Tag Archives: reproductive health

Amazing Timelapse Makes Pregnancy Look Like a Breeze

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 11.49.31 AMNine months of pregnancy condensed into a minute and a half – with a healthy baby at the end!

Anyone who has ever gone through pregnancy, whether as a mom or a partner, knows that the process is a lot more tiring and involved than a timelapse can convey. Then again, sometimes we’re so preoccupied by every ache, pain, and subtle change that we forget the amazing, holistic arc that pregnancy truly is.

Knowing that the process would demand plenty of focus on the micro level, this creative couple decided to document their pregnancy so that in the aftermath they could enjoy the entire journey from start to finish. In their whimsical representation of child-bearing, both the pregnancy and the baby’s birth come about with just a kiss to the belly. Take a look!

If only it were that easy! And what a happy, healthy baby little Amelie Amaya is. Congrats to the happy family!

Did you document your pregnancy (or your partner’s/sister’s/friend’s) in any special way? Tell us about it in the comments section below!

Why Kate Middleton’s Natural Childbirth Should Inspire Us All

grid-cell-11924-1373657822-26Kate had natural childbirth!

Kate had natural childbirth!

Kate had natural childbirth!

I’m not sure how reliable the reporting on Access Hollywood is, but I flipped on the TV last night to get the latest royal baby update and heard that Kate had natural childbirth.

After a Google search I quickly learned that Princess Kate was taking steps to prepare herself for a drug-free experience; and if Mario Lopez’s man on the scene is correct, doulas, midwives, and natural childbirth advocates around the United States are jumping for joy.

The US ranks among the countries with the highest rates of epidural use and Cesarian section. It’s hard to decipher exact numbers as some hospitals report childbirth stats and some don’t, but on average well over 60% of vaginal births in America employ an epidural. Some hospitals report 95% epidural use for vaginal births. 32% of births overall are Cesarian, many of which are scheduled and elective.

We Americans tend to learn lessons the hard way. We think we can create answers to life’s problems and pains by outdoing Mother Nature. (Ahem, GMOs, ahem.) And then we spend generations trying to figure out how to dig ourselves out of the holes we’ve trenched. I place childbirth in this category.

We’ve created a “new normal” in America. Over the past several decades, there’s been a shift from using chemical pain relief only when labor is not progressing to using chemical pain relief before active labor has even started. This is not the case in the rest of the world. This the numbing of America. How deep will we get before having to dig out from this one?

I’m a mom of three naturally born babies. I get it completely. Birth is painful, it’s challenging, it pushes us to our limits – the perfect introduction to motherhood. From a spiritual perspective natural childbirth is an incredible opportunity to awaken. From a confidence perspective, it’s downright empowering.

After I had my first baby, there was a procession of nurses stopping by my recovery room to congratulate me on nixing the epi. I was like a celebrity that evening. One nurse even stopped in and told me she heard me growling and screaming down the hall and felt a thrill.

Really? Just for having a baby like billions of women have before me? Really really?

I can’t count how many birth stories I’ve heard over the past 10 years. The number of natural stories are far and few, but a surprisingly high number of friends have opted for the epidural and not benefited from its effects, still feeling the intensity of labor and the pain of delivery. The epidural is not always a ticket out of the torment.

That said, I encourage OBs to encourage patients to at least try a drug-free experience. The anesthesiologist will be lingering nearby in case she needs to needle up. What I always suggest to pregnant ladies who ask for advice is this – Keep the pain in perspective. It won’t last forever. Focus on the breaks between the contractions. And just when you think you can’t take another minute of pain, have the nurse check you. You’re probably fully dilated and ready to push. Pushing will hurt, but it will be way faster without the epi.

But don’t take my word for it. There are a gazillion moms out there who have forgone that big fat needle in the spine and lived to tell about it. We need more high profile examples like Kate Middleton to let women know that natural is the norm worldwide and to inspire American women to look at the anesthesiologist and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

In the end, the most important part of childbirth is healthy baby, healthy Momma.  Modern medicine is a blessing. And we are doubly blessed here in America to have top notch services to provide new mothers and infants with excellent care.

