Can we just relax about casual sexism?

There’s a lot of stuff about gender trending on social media this week, like this video. In my twitter feed, I saw no less than THREE WOMEN saying that they had watched this commercial and “cried out of guilt.” Apparently, according to the video’s description on the Huffington Post, parents give their girls an array of subtle social cues that “push girls away from math and science in their earliest childhood years.” These messages can also, according to the description, “ultimately discourage girls from pursuing traditionally male-dominated STEM subjects in school.”

Wow, I thought. What exactly are parents SAYING to these poor girls?! Are they literally burning their daughter’s chemistry books right in front of her? Curious, I clicked on the ad, fully expecting some seriously messed up shit.

This was the first example. Um. I scratched my head. That’s supposed to deter a girl from math and science? …Is the parent off-camera holding a chemistry set right out of her reach? Is that what she’s grabbing for? What am I missing?

Hmm. I guess I see how this could send some bad signals — telling your girl forego exploring for fear of getting “dirty” or “messy”. That’s no good. But maybe this mom just doesn’t want to do another god damn load of laundry? Lord knows between a baby who can’t use utensils yet and a potty-training toddler we do at least two loads PER DAY around here, and you can often hear me yelling, “Can you PLEASE eat your spaghetti OVER your plate so you don’t ruin your new shirt?! Can you PLEASE sit on the potty when you pee, so you don’t spray urine all over your clothes?!” Who knew I was setting her up to hate the hard sciences?

Sheesh. I told June not to pet a dead bird at the park last week … was I really deterring her from scientific inquiry?

At the end of the ad, Sammy, now in highschool, removes a science fair poster from a glass board and applies lipstick, using the glass as a mirror. BOOM. There you go, you sexist parents — you just set little Sammy up for a lifetime of waitressing at Hooters. Sammy could have graduated from Yale with a degree in molecular biology, but you had to compliment her DRESS, didn’t you, you science-hating monsters?! Our words can have a huge impact, the ad warns. Apparently. Apparently even the most innocuous comment can have a permanent, life-altering impact. When you tell your daughter she’s pretty, what she’s really hearing is that she’s a vapid princess who’s too dumb to do math, and it will alter the course of her life forever.

Can we all just calm down about this sexism thing? Can we just relax about parenthood in general? 

Sexism is real. It’s subtle and it’s damaging. And I do agree with the (poorly-conveyed) message of this video: If we treat our daughters like they’re adorable morons, persistently and insistently, they’ll probably grow up thinking exactly that. But people, I am so sick of fear-based parenting. 

When June was a newborn, I was constantly terrified. Sure, some of that had to do with my anxiety disorder. But I also labored under the new-parent delusion that every single decision I made was a life-altering one: If I fed her once from a bottle, my milk would dry up. If I gave her a pacifier, she would immediately get nipple confusion, and our breastfeeding relationship would never recover. Once, in a particularly harrowing episode of cluster feeding — she must have been three or four days old at the time, and she had been nursing and crying every forty-five minutes around the clock — my husband started burping her, their noses about six inches apart, his face totally sullen and lined with sleeplessness. I thought, panicked, oh, God! The first formative memory of her father will be him glaring at her and willing her to sleep! It will imprint in her brain and she’ll grow up thinking that he hates her! “HONEY SMILE AT HER,” I shrieked, bolting upright in bed, “YOU HAVE TO SMILE AT HER!”

This article brings me back there, to those high-stakes newborn days. Let’s realize that sexism is real, and it plays itself out in a thousand different ways, sometimes very subtly. And it’s wrong. But holy hell, we parents are going to make mistakes, okay? We’re going to slip up, say the wrong thing, send the wrong message. Big mistakes, subtle mistakes — we just have to accept that we’re going to screw up in some way or another. Let’s own that and maybe calm down about all the million ways we can irreparably damage our children. It would break my heart to see a new parent watch this commercial and stop telling her daughter that she’s beautiful, agonizing over all the ways it would potentially damage her in the future.

Let’s have confidence that our children are not as fragile as we’re making them out to be. Examine yourself, examine your blind spots like racism or sexism, but please let’s not make the mistake of thinking that any slight rebuke or comment is going to scar them forever.

Words have meaning; our actions have meaning; but they don’t set our futures in stone.

 

This post was later picked up by the folks at the Huffington Post! Hop on over and leave a comment, won’t you?

