Which, of course, the anxiety brain magnifies.

So, like a lot of women, I’m giving extra thought to my birth control. I’m 35 now, advanced maternal age, and trying to get pregnant means lowering the dose of my anxiety meds. I’d already given up and gone back on birth control in order to bump the psych meds up and keep my brain healthy. I was pondering the idea of permanent sterilization, but it seemed too, well, permanent.  It felt more like giving up than just not trying anymore.  But now, I’m back to considering it.

I do the mental math about how likely it would be, if I got pregnant in the next six months or so, for Roe to be overturned during that pregnancy, leaving me out of luck if something goes catastrophically wrong.  The odds of something going catastrophically wrong aren’t high, but I do have some risk factors (like that “advanced maternal age”). There’s also the fact that I live in a very blue state, but  a federal law change could still screw that up.

And, like always, I tell myself that my fears aren’t justified, that I’m not being rational.  So, I go to my husband, who is my sanity check for the crazy shit my brain comes up with.  I ask him if he thinks it’s nuts that I’m considering getting my tubes tied. And he says, “No, that’s not crazy, but vasectomies are a much simpler procedure.”

This is both comforting and terrifying. Comforting that he doesn’t think I’m overreacting and terrifying because I’d rather live in a world where “Make damn sure you’re on good birth control,” is an overreaction to a Presidential election.  (I know that as a married white woman with a well-paying job, I still don’t live in that world to the extent that a lot of people do.)

I’ve had anxiety explained to me as your brain thinking there’s a tiger, and gearing up the fight or flight response, when there really is no tiger.  It’s a cardboard cutout, or a housecat. And all of my coping strategies center around reassuring myself that there’s not a tiger.

But now, it’s definitely a tiger.  I’m looking right at it, and it’s hungry.  It’s got a lot of people that it wants to eat before it eats me, but it is definitely a tiger.  And those coping mechanisms become a lot less helpful.

 

Period Leave?

A company in the UK is giving women paid time off on their periods. The company director talks about replacing shame with positivity and letting employees work with their natural rhythm.

I’m all in favor of reducing period stigma, but I’m not a fan of this concept overall. First off, it reinforces the idea that women are fragile and need special treatment to achieve anything in the workplace. Guys are going to resent the hell out of it, and while part of me wants to say, “Dude, if you had these cramps, you’d call in sick, so hush,” it is reasonable to be miffed when you’re denied a perk based on gender.

Secondly, not everyone needs time off for their period. The level of pain and bleeding can range from “just annoying” to “only capable of curling up with a heating pad and sobbing.” And, as the OB/GYN quoted mentions, if you’re at the crappy end of that scale, there may be something medically wrong. I’m a little less sanguine than she is about the likelihood of treatment completely solving the issue. (I can’t count the number of b.c. methods I’ve tried in the hope of making my own monthly curse a little less miserable, with less than stellar results.) But, I can see where period leave could normalize bleeding or pain levels that are a problem. The flip side of that is that encouraging women to be open about their periods provides a basis for comparison. (You mean, everybody doesn’t have to use a pad and a tampon both for the first day or two?)

In my ideal world, everyone could take off when they feel too crappy to be productive. But I wouldn’t assume that periods always meet that, or that people who have periods need more time off than those who don’t.

Why Health Exceptions Aren’t Enough

I made the mistake once again of arguing about abortion on Facebook. I pointed out that SB5, if passed, would harm or kill women who have unhealthy pregnancies. (And gave a couple examples of issues that can occur.) The guy I was arguing with waved that off because he’s talked to more than one doctor who says he’s never seen any reason a woman would need an abortion to save her life, and that it’s just an “excuse.” (I’m sure he’s operating with *no* personal biases whatsoever.)

Well, there you have it. These two medical professionals (and no, he didn’t say that they were even OBs) said it, that must settle it. I’m glad I never have to worry about having an ectopic pregnancy, or pre-eclampsia or hyperemesis gravidarum (extremely severe morning sickness that causes malnutrition, dehydration, and weight loss) because they apparently don’t exist. Though, I’d love to know what Savita Halappanavar actually died of, since it totally couldn’t be the pregnancy.

This is why, even if you think that abortion is immoral if the pregnancy isn’t going to kill or seriously injure the mother, abortion for any and all reasons still needs to be legal. (That’s not my position, but for this particular post, I’m going to focus on health only.) Because if you just have a health exception, those same doctors will be the expert witnesses testifying at some woman’s trial when she ends her pregnancy so she can have chemo. Or speaking to Congress about how those exceptions should be worded.

