Rants

The Woman Card & Meternity Leave

Today was…another tough day of being a woman in the United States, and I read three posts that illustrated it perfectly.

First, I read How to Negotiate a Raise (if you’re a woman) and laughed uncomfortably because it is true. 

Then, minutes later, I stumbled upon an article about Trump’s comments about Hillary and the supposed woman card. Great article. Yeah, all those advantages that come with having a “woman card.”

A few hours later, this terrible post about a woman needing Meternity Leave without having children surfaced. Um what? 

I don’t think I have anything clever to say about the weird synergy of the three posts other than that yes, being a woman is still very much a liability in most circumstances. Even when we are acknowledged in the workplace, apparently it is to be envied for the nirvana and self-actualization we realize during a too-short, often unpaid maternity leave when the reality is sleep deprivation, vomit, pee, poo and no chance to think about anything else. I loved those rare days I got lunch during my 12 weeks. Or, we are viewed as liabilities because the children must be picked up at certain hours and have appointments, yet not being at your desk 8-5 can be interpreted as not pulling your weight.

Yeah, that woman card is great. We clearly have all the influence.

And PS: can we stop using the primary rationale for maternity leave as a time to recover from the physical demands of labor and childbirth? Because that excludes a lot of women who became mothers through adoption or surrogacy and don’t have the physical experience. It seems like the connotation is maybe we don’t deserve leave at all because we aren’t “mom enough.” 

Advertisements

Planned Parenthood and the Infertile

It’s late 2015 and Planned Parenthood is again under attack. The ostensible reason is because of doctored videos about selling fetal parts (they are donated but PP is allowed to recoup costs), but the real reason is because there is a group of people in this country, in 2015, who truly believe that reproductive freedom is a moral travesty.

I do not. I support Planned Parenthood and everything it does, even non-federally funded abortions. I am pro choice. I always have been and always will be.

As an infertile, this may seem odd. How can I support an organization that provides a (legal) service that seems to be at odds with what my husband and tried so long to achieve?

First of all, it’s not my business what someone legally (let’s not forget that key fact) chooses to do with her body. Secondly, it isn’t some moral equation: one less abortion means a baby for an infertile. It’s not like the lack of abortion would result in a glut of adoptable infants. That’s a repugnant thought actually, based on what we know and understand about the complexities of adoption- that the lack of reproductive freedom would somehow enable more couples to adopt. And it isn’t the 50s. Forcing women to have their babies would likely result in their parenting the child, perhaps in less than ideal situations. And darn, where is that social safety net again?

I also support Planned Parenthood because abortion and fertility treatments are facing similar attacks. The same people who want to de-fund Planned Parenthood because of abortion also have serious reservations about IVF and the embryos created. Clumps of cells in both cases. 

Consider this: my beloved, much-wanted child is the result of a transferred 8-cell embryo, the only success after 7 other embryos. It isn’t a stretch to me to see that if abortion is outlawed, IVF could be next, which is a bit ironic since it is a family-building tool. One could argue that in its own way, abortion is also a family-building tool.

The bottom line is that I support Planned Parenthood because no other group appears to care about women’s health. No other group provides necessary medical services, the vast majority of which have nothing to do with abortion. I’m also tired of legislators treating women badly and telling us what to do with our bodies, what they think is best for us. 

Stay out of my uterus. Stay out of my family-building decisions. Give me my reproductive freedom.

I stand with Planned Parenthood.

Politics of the Swimsuit

This morning, a 2014 piece by Jessica Turner titled Moms, Put On that Swimsuit, came across my FB feed. 

Turner’s message to mothers is good and necessary: put away your vanity and body issues & play with your kids at the beach or pool.

No quibbles there. 

My issue with the piece came when Turner started to help women – mothers only – accept their less-than-perfect bodies because the “imperfections” like a soft, stretched belly and larger thighs are the leftover evidence of pregnancy and childbirth.

Ouch. I hate articles like that because they fail to acknowledge the experience of women who build their families without the physical acts of pregnancy or childbirth. So even though I am a mother, my extra pounds are just fat? I have no justification for it according to Turner.

I’m probably reading way too much into her piece and allowing my own history to influence my reaction, but it is difficult in a society in which conversations about motherhood are dominated by the physical parts.

And what about non-mothers? The child-free? Are they supposed to have perfect bodies since they weren’t ravaged by pregnancy and childbirth?

How about we change the piece to this:

Dear women, you are beautiful and wonderful the way you are. You wear whatever you want at the beach or pool because you are a human being with dignity and deserve to be at the beach or pool regardless of appearance, parental status, income, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity. You are a human being and that is what matters.

