4.21.2015

Every once in a while I read a story about a homebirth at which there were complications and a (probably) life-saving transfer to the hospital. It's important for such stories to be told. I diverge with the intentions of the author, though, when her conclusion is that therefore no one should give birth outside of a hospital, ever. I've even seen the "homebirth movement" painted as untruthful, manipulative, and vindictive.

When someone has suffered serious trauma I understand the dogmatic thinking and lashing-out, but when the target (which is actually not a monolithic entity) is already struggling for survival, it's not unreasonable to point out that it is in fact irrational. There are millions of women and babies who have been unnecessarily and gravely injured because of their choice to give birth in a hospital. I know some personally. Those injuries don't just go away. Some of them are life-long. I myself haven't given birth in a hospital, but have witnessed demeaning, even sociopathic behavior and unscientific methods of practice, and seen mistakes made. I carry a lot of anger and have experienced PTSD because of it. Yet I don't say, "Nobody should give birth in a hospital," because I know that for some people it's safest and for others it's simply what they feel best with.

Riding a bike is not inherently less safe than riding in a car, and either can be made more or less safe depending on many factors. It's like someone eschewing cars for bikes (for which there are good reasons,) getting in a terrible accident, and then blaming the "biking movement" (I guess in this case the environmentalists) and now being anti-bicycle. (One might ask, why don't we make biking and driving *both* safer? We could, we don't. Instead we like to demonize bikers, and ignore the ways in which cars are problematic and harmful.)

It's not a perfect analogy, but good enough to make the point: nothing is perfectly safe, and to crusade against one particular choice just because it didn't work out for you is short-sighted and egocentric, ludicrous and obnoxious. It is one thing to share one's story (information is good) but it is another to assume that your story is not just one piece of information that might be relevant to someone else, but that it should wholly define everyone else's decision-making.

And another thing: There is a rabid anti-homebirth contingent, and they love to show up and say, "See? See? We told you!!!!," and cite research that claims to show homebirth is extremely unsafe, which would be fine if the studies' methodology and figures were accessible to the public. They rarely are, and I've seen enough details of studies of all kinds to know that actually quite often the methodology is deplorable and the conclusions skewed by confirmation bias. These citings are about as valid to the argument as Richard Dawson barking, "Survey Says!" It's a dirty play tactic, because there are a lot of people who don't understand that "smart people" -- i.e. researchers -- are not infallible or necessarily unbiased, and some of these people vote or make policy. And when you point out that such-and-such study has been debunked, or at least has serious methodological flaws? No reponse.

Ultimately, of course there is no argument against the fact that hospitals generally have the potential to address some medical emergencies more adequately than anyone, regardless of training, can in a non-hospital setting. But it's not as if all other things are equal. If they were, there'd be no question that hospital birth was the only legitimate choice. All the other things are very, very, very not equal, and because there is much more to life than simply existing, these things matter. Yes, it's also true that they don't matter if you're dead. But if you give me a choice between having all the things my baby and I are supposed to have as human beings + a small risk of death, versus not getting those things + a bunch of awful things I don't want + a slightly smaller risk of death, I will choose the former. You can make a different choice, and I support you in doing so. But you do not have the moral right to shame me for making that choice, much less to prevent me.

There are two reasons that non-evil people feel they have that right. First, their notion of the risks of homebirth and the safety of hospital birth is enormously exaggerated; they regard the human female body as inherently faulty and badly made, and they have no understanding of how technology and management of a natural process causes it to be dysfunctional. Second, they do not know what is lost when that happens, and they will not even entertain the idea that something is lost because it is too painful. Instead, they will be angry that you simultaneously "think you're better than them" and "don't care if your baby dies."

I don't think I'm better than anyone. Sure, in my gut I feel preference for myself. Intellectually, though, I do not believe that I would still be what I am if I had someone else's genetics and experienced everything they had, and ethically I cannot assume it. However pure determinism is depressing and nihilistic and I can't accept that either. I guess my philosophy is that we have different things to work with and can get to the same place in different ways and at different times. So it's not because I'm so great that I know something you don't, and it doesn't make me great that I know something you don't. I just know something you don't.