Not to mention, limiting abortion to only “medical necessity” does not mean that every woman whose pregnancy is likely to kill or cripple her will have an abortion. What it means is that you need to:

  1. Find a doctor willing to bet his medical license and his freedom that not only are you really at that much risk, but that a court of law will back his decision. (That’s a much higher bar than just a doctor’s opinion that it’s necessary.)
  2. Jump through all the hoops set up by a legal system that doesn’t want you to get an abortion—maybe a waiting period, maybe multiple doctors’ sign-off, maybe a court order.
  3. Get all that done and actually have the procedure while there’s still actually time, before the condition that made an abortion necessary in the first place worsens.

I bring up Savita very deliberately, because it was supposed to be legal, even in Ireland, for doctors to complete her miscarriage and save her life. And yet, that didn’t happen, and she died unnecessarily. Just the fact that something is technically legal is not enough to mean that it really is available when it’s needed.

Edit: I added a couple more examples of fatal pregnancy complications, because putting “ectopic pregnancy” and Savita in the same sentence made it sound like that was the condition she had, when in fact it was septicemia that resulted from the hospital’s refusal to complete her miscarriage.

Holidays and Body Image

I just got back from visiting my parents for Christmas. It’s over seven hours’ drive between our place and theirs, so we don’t see them nearly as much as I’d like. I had a fantastic Christmas in pretty much every respect except the fact that I didn’t go to church. (Yes, I am a slacker. Yes, I have one excellent idea for a New Year’s Resolution, not that I ever actually keep those.)

My dad always makes a ton of food, because he loves feeding people. And there were no comments about this or that food being “bad” or judgment about who was eating what. Well, we did give my brother a little grief over his love of stuffing, but not in a “You shouldn’t eat that” kind of way. More in a “pass the stuffing to him *last* so the rest of us get some” way. And I ate what I wanted, not to the point of feeling gross or overfull afterwards.

And my mom, when she asked what size I wear for clothing gifts, didn’t say anything negative about the fact that I need a plus size. She just went out and bought me a gorgeous sweater (which I love).

I feel really blessed that my holidays weren’t a weight-related minefield, like so many people’s are.

It made me a little wistful to look at all the old family photos and see myself five, or ten, or twenty years ago. I thought of myself as a fat girl in high school, but when I look at my homecoming pictures, I see someone who’s a pretty average size. Kind of chubby arms, and a round face, but not what you would call fat. Probably wearing a size 14 at the time, so very average. And the pictures of me in college, I’d actually call thin, although I never felt that way at the time.

It’s strange to look at pictures that don’t reflect what felt like reality. But then, it’s not like I manufactured that feeling of “too fat” in my own head. That was what bullies said to me (among other insults, of course) all through later elementary and junior high school. I got called a whale, and all the usual insults. And my parents tried to help me with my “weight problem” and encouraged me when I dieted, and when I lost weight. So even when I wasn’t fat, I was viewed that way. But when I look back at actual pictures, I see a slender child become a chubby young teenager, then an average teen and a slender young woman (who then became an average, then chubby, then fat woman, helped by both regain after dieting and my thyroid throwing in the towel).

It seems like the negative messages are always louder and more prevalent than the positive ones. I’m sure I heard, implicitly or explicitly, that I was fat, or ugly, or weird, or gross, much more often than I heard that I was beautiful, or special, or loveable. Which is not to say that my parents messed up my self-esteem. Heck, my mom always had plenty of positive, encouraging things to say to me–they were just drowned out by the overwhelming onslaught of negative. The fact that I emphasized and magnified the negative and took it to heart, while discarding most of the positive, didn’t help.

I also think this ties into sexism. Our culture spends so much time teaching girls that their only value is a very narrow sort of beauty and that they can never be pretty enough, so of course when you’re told you don’t meet the standard, it hurts worse, and it sticks with you.

I didn’t mean for this to be such a depressing post, because I had a wonderful Christmas and am still having a fantastic vacation. But remembering how much I used to hate myself for not looking the way I thought I was supposed to look, well, it just seems sad. So much wasted time, so much needless pain. And I think that if we could figure out how to build a culture that doesn’t teach people, particularly girls, to hate themselves, that would be pretty awesome.