Childbirth sucks balls but it cured my PTSD

My precious baby girl turned three years old on Monday. We celebrated over the weekend (with a small family party, some chocolate cake, and a late-night bonfire), so her actual day of birth was pretty low-key. We woke up, watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, cleaned downstairs, folded some clothes, drove up to Park Ridge to cast Henry’s feet, and took a nap (June did, not me. Alas).

Three years ago I was sitting upright on my hospital bed, eyes closed, paralyzed with absolute terror. I was in the middle of labor. Strangely enough, I wasn’t even feeling my contractions. My water had broken (partially — apparently your water can “leak” and not fully break. Who knew?) so I was admitted and contracting and leaking (gross) — but not dilating. I was stuck at 4 centimeters. And I was so, so terrified. The contractions were nothing — mild cramps and stomach tightening — but my heart was racing so fast that the nurses kept coming in to check on me and asking if I had a heart defect of some type. My heart was defect-free — but I did have a major case of PTSD to contend with.

If you’ve followed my blog at all in the past year, you know that I studied abroad in India, and it was an absolute disaster. Not only did I develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, my PTSD was triggered by about a zillion different things, including having to pee, any kind of loud or sudden noise, doctors, hospitals, any mention of India, and being in a moving vehicle. Any of the aforementioned things would cause an immediate and irreversible anxiety attack, eventually culminating in a full-blown nervous breakdown. It was … not the best couple years of my life.

So you can guess, perhaps, that being in a hospital, surrounded by doctors, with a c-section looming (I thought), was not the most calming place for me to be. I had envisioned my labor to be done mostly out of bed, walking around to ease the contractions, bouncing on my yoga ball — but as soon as I stepped into the hospital, that desire completely vanished. All I wanted to do was hide like an animal in a cave and hiss at whoever approached. I turned off all the lights. I lay curled up on my hospital bed, unable to sleep. My heart rate skyrocketed whenever a nurse came in the room. One of the triage nurses brushed up against my leg and I burst out crying. (“Umm … I haven’t even checked your cervix yet,” she said, totally perplexed. I know, dear. I know. I’m crazy. Just ignore me.)

It wasn’t even the thought of a section that scared me. It was simply being in a hospital, where my previous trauma had taken place. It was simply being around doctors. It was simply laying on my back, in pain. That’s all it took. It was like my body remembered what had happened in India and it was screaming Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! Run away! With every passing second, I had to will myself not to run screaming from the room in terror. Not an exaggeration.

I’ll be totally fine as long as nobody comes near me or talks to me or touches me in any way, and I don’t have any contractions or feel any pain.

So for twelve hours I was wide awake, with my eyes closed, listening to my Hypnobabies CD on repeat. Contracting, leaking, and not dilating. At one point I thought to myself, hey, this Hypnobabies stuff really works! I’m not feeling any pain at all! I’m doing it! I’M HYPNOBIRTHING! 

And then the nurse came in. “Um, you haven’t had any contractions for twenty minutes now.” Well, shit.

Finally, the OB came in and asked to break my water completely to move things along. I agreed readily (meaning, I nodded vigorously, in silence). I was terrified of having this baby, but I wanted to push this sucker out and just be done already. So she broke my water. And I felt nothing for a minute. And then:

“Fuuuuuuuuck this!”

It was the kidney stone pain all over again, except that the intensity fell and peaked instead of just relentlessly stabbing me in the back like the stone had done. It was bone-crunching, soul-twisting agony, and the fact that it was very very similar to kidney stone pain racheted up my anxiety ten-fold. Oh my dear sweet baby Jesus, I thought, this cannot be happening. No, no, no. I need the epidural. NOW.

“Epidural!” I screamed. My eyes were still squeezed shut. This was the first word I spoken to my OB since being admitted.

“Are you sure?” She said. “I wouldn’t want to impose –”

“SWEET JESUS,” I gasped. “Need! Drugs! Go! Run!”

My OB scurried out of the room, bless her. And thus began the longest hour of my life — the hour between requesting an epidural and actually getting it. This part is hazy. I remember twisting from side to side, wrenching my earbuds out of my ears (those hypnobabies flutes weren’t doing shit at that point), and screaming at my husband to apply counter-pressure to my back. “HARDER!” I kept screaming. “AH, JESUS! GOD, IT HURTS! PUSH HARDER! FUCK!”