We are much anticipating leaving for our first beach vacation of the summer next weekend. It’s been a long time since I was a size 6 18-year-old who prided herself on being close to model height and weight. I weigh more than I’d like and dread seeing family and friends who knew me when – and I have no excuse for it other than food and age. But I will be rocking my Land’s End tankini with the skirt bottom and I think I will look pretty damn cute! I’ll still be the palest person on the beach, but that’s OK. I’ll slather on copious amounts of sunscreen and build sandcastles with Daniel and play in the water.

It’s Hard Out There for a Working Mom

This piece made the rounds last week. In it, Katharine Zaleski apologized for the condescension and outright disdain she showed towards her coworkers who were working mothers.  Her apology might have been more tolerable if it had come before she herself became a mother and realized that gee, it’s hard out there for working moms.  Zaleski has seen the error of her ways and is co-founder of a company that seeks to match women with work-at-home tech jobs.  Her piece rubbed me the wrong way because of her privilege that eased her decision to lean in or lean out.  The majority of women don’t have C-level positions at start-ups coming their way.  At the very least, I hope I wasn’t nearly the asshole she was to working moms in her office before I had kids.  And really, that’s the crux of it.  Was it really so difficult for her to attempt a modicum of empathy for those women? Was it really that impossible for her to think that maybe she might have kids someday and how would she like to be treated in the workplace?

One of the best responses to Zaleski’s piece was adamant in her refusal to accept the non-apology.  Anne Born notes that being a working mom would have been more bearable if just one person had backed her up or spoken up as she received comments and side eyes doubting her work ethic. By not extending any support, no matter how small,  women like Zaleski became just “one of the guys.”  And Born is writing about what she experienced in 1997, a time not that long ago. She concludes:

I worked with too many women like you, Ms. Zaleski, who reinforced that I was just a lesser version of the other women I worked with who did not have such tedious family obligations. Working women are worth less enough already without your help – or your apologies.

Sometimes I think that with all the media coverage of “leaning in” and telecommuting, we think that it is easier to be a working mom than ever before. This topic has been on my mind a lot, especially since in NC, children missed almost 2 full weeks of school due to snow and sleet in February and for many working parents, that time must be made up or vacation used.  Working from home is not permitted in all workplaces.

The truth is that it is still very hard to be a mom who works outside the home. It’s even more difficult if you need further accommodations.  I think that there is a perception that daycare and programs like after-school care make it easy to work 8-5 if you are a working mother. That’s true if everything goes to plan, but what I and several other women I know have learned, it is as fragile as a house of cards.

  • Think of the mother whose child qualifies for one of the few free preschool options available in NC. The problem is that while these preschools end when the school day ends, after-school care is not available for these students. The mother will need to leave work at 3:30 to transport her child to some other program so she is able to return to work in order to fulfill the hours she is expected to work. The logical answer would be to let her telecommute but sadly, her position classification makes that option unavailable. She also cannot take her lunch hour at that time because OSHA rules dictate that she take a break after 6 hours of work.
  • After-school care is a godsend, but imagine if you are a mother whose child cannot cope in the school-sanctioned program.  Maybe the child is acting out or just not coping well and on the verge of being expelled.  Maybe the mother can hire a student to transport her child home and stay with the child until after work or maybe, if she’s lucky, she finds an alternative program that will pick up her child from school and take her to a program that is more suited to the child’s needs.  While this mother will be relieved to find any option that works to keep her child safe and engaged while she fulfills her expected hours, these options cost money, likely more money than the school-sanctioned after-school program. These are also options that are likely more available in larger cities than smaller ones. What would be the answer for the mother who lives in a small town?
  • Maybe your child is in a small school that is perfect for your child’s needs, and your child is thriving, but the after-school program goes only to 4 PM.  Maybe in this case you have the ability to make up some of the missed hours, but you live in fear of a meeting being scheduled late afternoon and any hint that you might not be a dedicated employee who deserves the responsibility she has been given. You worry that coworkers view you as Zaleski viewed her coworkers who had children.

It is easy to say that these women should find other jobs that are more flexible, but the reality is that many workplaces are less flexible than you imagine.  After all, even Yahoo rescinded its telecommuting policy.  I work for the state and while there are drawbacks to being a state employee (flexibility being one), it has decent health insurance, paid time off and security. It is also one of the largest employers in my state. It isn’t that simple to go get a new job, especially when children are involved.