This assumption -- that we are somehow competing, that someone has to be better than the other -- is an instinct that was at one time necessary for survival. It doesn't help when there's no scarcity of what we need. "The Mommy Wars". What is that? I'm not at war. I want to be happy and well and I want others to be happy and well. Sharing information that might help accomplish that is not the same thing as fighting or competing. It makes no sense to frame it that way. What does it accomplish?

As to the idea that a person would care more about her birth experience being good than that the baby survives is so illogical as to be insane. Trust me, if the baby dies the birth experience is not good. I think what people mean is that if the baby is the most important thing then you will not accept any level of added risk no matter what or how much else is lost. Right or wrong, there are less hurtful and less stupid ways of getting that across.


4.16.2015

I have been struggling with anxiety for a long time.

I reject the idea that this is a wrong thing in itself, that there is something wrong with me. Yes, there is something wrong, and like with anything you can blame the tribe/environment or you can blame the person... or, and we never seem to talk about this, you can blame the lack of fit in a neutral sense. We love to blame the person in this culture, always, about everything. I have blamed the tribe/environment (and still do to be honest.) But some people seem to thrive in it, and I don't have the power to change it to suit me anyway. More logical, then, is to focus on the lack of fit, and to make choices I have the power to make that are in line with what I need to feel less anxiety. It would be best if everyone else could let go of the blame game at the same time. Then there would be no stigma or obstacles in the way of me (and all the other people who don't fit) getting what we need.

They say it's "just" chemical. Well, yes of course. Everything's chemical. A person smiling at you causes a chemical reaction. And a more direct chemical interaction (for instance, in the case of food allergies or mold in the air) can cause mental illness where there would be none otherwise. But what they mean is that it is a purely mechanical issue -- like a cog in a machine that's broken after an initial misalignment in manufacture -- which can be fixed only by directly manipulating the chemicals (which is unfortunately very much not as simple as fixing a broken cog, and is still hugely experimental.)

I'm not discounting that, but I am fascinated by the strange absence of awareness that not everything is meant to go together, that the fact that the square doesn't fit into the round hole isn't actually evidence that the square is malformed.

It is a relief to understand that, and it makes it much easier to get on with the work of feeling well.

2.18.2015

This morning on the way to the bus stop R told me, "Kids shouldn't have to go to school when it's nice out." I agree, of course, as I'm of the opinion that learning is not a job that needs to be done on a schedule and according to others' dictates. She likes her school (which feels almost Waldorfian without the Anthroposophy,) but resents not having control over her own life. She talks about leaving, but keeps putting it off because she likes her teacher and friends. I think she feels like she would be abandoning them. I am encouraging her to keep going because I want her to be as sick of it as possible before she quits so that she doesn't want to go right back. I'm guessing the school would frown on that.

W and I went to the library. She had to return some books and renew her card, and I had to renew my Friends of the Library membership so I can get in early to the annual book sale. The library also sells books year-round for 50 cents apiece. Today I found:

Fun With Lines and Curves, Elsie Ellison 
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year, David Ewing Duncan
Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time Along the Prime Meridian, Chet Raymo

Also an arithmetic book for R, Spot the Difference Picture Puzzles for W, and Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers for N.

I love that the kids are old enough now that I don't have to keep track of them constantly. While I was in the sale room W went searching for books to check out, and when she showed up with a big stack she said (as if apologetic for the size of the stack) "I read a lot." This warmed my heart, because the state nearly ruined her self-confidence and natural love of learning with its insistence on early reading. It's been four years lost to that, but thankfully not more. Up until just recently she would say that she doesn't like to read and is not good at reading. 

In the car on the radio they were talking about the new governor being sworn in and W said, "What's a governor?" And I said, "It's a person who blah blah and he does blah blah," and she said, "Mama. It doesn't have to be a guy." (And in fact, it isn't.) I am so glad that even though certain patriarchal habits are annoyingly still ingrained in me, all of my ranting and raving about it hasn't been in vain. 