And then the anesthesiologist came. He was pushing sixty, probably three hundred pounds, and looked exactly like the dude in those diabeetus commercials. But he was the most gorgeous vision I had ever beheld.

“OH THANK GOD,” I yelled. “YOU’RE HERE. YOU BEAUTIFUL MAN. PUT YOUR MAGIC JUICE INSIDE OF ME!!!!”

He obliged.

This right here is why I sing endless praises to the heavens about the miracle that is the epidural. I know the epidural gets a lot of flack sometimes, but it was an absolute Godsend for me during my PTSD-related anxiety freakout. Knowing that there was an end in sight to the excruciating pain kept my anxiety from spinning wildly out of control. It showed me that I wasn’t at the mercy of whatever my body was doing — unlike the kidney stone pain, the labor pain could be corralled and controlled. That wimp-juice saved my life. Or at least my sanity.

After the epidural I dozed blissfully for three hours. I was still completely terrified, and I refused to open my eyes or talk with any of the nurses or staff, but my anxiety had gone from an 11 to about a 6 — a considerable improvement. I took deep breaths and dozed, my heart still pounding.

After a couple hours of this, a horde of nurses flocked into the room. I was fully dilated. Tons of nurses and doctors (and a male student EMT, fun times!) all up in my biznatch was pretty much the last thing I wanted, but I was terrified that if I said anything, or moved even the slightest bit, my heart rate would skyrocket and I would spiral into a panic attack. I kept my mouth shut, except for when I heard the ceiling open and a huge mirror descended.

“Oh, God,” I moaned. “I don’t have to watch this, do I?”

“Uh…” the nurses said, and exchanged looks. “No, of course not.” The mirror went back up.

I pushed for one hour. Every time I flopped back down after a contraction, I thought, I’m going to barf, immediately followed by, you can barf when you’re dead! June was born at 1:55 pm. Sit up and look what you did! My OB exclaimed. I used every last bit of energy to hoist myself up on my elbows. I caught a flash of her pink, squalling face (huge cheeks! I thought to myself. Just like my husband! Just like I wanted!) and then collapsed, my eyes squeezed shut, sobbing. It was over. She was out. We were safe.

Well, June was safe, anyway. As soon as I collapsed back into the bed I started hemorrhaging. The OB removed my placenta manually, reaching inside until she was elbow deep in my uterus. It was … not pleasant. The drugs they gave to numb me knocked me out for two hours, but strangely I was conscious, though I had my eyes closed and was unable to move. I heard every word my mother and mother-in-law said when they came to visit the baby. But I couldn’t open my eyes or respond. That was … also unpleasant.

For some people, this would be the epitome of birth trauma. For me, it was healing. Perspective, I guess. I had done it. I had survived. I had actually pushed a seven-pound baby out of my vajayjay and I lived to tell about it. I did it without succumbing to panic. I did it without hyperventilating and sobbing hysterically (for the most part). WE DID IT. It was done, over, accomplished. We were safe.

Hours later, in the recovery room, my husband and I watched Goldfinger (the only thing on TV besides the don’t-shake-your-baby video that we both refused to watch) and laughed way, way too hard at all the jokes. For what seemed like forever, we yelled “I LOVE GOOLLLLLD” at the TV screen and laughed until tears came out of our eyes. We held the baby and enjoyed her, soaked her in.

It was finished; we were safe.

I haven’t had a panic attack since.

 

Idea Potluck: Like a Gatsby party (without the murder)

I had an incredibly fun night in Chicago on Tuesday. I had the great pleasure of speaking at an event called IdeaPotluck, run by Mac and Cheese Productions. I say “event” because it makes me sound super professional and important, but really it was like an improv party with a bunch of fun, eccentric people and delicious beer.

Like a Gatsby party. Except without the fireworks. And the murder.

The Potluck is hosted once a month by Saya Hillman, who I had the pleasure of meeting through Listen To Your Mother, and her husband, Pete. The gist of it is that a handful of speakers get up in front of a usually-sold-out audience and just talk. About whatever. Whatever they’re passionate about, they riff on for six minutes, to a hugely supportive audience. I squeeed in excitement when Saya asked me to be a “dish” (the nickname they give their speakers), while my introvert husband shuddered. “That sounds terrifying,” he said. It kind of is. In a fun way.

Your host, Saya Hillman.