A woman needs to do what is best for her and her baby and take advantage of the resources available to her during this intense time.

That might include chemical pain relief, emergency C-section, or it might include a drug-free-screaming-banshee-spiritually-uplifting-celebrity-in-the-maternity-wing delivery. No matter how that baby comes out, he’s a miracle nonetheless. As is his Momma.

 

Image via Buzzfeed

11-Year-Old Nada Al-Ahdal Narrowly Escaped Child Marriage – Here’s What She Has to Say

Nada Al-Ahdal is an 11-year-old Yemeni girl who recently risked everything to run away from home and seek refuge with her uncle after learning about her parents’ intentions to marry her off to a much older man. Nada knew that her teenage aunt, trapped in an arranged marriage and abused by her husband, had committed suicide to escape her fate. Nada did not want to be forced down the same path.

“I would have had no life, no education. Don’t they have any compassion?” Nada says in a video posted on YouTube. “I’m better off dead. I’d rather die.”

Thank goodness Nada has an older relative there to take her in and stand up for her, but many girls her age are not as lucky. The World Health Organization reports that 39,000 girls around the world are forced into child marriage every day. “Child marriage” is defined as marriage before 18 years of age, but many are even younger when they are forced into matrimony. The many dangers girls face in early marriages include premature pregnancy, maternal mortality (girls under 15 are five times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than older women), infant mortality, poverty, illiteracy, abuse, and more.

The best defense against practices like this, which endanger women and make our global community weaker, is education. We must raise our voices and empower women to change their communities.

Here are several resources working against child marriage and in support of women and children everywhere:

Denied an Abortion – What Now? A Study on the Effects of Unwanted Motherhood

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 3.05.08 PMIt may have been one spontaneous night with an ex, never to be replicated; or perhaps a traumatic moment of violence and sexual abuse. She could be unemployed, ill, very young, or already a bit creaky in the joints. Maybe she has other kids at home and a partner in active duty, in prison, in the hospital, or deceased. And in the midst of working, paying bills, job hunting, taking care of children, doing homework, or whatever her daily responsibilities include, the tender belly and light periods get pushed to the back of her mind – until it’s too late.

Whatever their reasons, these are the women who discover their pregnancies late in the game, determine their best course of action is abortion, and upon medical inspection are turned away from the procedures they desperately want or need. How do these women, the ones forced into motherhood, fare and what are the effects of their denied abortions?

This question provides the foundation for an ongoing study, called “The Turnaway Study” run by Diana Greene Foster, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco. Researching abortion clinics around the country, Foster’s study aims to determine the differing effects, if any, between women who seek late-term abortions and get them versus women who seek late-term abortions but are denied them, most often due to timing. (Individual states’ and clinic’s limits vary, but tend to fall sometime in the second trimester.) Such effects might range from the psychological and emotional, to socioeconomic factors, to long-term physical health. In essence, is there any statistical evidence to prove that women are any better or worse off for keeping a baby, even if they wholeheartedly wanted to terminate the pregnancy?

This study lands in public discourse at a time when pro-life advocates preach the many dangers to women’s mental and physical health resulting from abortion. It isn’t a hard line of reasoning to follow, especially given the hormones that are already being released in early pregnancy. But, as noted in a thorough article published in the New York Times, the psychological and health effects of carrying a pregnancy to term – and then, of course, raising a child – can be just as overwhelming, if not more so.

Based on Foster’s study, women in the turnaway group suffered greater health effects, including increased hypertension rates and chronic pelvic pain, as well as socioeconomic effects that left them below the poverty line three times more often than the women who received abortions. Both groups, however, Lang points out, began with similar life circumstances.

Only 6.6 percent of near-limit patients in the study and 5.6 percent of turnaways finished college (nearly 30 percent of adult American women have a bachelor’s degree). One in 10 were on welfare, and approximately 80 percent reported not having enough money to meet basic living needs. A majority, in both groups, already had at least one child.