1.07.2015

This, from Portraits of America:


    “I hope you listen to me because I’m so freaking happy. And I ain’t got shit! I got nothing but two grandchildren that make my world a living wonderland. Now I can’t wait for the snow to come, so my fat body can lie there and they can jump on me. They’re so happy, and they’re like, ‘Grandma, you’re the only one who lets us do this!’ My two-year-old grandson wants to jump in puddles, so I say, ‘You got it, boy.’ He does, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. You don’t have to smack them around. You don’t have to say ‘You’re stupid.’ Nooo! Enjoy their innocence, and then you can live!
     “But when I was raising my children, I wanted to get it ‘right.’ I put them in matching clothes, made sure they said the right things: ‘Don’t jump on my mother’s furniture!’ And I was wrooong! I should’ve let them be people! But everybody says, ‘Children should be seen, and not heard.’ Bullshit! Children teach us who we should be. We can live, if we just listen to them. If we don’t see that, we’re stupid. My grandson takes a bath for an hour and a half. You know why? In the tub, he’s driving a car. He’s swimming. He’s fishing. He’s washing his hair. He’s doing tons of things and everybody says, ‘Why isn’t he out of the bath?’ I say, ‘He’s busy—leave him alone. We’re eating. It’s all good.’ He’s happy, and that’s how life should be. The only thing you should care about is making their world happy, and yours will be happier. And when they come back to see you again, they never forget—they want more. And everybody says, ‘No, no, you don’t have time for this.’ But I’m like, ‘Honestly, that’s all I’ve got time for. That’s all I’ve got time for!’”
New London, CT

10.22.2013

academics and expectations

He kept saying "academics" at the board meeting. As in "academic excellence" or "academic expectations". Because I am new, I don't have any idea what the others thought about this; this was a training so they were mostly silent. I want to hope that since this is a charter school that focuses on nature and the arts that they were discomfited by it too, even if they didn't know why. I hadn't thought of 'why' before this meeting. It's the idea that academics and education are the same thing, just like the idea that school and education are the same thing. But academics isn't just about the transfer of information, it isn't just about learning. It is a specific system of those things, an overlaid framework of management and competition and judgment and control. Academics is about grades and records and jumping through hoops that tell the people in charge that you deserve to keep moving through their system.

I'm not saying that's wholly a bad thing. Some people apparently enjoy being in that system (I know at least one person for whom that seems to be true.) My point is only that academics and learning are two different things, and it would be nice if people would stop making the assumption that the former is universally and inherently the best way for learning to happen. In our schools and in our culture it is all we are supposed to talk about when we talk meaningfully about our children's futures.

But the more we do so, the farther we get away from what learning is actually about, and the more we submerge ourselves unthinkingly in rituals that can churn out graduates without any useful learning having gone on at all.

The other word that kept getting thrown out was "expectations". The case the speaker made for expectation-based education was impressive: expectations tend to be self-fulfilled, so that if we behave as if a child will be successful, the child is likely to become successful. This type of expectation is not so bad. It is hopefulness (albeit insistent) rooted in belief in someone, that they are capable of creating goodness and wellness in their life.

But honestly, I find the use of it in this context disingenuous. We were, after all, being spoken to specifically about academics. An expectation of academic success is different from confidence that a person can be successful by their own definition. I don't doubt that what our speaker said is true, that if we behave as if all children are capable of academic success, that we will see a rise in performance as measured by grades and course completion. What I doubt is the wisdom of it.

10.03.2013

Our ongoing acceptance of our free market system and its casualties is based in the myth that hard workers will do well, that wealth is always a result of hard work and poverty always due to laziness. No. Financial status is not intrinsically tied to ability, willingness, and character.

But let's say that poor people are poor because they are just too lazy to make good decisions and make an effort. Let's say now that all these poor people somehow change so that they all get an education and become trained to do the jobs that "contribute more" to society. Now everybody is ready to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer or CEO of a company. What happens to all the other jobs that our type of society needs to function, all the jobs that are currently paid at minimum wage? Who does them?

It must be nice to live in a fantasy world where you are better than other people. That's what it comes down to; that's what it has to come down to. If you think you are where you are by virtue of your good character, then those other people are where they are because they weren't good people and didn't make the right choices. That's just so incredibly arrogant.

6.26.2013

There is a triune of conditioned beliefs that I've had to work through and out of about myself and my place in the world: the first being that my body is bad (and by association I am bad) for not fitting a very exclusive model of prettiness (in my case that means mainly smallness); the second that my life is worth something (and by association I am good) only if I move along an approved course of choices that culminate in money and a career; and the third, this, that I have not earned the right to do the things that make me feel well.

I've done pretty well with the first two. Time to work on the third.