I applaud Zaleski for her epiphany (even if it is infuriatingly late for those women she worked with prior to having her own child) and her effort to make things better for working women through her new company. The problem is that her company will help only a small subset of working women: those with in-demand technical skills. What about the rest?  What about the factory worker or hourly office worker who finds herself walking a tight rope of child care and praying that the few options that exist will work for her family? What about those women for whom telecommuting is not allowed? What about women who have children with special needs or needs that mainstream programs cannot support but who still need to or want to work?

We still have a lot of work to do to help mothers succeed in the workforce.

 

 

The Myth of the Biological Clock?

Last year an article came out supposedly debunking the idea that it is more difficult to conceive after 35.  Women around the world cheered, and jubilant articles were written, applauding how science could finally free women from the pressure to start their families before they were ready and the guilt they might feel if they didn’t. Let’s celebrate ladies: the notion that our bodies are too old to reproduce is just another way the patriarchy has been trying to keep us down and out of the workplace.

Now, the articles and critiques are reappearing upon the publication of Tanya Selvaratnam’s book The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism and the Reality of the Biological Clock, which addresses the conflicting information women receive about the reality of their bodies and reproductive capabilities and the media focus on the many celebrities over 35 or even 40 having children seemingly effortlessly.  This morning I read an article in Salon by Mary Elizabeth Williams that criticized Selvaratnam for blaming feminism for never tackling the issue of fertility. My first issue with Williams’ piece was that I didn’t think her examples of previously-written articles did much to debunk Selvaratnam’s thesis. Secondly, this quote:

Can we stop setting up the straw man, as Selvaratnam does, that “Biology does not bend to feminist ideals”? Because I’ve got to tell you, I know a lot of people who’ve been to hell and back trying to become parents but I don’t know a single one who put off motherhood because she was a self-centered pawn of feminism.

Here’s the problem. I don’t think any of the journalists who write pieces like this have ever been to a fertility clinic. I have the dubious honor of having been to three different clinics on our 4-year journey to parenthood and I can assure you that at ages 28-31 (hardly a spring chicken), I was often one of the youngest patients in the waiting room. I joined fertility message boards and read blogs from other going through infertility and again, there is a decent number of women who were over 35 trying to conceive.

It’s kind of funny because when I was in the trenches and would read articles escoriating “those women” in fertility clinics for putting their jobs first and bringing their conception problems on themselves, I wanted to scream that not all women having trouble conceiving were older (age was one of the few things Jimmy and I had going for us). But that was the perception: trouble conceiving = advanced age = selfish bitch who put her career ahead of family.

So my question for Williams and others is just who are those women over 35 in fertility clinics? Why are they there? Was it because they just didn’t meet the right person until later in life? Maybe. But the bottom line is that for many women, they are in the clinic over age 35 because they put off having a baby for whatever reason. Maybe it was their career. Maybe it was because there were other issues. Maybe it was because they wanted to travel, see the world, whatever. It doesn’t really matter WHY; what matters is the fact that they delayed childbearing and then found themselves in a fertility clinic because they were having problems conceiving.

Now it appears the tables have turned and women supposedly have more time to conceive and woe anyone who dares to question that “fact.” Because science.  This change is troubling because, well, SCIENCE.  The fact is that while humans have made incredible gains in longevity, basic biology hasn’t changed. Maybe in a few thousand or hundreds of thousands of years, our reproductive organs will catch up to the fact that we can live longer lives, but the reality is that fertility declines with age, especially for women. And if you do conceive, you have a higher chance of miscarriage or having a child with a disability. I’m not going to cite the facts; you can read many of them here. Yes, yes. I know. We all know women who have conceived on their first month trying at age 40 and gone on to have a healthy baby. And of course, celebrities and their apparently amazing fertility after 40. Those are the outliers. Those are the examples that tempt us to believe we have more time than we do.

Selvaratnam is correct in that frank discussions about fertility are a feminist issue. We cannot change biology and the basic fact that the human body is best suited to reproduce in its 20s when we are busy building careers. Yes, I know that SUCKS, but feminism cannot change that and needs to acknowledge that. You know what feminism could change? Policies that make it career vs family. Policies that make it easier to delay childbearing because it hurts your career and earning potential to have a child. We’ve read the articles that tell us women who have children are often mommy-tracked and lose earning potential. That’s what we need to change. That it’s not career OR family but career AND family. The ability to downshift for a few years when children are young. Affordable, quality daycare. Supportive workplaces and flexible schedules.