These are interesting statistics on several counts. First of all, women seeking abortions later in their terms share a baseline social disadvantage that includes less education, lower income, and, now, pregnancy on top of their other responsibilities. In being forced into motherhood by denial of an abortion, these women experience all the physical strains of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as the often-overwhelming financial burden of another mouth to feed. No one sets out to someday get an abortion, but when it comes down to it, some women feel this is their best option – and the results of Foster’s study might give us cause to concur.

Both Foster and Lang are mindful of the politically-charged nature of this research, though. Foster does not consider herself a pro-choice pioneer, but rather a concerned ob-gyn, interested in determining what is best for women’s health.

The purpose of Foster’s study is not to set policy by suggesting new or uniform gestational limits. She notes, however, that there are ways to reduce the number of women seeking abortion at an advanced gestational age by improving access to reproductive health care. But Foster sees herself as a scientist, not an advocate. She did not set out, she says, to disprove that abortion is harmful. “If abortion hurts women,” she says, “I definitely want to know.”

Truth be told, there is no pro-abortion movement. Nobody “supports” abortion, of course, because ultimately we would hope to live in a world in which people who want to have children do, and those who don’t, don’t. The point is rather that women know what is best for them and their families, and childbearing may not factor into that at the moment.

It’s a delicate topic, though, and one that certainly warrants further discussion. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Is Monogamy Killing Women’s Sex Drive? The New Drug That Might Help.

Blue Moment Pt. 1“Women are programmed for monogamy” goes the conventional understanding we’ve clung to since Victorian times. After all, they have a finite number of eggs, which means the pressure to secure a viable mate and reproduce is more pressing for them than for men, who produce limitless sperm over the course of a lifetime. It’s a tidy package that, ostensibly, helps maintain societal order and respectability. Let men do a bit of wandering and experimenting – because “boys will be boys,” after all – but women will always maintain the hearth and the family unit. Well, hold on to your wives because new research is painting a very different picture of women’s sexuality.

The story begins with a young, broken-hearted Dutch university student, Adriaan Tuiten. Adriaan had been in love with the same girl since he was 13-years-old, and then in their mid-20’s she unexpectedly broke up with him. Fast-forward thirty-plus years, Tuiten is now the primary inventor and researcher behind the new female sex drugs Librido and Libridos. That experience of losing the woman he loved sparked a lifetime fascination – dare we say obsession? – with women’s sexuality and romantic inclinations. “I was shocked. I was suffering,” Tuiten told the New York Times reporter. “I’m a little bit — not insane. But. There became a need for me to understand my personal life in this way.”

And what has he come to understand? For one, women are no more “programmed” for monogamy than men are. If anything, research suggests that sexual desire drops over the course of a long-term relationship more often for women than it does for men. Menopause and other hormonal changes may be the culprit, as well as the effects of antidepressant medication (which millions of American women are on), but as we all know, sexual desire entails more than just physiology. What’s at the heart of sexual desire and intimacy is still a mystery.

The extended New York Times article addresses many facets of this new perspective on women’s sexuality: Maybe women are just bored. Maybe love, intimacy, and desire are all separate categories that become threatened when mixed. Maybe society teaches men to be unbridled sexually, whereas women are encouraged to contain their desire – the effects of which create real neural responses to mirror these learned beliefs.

Either way, Librido – which is designed to address both the physiological and emotional/psychological issues of desire – is up for F.D.A. approval. Research trials have shown significant rates of success, and for some this may seem like the answer to a lifelong struggle with sex drive. Ultimately, though, we don’t really know what causes desire, what makes people fall in love, what sustains long-term intimacy, or any of the other nuances of romantic love. It still seems fairly archaic to assume something inherently different between women’s and men’s sexuality – but hey, everyone has to figure that out for themselves.

What do you think of this new research on women’s sex drive? Let us know in the comments section below!

 

Image credit: Dennis Brekke

Sexism in America: Alive, Well, and Ruining Our Future

  So let’s say it’s a random weekday morning and you’re getting ready for your day while the morning news is on.  Your ears perk up when you hear a story on the “Top Ten  Companies” to work for if you’re a mother or pregnant;  and you think to yourself, “This is good news — how far we’ve come.”

 You may think you’re awake, but not awake enough.

