Category Archives: women’s health

An Open Letter to Senator John Kerry

In 1984, I took part in my first political campaign, and voted in my first election. I stood holding a “Kerry for Senate” banner on the side of the pond in the center of the UMass Campus, and I stood with John Kerry in his run.

Twenty years later, I took part in my first Presidential Caucus, in WA state. Although pregnant, I got up on a bench and gave an impassioned speech about the Democratic Party and supporting John Kerry in particular. In the face of Deaniac Washington, our town went Kerry, as eventually did our state. I was asked to take a place in the stands behind him (big, blue and pregnant made for good optics for a pro-choice candidate forbidden to receive communion by the bishops of his own faith), met him, thanked him for running and campaigned until the end.

I am profoundly disappointed in the Senator today. The only way that the mandatory contraceptive coverage component of the Affordable Health Care Act is about religious freedom is about the freedom of the EMPLOYEES, not the employer. It is about basic health care for women, and having to provide it EVEN IF the religious beliefs of the employer include the notion that women were from the beginning, made wholly from the rib of a man and unequal to him.

Catholic Charities would like us to think that their mission is about service, but really, when it comes to the status of women in their world, it is about SUBSERVICE. But Bishops are not the rulers of our land. They do not make the laws, even though the rate at which they break them, against the most vulnerable amongst us is despicable.

Women do not deserve second class status if they work for a Catholic institution such as a university or hospital, because the LAW, which governs us all says that Women and Men are due equal protection under LAW.

Put another way. If AIDS drugs are covered by ACHA, would you then say that covering men with HIV would be at the discretion of the Catholic Church because they condemn homosexual activity? If blood transfusions are covered, would it then be at the discretion of a Jehovah’s Witnesses based charity to disregard those? What about the Christian Science Monitor? Can they forget about prescription drug coverage in its entirety?

If you cannot find the words that express the supremacy of the rights of equal protection over any individual religion’s dictates, take mine. This is about HEALTH CARE, and the right of anyone who works for any employer to not have their employer’s religious whims, caprices or beliefs infringe on what is their legal right to receive.

Women will never get the chance to vote for Catholic bishops – hell, they can’t even have give a homily! – but they will vote for Congresspeople and President. And they will vote the same way they obey the edicts of the pope when it comes to birth control. Ignoring them when it makes no sense, with the full support of the law.

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Filed under health, healthcare, institutional misogyny, Uncategorized, women, women's health, women's rights

2011 recap

On the second day of 2012, I found myself frustrated with the char limit on FB – don’t even get me started on twitter – and thought I’d send a little note on what has happened in the last year which I made no time to tell you.

  1.  After seeing myself in a picture in February and then stepping on a scale, I got serious about getting healthy. I began exercising (10k/day on an elliptical, 5x/week), stopped eating off the Vikilings plates and dropped bread. What a difference I was able to make in my health, and quickly. Confirming that keeping new habits is harder than starting them.
  2. I am 45, but keep forgetting. (Goes hand in hand, yes?)
  3. Perimenopause, in full unpredictable and irritable force. Highly unrecommended, though likely inevitable.
  4. Ben is now 7; Nora is 3. Ben is gentle, perceptive, and a natural athlete. Nora is not gentle but equally perceptive. Her athletic abilities remain to be seen.
  5. Nora had eartubes put in back in April. The full procedure and recovery was less than 90 minutes. Sadly, they are already out. She has also had hand, foot and mouth, Fifth’s disease, two ruptured eardrums (pre-tubes), and assorted boo-boos that far exceed those her brother had.
  6. Ben is more me than the Viking, I’m afraid. I am hoping he can shake some of it off and find a great place in himself, in all of his quiet power. But of the parts of me he has that I hope he keeps are his sense of humor, of accountability, of ethics, and his love of singing. The boy wakes up singing.
  7. This year, I volunteered to be a room parent in Ben’s class. It has been great to be in the classroom with the children every week.
  8. I ran for office in our town on a platform of “The more you know, in context, the better you can make decisions.” I lost 2:1 to a candidate whose slate was, more or less, “Hang the mayor.” All of the candidates who campaigned on that slogan won by huge margins. And yet, I wasn’t sad. It was a great experience.
  9. I don’t think I was able to finish reading a single book all year, thought there are at least 15 of them around the house with bookmarks at different points, none of which are 1/3 of the way. Not good.
  10. I did manage to spend some quality time in the kitchen cooking for neighbors, which was enormously satisfying.
  11. In an effort to broaden Ben’s exposure to different cultural traditions in ways that are appealing to him, I signed him up for a children’s chorus at the local, rather progressive Episcopal church. He enjoys it, and was selected to play Joseph in the Christmas pageant. I’m glad, too, that he is learning and asking questions about God. But the questions that come for me, time after time, aren’t answered in a way that makes my heart feel at home.
  12. I decided to cut my hair but good just before Thanksgiving. Transformative, yes… but who would have thought a haircut could encourage new balances and shifts in personality?

So I came to the end of the year, and I am better in some ways but still restless.  Still a stay-at-home-parent, still looking in consignment shops for clothing that would survive the carry-on bag and go to a meeting. Still missing Boston/Cambridge/Somerville/Cape Cod, and its attendant pleasures. Cooking more, eating less. Next up, what’s in store for 2012 – I hope more reading and writing.