At the very least, feminism could lead discussions about basic fertility. Why aren’t we taught more about our bodies beyond ovaries, eggs, fertilization and menstruation in school? Every one should be required to read Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I was amazed by what I learned about what my body could do and tell me (mine wasn’t working so well at the time, so it was mostly theory but still) and shocked that at almost 30, I knew none of that information. Put off having children if you want, but at least make that decision knowing the facts about female biology.

But…wait! What about those treatments in the fertility clinic? They allow women to have babies. It’s cool. I can just saunter into a clinic and have IVF whenever. Maybe even get twins! Fertility treatments let us overcome age and are actually a source of empowerment! Oh dear. Bless your heart. Reproductive technology is awesome, and I salute science for helping me to overcome my fertility issues to have my son. But folks, it is not a panacea. Clomid != baby. IUI !=baby. IVF !=baby. What assisted reproduction does is give you a chance, increase your odds.  The stats surrounding success rates for these treatments are fairly dismal. You may have a 0% or 10% chance on your own; IVF may increase it to 30%.  Yes, those are improved odds but not necessarily ones I’d take to Vegas. If I saw we had a 30% chance of it raining, I’d assume that rain was unlikely.

Age rears its ugly head in fertility treatments too. Over a certain age, you may not produce many eggs and the ones you do may not fertilize or develop.  The doctor may tell you your best bet is to use the eggs from – wait for it – a donor who is 10-15 years younger than you are. The only reproductive organ age doesn’t impact as much or can be overcome more easily is the uterus, which is why you read about 60 year old women carrying their own grandchildren. Part of the problem is that beyond concluding that eggs are old and of diminished quality, doctors really don’t know much more about egg quality and why some IVFs work and some don’t. What they do know is that their success rates decrease dramatically for women using their own eggs over 35. Frankly, successful conception is a crap-shoot for everyone, regardless of age.

Speaking of empowerment, there is little empowering about fertility treatments. I did 6 clomid cycles, one injectable IUI cycle, 2 fresh IVS, and 1 FET. I’ve also had a HSG, 2 laps, and a lot of pain. I have one child. I can think of little that is empowering about the following:

  • Feeling rage, hot flashes and irrational while taking Clomid.
  • Having a doctor tell you that maybe the excruciating pain you feel that makes you seriously contemplate a DIY oophorectomy is normal for you
  • Bleeding daily for months
  • Finally being in a position to afford children only to have to pay exorbitant sums to attempt to have a child (outcome not guaranteed)
  • Feeling depressed and unable to focus at work because you are focused on how you feel less of a woman; you are supposed to be able to do everything – why can’t you have a baby? And why isn’t your career enough for you?
  • Hating your body because it failed you so spectacularly (hardly body acceptance)
  • Accepting that your only path to a biological child is for another woman to carry your child (are you Mom Enough? Apparently not)
  • Looking like a heroin addict thanks to daily blood draws at the clinic
  • Two weeks of painful shots of progesterone-in-oil (PIO) in the butt
  • Becoming comfortable dropping trou and extremely familiar with the “dildo cam”
  • Lack of focus at work because you are in and out for doctor’s appointments and waiting on the daily call on your hormone levels; sobbing uncontrollably when the levels don’t cooperate
  • Having little control over your reproductive outcomes; that control resides in the RE, usually a man, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it does reinforce a power differential
  • Having your clinic break up with you because you are a hopeless case and they don’t want you to ruin their stats.

Those are just a few I can think of based on my own experiences. Others have more examples I’m sure.

The point of this post is not to blame or shame. Do what you want, wait as long as you want, but do so armed with information. Understand that every decision has consequences. Understand that it sucks for women because our biology pits us against other goals we have that don’t involve children.  And it isn’t talked about. Not as much as it should be.  Ann-Marie Slaughter alluded briefly to the fact that she waited until her mid-to-late 30s to have her children and did experience trouble conceiving, but that tidbit was lost in the brouhaha about how she dared to tell women they couldn’t have it all and that they needed to think carefully about their choices.

So maybe feminism didn’t lie overtly to you about putting off having babies, but at the very least, it was a lie of omission. We can do better than that for each other.

 

What War on Christmas?

Last week I read an excerpt of Sarah Palin’s book in an article on Salon (because heaven knows I’d never spend money on that drivel). The part excerpted focused on her anger about the supposed War on Christmas and the lack of “Christ” in Christmas.