 

The realities lurking behind the myth we live in a post-feminist society are exposed by historian Barbara Berg with eloquence, fine research and heartfelt passion in her new book, Sexism in America:  Alive, Well, and Ruining Our Future.  

 

Sexism exists in obvious forms, but she highlights how it also thrives underground.  Taking the example above, for working women considering maternity leave, sexism stays alive in the subtext.  Women are still being fired for getting pregnant, and getting demoted when they return from maternity leave. 

 

“…Employees know they’re viewed as not serious enough if they take advantage of these policies’’ states one executive recruiter, a stance Berg backs up with personal stories of women who were demoted or lost their jobs after taking the leave they were guaranteed by their employers.  “All over the country women report similar scenarios, and many of the offenders were among the thirty companies routinely designated by Working Mother magazine as the country’s “Best Companies to Work For.’”

 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The statistics and stories of reproductive rights and health care are a chilling embarrassment to our country.  I can’t get the story of Regina McKnight out of my head:

 

In May 2001[in South Carolina], as McKnight grieved over the stillborn death of her third daughter, Mercedes, I’m sure she didn’t imagine she’d end up in prison.  But she was soon put on trial for the death of her baby.  After deliberating for fifteen minutes the jury reached a verdict.  McKnight, a homeless, seasonal tobacco-farm worker with a tenth-grade education [in classes for the mentally impaired] and no criminal record, addicted to drugs after her mother was run over by a truck and killed, became the first woman in America convicted of murder for using cocaine while pregnant.  She was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, reduced to twelve.”   Despite outcries of support for Ms. McKnight from highly regarded medical, public health and reproductive health professionals and organizations, the Supreme Court refused to review the case.

 

How can this exist in a post-feminist society, Berg asks? 

  

Although she examines affluent and middle class women, Sexism in America is especially admirable for her attention to the populations that truly need their voices amplified: the working poor; the unemployed poor; the completely marginalized women in prison; and the most innocent of all, impoverished children on our own soil.

 

Her analysis covers the years under Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II as well as the beginning of the Obama administration.  She tracks the effective organizing power of the extreme Right and explores post 9/11 fear and its effect on how we view gender roles.  Violence against women and popular culture’s portrayals of women (which overlap in ways more gruesome than you might imagine) and many other topics–some regarding what our girls are exposed to–are brought into focus as they relate to the future for women and girls. And in her conclusion she offers pages of resources and suggestions for women who want to be a part of this national dialogue toward equal rights, ranging from running for office to receiving email petition alerts.

 

 

Like Backlash, Sexism in America will galvanize us, but it’s an easier read and will appeal to more women because Berg writes with an ease that makes you feel as if  you’re engaged in a discussion with her. I almost felt the presence of other women while reading her — as if I were part of a larger group, all of us dropping our jaws together. 

 

It’s a tribute to her that in spite of all the madness she reveals I didn’t feel defeated.  I felt energized.  And eager to be a part of this third wave of feminism.

 

 

Update Your Thinking about Menstruation

With one new book and one new film out on menstruation, My Little Red Book, and Period:  The End of Menstruation? respectively, women are being given an opportunity to update their thinking on a subject that still creates anxiety in the public.

To add my voice to the discussion, here is what women have had to say about it in my anonymous Women’s Realities Study.  If you’re at all moved by the poignancy of these women’s quotes, please feel free to add your own voice to my menstruation questionnaire.
 
Menstruation
This is the questionnaire with the highest response rate in part, I think, because it’s first in the chart of questionnaires, but also because it’s perhaps the most unifying feature of being female, so women feel safer telling their stories about it. 
 
Because of its “ordinary” nature there’s an almost mundane quality to menstruation. But what interested me in the responses from women (ages19-105) was that 65% of them wished they’d been taught about it differently. And this is what appears to be the essence of that sentiment: At its heart, our initiation to menstruation has largely to do with the quality of our mother daughter relationships. There were mothers who really came through for their daughters around this life change, but mostly, even when daughters were taught about it by their mothers, it wasn’t necessarily satisfying, and many were left completely on their own, or farmed out to other sources entirely.
 