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Filed under children, families, hair, hairdo, health, midlife, Politics, women's health

missing midwifery

When I found out I was expecting this time, I thought I’d probably have to go to a traditional obstetrics practice; my first birth was premature, and was likely caused by my bicornuate uterus. I figured it would be ok if I chose a women-run practice, that the gaps between it and midwifery care would not be so great. I was wrong.

The loaded language of the modern medical pregnancy is enough to make a woman believe that she is incapable of figuring out how to birth a baby. Except that the body is designed to do just that, before there were ultrasound machines, or quad screens, or obstetrics.

I have felt like mentioning – ok, screaming – this as of late. Instead of being asked to consider different treatments, instead of conversations where the assumption is that the mother knows and is capable of knowing about her body and the process of pregnancy and childbirth, the mother is told what to do. It’s not sitting well.

My nurse knows nothing about vegetarian diets, and actually asked me if I’m getting enough protein. Sigh. I never had these issues with the midwifery practice – they understood that a veggie diet is not a risk for healthy fetal development, and gave me props for my hematocrit levels at the start and the 28 week point.

The other part has been more than a little annoying. From the perspective of the practitioner, I have a name: high risk. I get this name based on nothing in my chart, other than my birthdate. I’m wondering how many women go through this without knowing that they own  the birth. They know what to do, they can trust their instincts, but they would do well with some knowledgeable support. What if more women knew about their bodies, the glorious power of them, their ebb and flow? What if this self-knowledge were as common as knowing one’s shoe size? Midwifes understand the power this knowledge gives; obstetric practices would do well to take heed.

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Filed under first trimester, Motherhood, mothering, pregnancy, pregnant after 40, prenatal care, women, women's health

lumps and medallions

“Can you feel that? At two o’clock?”

Pamela, my np, was looking at the ceiling, her fingers on something she thought didn’t belong in the breast exam portion of my yearly physical. I tried to find the something, but didn’t quite.

“And the cancers in your family were?”

Stomach, malignant melanoma. I had a dysplastic nevus at 23 that was clearly on its way to basal cell, but it was whisked away, along with nevi and dermatofibromas in my 20s and 30s.

“When was your last mammogram?”
I demurred that I hadn’t had one yet.

Her eyes looked concerned, not scolding. “You know, you’re supposed to start having them at 40.”

“I figured I looked young for my age.” And the chuckles that usually pepper my medical visits returned, but not without a same day appt at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for a mammogram and ultrasound.

I moved a job pre-interview to midday, which left me only two hours to worry. It was the right plan. But in those two hours, I managed to run through the list of next actions:

Would I tell H? No, not until I knew what it was.

Would I tell anyone? Yes, I called a good girlfriend, who was away from her phone. Just as well, since I wouldn’t want her to worry.

What would I do if it was something? Take next actions immediately and schedule whatever needed to happen, at the soonest possible time.  Call my wonderful neighbor who is a PA and worked at the Hutch to see if she could help with overnight childcare – she is such a pro at making things work, I actually trust her. And only if I could pull all of this together would I call H and let him know. H wouldn’t be able to do anything even if in the same room, and it might only be more upsetting and frustrating for him. He would be home soon anyway.

And so went the next few hours. I brought clothes to the thrift store. I took the backway to SCCA, listening to a wonderful oldskool rb/soul/funk cd a colleague sent that week. I noted how the SCCA decor was largely spring green. No obvious pink. I realized I didn’t want to be part of the pink ribbon (TM) movement. I was given a mask to keep me from spreading my nagging daycare cold, I waited in a consult room, alone. The only reading materials were a brochure for the Women’s Care floor and an info sheet on needle biopsies.

My screening was somewhat uneventful. Other than using a special towelette to remove any traces of antiperspirant, it was like any other waiting procedure, except as I sat in the little waiting room, I kept wondering how I could have missed this lump – and how I still couldn’t quite find it. I could tell the tech almost all about it; Left breast, 2 o’clock, edge of the areole, but all I felt was sore.

Then came the mammogram. The tech was surprised and a little excited that it was my first, and began swapping out lucite trays to fit – smaller seemed to be better. And then the pressing. Veal medallions, pressing the water out of a block of tofu. Not as bad as I expected, until they did the side views, and I wished I had remembered to take Advil in advance.

I didn’t get a chance to see the results; the tech just told me everything looked clear, but that  we’d do an ultrasound exam just in case. The radiologist, Dr. Bang, used the same technique – a light palpation while looking at the ceiling. We looked at the screen together while he explained what it was we were seeing. We weren’t able to find a lump, though we may have found some tissue that caused the concern. And then I was clear to go.

It’s been some time since I felt that tired coming back from an appointment. I wrote a short mail to H, with a two sentence summary of my lump and medallions. The call in the middle of my night, in his Amsterdam morning, was caring and gentle, his voice holding mine as I whispered the details, the soft sound of our sleeping boy ebbing and flowing from across the hall.

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Filed under anxiety, breast cancer, breast health, cancer, lump, mammogram, MD, scare, women, women's health