I can’t handle that level of ignorance. First of all, you can’t go anywhere in this country after Halloween without encountering impressive Christmas displays. In fact, if you look closely, you can see the shelves of Christmas items hiding well before Halloween, waiting patiently for the calendar to flip to November 1. Who am I kidding? They aren’t even hidden. They are tucked in the back but hardly hidden. Secondly, I am unsure if I have met anyone for whom “Happy Holidays” trips effortlessly off their lips in an attempt to be inclusive and respectful of other beliefs (and the fact that several holidays occur within a short period of time, making “happy holidays” appropriate shorthand) compared to “Merry Christmas.”

Finally, though, how about learning a little fucking history about this faith and holiday you vow to defend and preserve?  Palin’s Christmas is very recent invention, and I think she and many others would be very surprised at the holiday’s origins and place in Christianity.

I don’t mean this to be a rant. I have an entire post I could write about my experience with organized religion and why I feel the way I do, but the crux is that very little enrages me more than the willing avoidance of facts and knowledge, items so amazingly available in this day and time.  Why would you work so hard to keep yourself ignorant? Is your faith so shaky that you cannot handle information that might threaten your beliefs? Or do you truly believe that information that comes from sources other than the Bible or the 700 Club to be suspect?

Gah.

Anyway. For your reading and viewing pleasure, here are a few books and documentaries I enjoyed about the historical origins of Christmas. And you know what? Reading and watching them has not diminished my pleasure in the holiday or my celebration of family and friends, of love and thankfulness, during that time.

I am in no way saying these are some sort of definitive, historical record, but they are interesting and enlightening.

OK, I guess I did have to rant a bit. If you read or watch any of these, let me know! I’d love to know what you thought.

North Carolina: Abortion, Trickery and Callousness

I thought it might be good to have an update on HB695, the bill that would restrict abortion in NC.  Demonstrators against the bill joined the “Moral Monday” protests on Monday.  Yesterday, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services held a hearing on the bill and voiced concerns, urging lawmakers to study further before voting. This morning, Governor McCrory announced he planned to veto the bill unless significant changes were made (although no one knows exactly what that means). Based on those events, it appeared that the momentum behind passing HB695 was slowing, especially as some legislators started to express their discomfort because they are concerned with the economy, not social issues.  Unfortunately, the sneak attacks continue as Twitter is reporting that HB695 is unexpectedly being heard in committee without any notice.

Update: The House Judiciary just rolled out a new abortion bill as SB353.  There is no audio or live streaming from the room, but apparently demonstrators against it are filling the room. The bill was on motorcycle safety but now is about abortion. Changes include dropping ambulatory surgery regulations, requiring doctor to be there for first administration of RU486 and giving DHHS latitude to decide regulatory framework for clinics. Here’s an article with more information on the changes.

***

I keep starting posts with the intention of posting pictures from our beach trip but instead find myself compelled to rant about NC politics.  This is not a political blog, and I make no claim to be a pundit or knowledgeable in any way about politics. I’m just an ordinary citizen, a woman, a mother, and yes, a liberal. I care about fairness, reason and facts. I like to think I’m reasonably intelligent and mostly objective. I try hard to see both sides, to understand other points of views.

One of the things that bothers me about the recent goings on in NC is the callousness of the decisions made by the General Assembly. Where is the concern for all of NC’s citizens, especially those less able or with fewer means? How can any human being with an iota of decency cut unemployment benefits because they think it will spur the jobless to get off their asses and find work? NC has the 5th highest unemployment rate in the nation, and no one is living in the lap of luxury on unemployment. How can they cut off a very small source of income and not care about how these people will live?

How can they not care that they are effectively cementing lower achievement for poor children by preventing them from much-needed pre-K preparation? How can you look in the face of a 4-year-old and tell that child that essentially because his or her family is poor and therefore unworthy, they do not deserve a chance to thrive educationally? This editorial “The Decline of North Carolina” in the NY Times provides a great overview of some of the horrifying decisions the General Assembly has made.

I also don’t like sneaky moves and underhanded behavior, which the attempts to restrict abortion in the state clearly are despite legislators’ claims to have no motive other than ensuring the safety of abortion and therefore indicating their concern for women.

And of course, most of all, as a woman, I deplore attempts to restrict my ability to make the most personal of decisions for myself. It’s abortion today; perhaps tomorrow it could birth control or domestic violence or family building via assisted reproductive technology.

I’m a slacker, though. I haven’t been participating in any of the Moral Monday protests, even though I work 10 minutes from downtown. I follow activists on Twitter who are putting their money where their mouths are and demonstrating and advocating.  All I do is retweet, share information and post my unhelpful thoughts on what’s going on in NC. It’s not enough. It won’t be enough.