The 105 year old woman I interviewed said that after she got her first period, about which she knew nothing before hand, her mother sent her off to “lectures for young ladies” at the Women’s Club. A 72 year old woman I interviewed was told nothing, got her first period and thought she was hemorrhaging to death. Even now as you’re reading this and probably thinking, well that’s to be expected of women of a different generation, I’m sorry to bear the news that women currently in their 20s report having been left to the school nurse, health teacher, or their girlfriends. 
 
Some remember this being an embarrassing conversation, and other women noted they were taught the “mechanics” but wish they’d been given far more texture and color to help them get a fuller understanding of what it’s like to live with your period. Many mothers presented this material in a clinical one time, brief encounter. Like an inoculation. 
 
The responses reflect that when girls were taught, they got the anatomical basics and were shown sanitary products, but rarely given much to contextualize it physically, sexually, emotionally or relationally. Even though girls can only absorb so much life altering information, the tone set in even the simplest explanations tended to be antiseptic and awkward. I think this is one of the reasons it’s difficult for women, even today, to assimilate our sexuality into the whole of who we are. 
 
There are societally reinforced splits in the perception of female sexuality. We don’t think of mothers as sexual, for example, although mothers usually have sex to end up that way. When many mothers taught their daughters, or left them to glean information on their own, the mother’s discomfort was read by, and absorbed by, the daughter. Often mothers gave them reading material on menstruation but then never discussed it with them, let alone augment it with their own sense of its meaning. Very few women referred to an emotional quality other than embarrassment in these moments, and the girls whose mothers weren’t embarrassed, were far less likely to feel uncomfortable.
 
So this seemingly mundane condition of being female hints at the fissures in our core vulnerability: we’re not fully comfortable welcoming our girls into womanhood because we ourselves aren’t fully permitted to be comfortable there.
 
“I do wish my mom had spoken to me about it. Not because I needed the information, but because I craved to have a bond with her as a woman and as her daughter.”
 
“I wish it had been taught to me in a way that made me feel excited and proud rather than anxious. I wish that we’d been given a whole book about it, giving us all the details about what to expect so we wouldn’t, despite the pamphlet telling us that we were normal, think something abnormal and wrong was happening when some detail about the whole process was not exactly how it was described to us.”
 
 “I wish my mother had sat me down, somehow revealing in the warmth of her face (which isn’t actually warm) the complex magic and pain in the ass experience that menstruation is. I wish it had felt for both of us like a shared rite of passage.”
 
The next two are from women in their mid thirties.
 
“My parents handled it all so poorly – it’s really shocking. I was completely mortified of my body – for most of my life – it totally started me on a path of disconnection with my sexuality.”
 
“I feel betrayed because my mother should have prepared me for this. I was very young to start yet she should have seen the signs.”
 
These next two are from women in their 20s.
“Nothing was explained to me. My mother threw the pads on my bed. That’s how she knew I had my period. I read the strip on the pad to know how to use it.”
 
“The day I received my period, my mother gave me a pad and told me never to let boys play with me ‘down there’.”
 
And lastly, a sweet one:
“I read Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Then my mother told me about it one summer night when she tucked me in.”
 
 
Yesterday afternoon I had occasion to be hanging out with my two favorite sixth grade girls while I had a coffee and they sipped a chocolate drink the consistency of concrete. They agreed to be quoted on the condition of “like, total, anonymity.” I asked how they felt learning about menstruation, and in a mixture of giggling, gravity, and eye rolling, this is what our sisters in the field had to report. One said, “No offense, but sometimes what I read about it is cheesy. If I talk to my mom, I like her to talk to me one day, then stop. Then wait for me to come back if I have questions.” The second said, “I love talking to my mom…but not for, like, hours and hours and hours and hours!” 
 
Every mother daughter relationship is different, and for those that are lacking, thank God for girlfriends, and literature written on our behalf. There are obviously many helpful ways to approach the topic of menstruation, but maybe the best place to start is to not think of it as “the talk”, but as the beginning of a life long dialogue between mothers and daughters, and women new and old.
 
 
 
 
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