Your host, Saya Hillman.

The most fun thing about Idea Potluck, to me, is that all the speakers have such varied interests and passions. One speaker talked about website design. Another talked about craniosacral therapy. Another gave a powerpoint presentation about quitting her job and traveling throughout eastern Europe. In the past, the Potluck has had musical performances, beatboxing, you name it. It’s a fun sampling of different people’s lives, and each presentation is only six minutes, so it’s not really possible to get bored of any particular subject.

There were way too many awesome performers to summarize in this blog post, and my crappy iPhone pictures probably won’t make a very compelling blog. But all of the performers are listed on the Potluck website and are worth checking out. Some highlights for me were:

Laughter Yoga! Lauren gave a pretty entertaining  rundown of how she got kicked out of AA, maintained her sobriety, and punched fear in the face so she could launch her own acupuncture clinic. What a cool lady!

Laughter Yoga! Lauren gave a pretty entertaining rundown of how she got kicked out of AA, maintained her sobriety, and punched fear in the face so she could launch her own acupuncture clinic. What a cool lady!

and:

Brit Belsheim blew me away with her speaking abilities. Brit is an actress/improv-er working in Chicago, and she shared a funny and powerful story about loss and restoration. She reminded me of Jennifer Lawrence, actually. She was way cool.

Brit Belsheim blew me away with her speaking abilities. Brit is an actress/improv-er working in Chicago, and she shared a funny and powerful story about loss and restoration. People who can get up in front of an audience and just riff without cards or prompts amaze me to no end, and Brit did just that. Plus she reminded me of Jennifer Lawrence a lot, so overall I’d say she was pretty darn cool.

finally:

Rude Hippo Brewing Company also made an appearance and brought some of their delicious libations. Their beer -- oh my gosh. I have tried IPAs before and have though "Meh, they're okay." I'm not a big beer drinker. But their brew -- their IPAs -- my God. The world stopped spinning. It was so delicious. They are currently raising funds to open their own brewery, and if you like delicious IPAs, you should probably go support them. Like, now.

Rude Hippo Brewing Company also made an appearance and brought some of their delicious libations. Their beer — oh my gosh. I have tried IPAs before and have though “Meh, they’re okay.” I’m not a big beer drinker. But their brew — their IPAs — my God. The world stopped spinning. It was so delicious. They are currently raising funds to open their own brewery, and if you like delicious IPAs, you should probably go support them. Like, now.

Throughout the night I kept thinking, man, I wish this was a thing when I was in college! I would have been all over this kind of thing like white on rice. In fact, it really made me miss the days when my husband and I were married, without kids, and living in the city, where incredibly fun things to do were just a short ‘el’ ride away. If I still lived in Roger’s Park, I would be at the IdeaPotluck every single month.

photo 5

My face, right after performing. I read my essay, “If healthy pregnancies were treated like special needs pregnancies,” which you can find here.

So, for anyone who can make it to Idea Potluck every month, do it, I implore you. It’ll remind you of a Gatsby party. It’ll make you wish you didn’t have kids (if only for “two couple minutes,” as June likes to say). It’s the most fun you’ll have on a Tuesday night.

 

Happy Father’s Day

It’s such a lovely feeling to be married to someone that you’re proud of.

My husband doesn’t say much, so you will never find him on Twitter or Facebook or any other kind of social media promoting his work. I, on the other hand, never shut the hell up, so I’m just gonna go ahead and do it for him:

cartoon6-16-14

Awesome cartoon courtesy of Lucius Wisniewski. Isn’t he talented?

 

My husband is not only a stellar artist, but he’s a phenomenal father who loves his children more than he will ever articulate. I know this because he bites his lip to keep from laughing at June when she openly defies me or throws a tantrum. I know this because the minute Henry feels a tiny bit warm or is in the slightest amount of pain, he starts pacing and frowning and snapping at people because he’s just so worried. HIs love for his children is in the bite mark on his lip, the terrified feeling in his stomach. He adores them; he agonizes over them. He doesn’t talk about it endlessly, like I do, but I can see it.

And I can see it in his artistic ability. Flipping through his sketchbooks, you can see pages and pages of cartoons — all of them starring our children. All their little personality quirks. Snippets of conversation. Portraits. If an artist draws what he loves, then we are very well loved.

Happy father’s day to my sweet husband. Thank you for loving us — in thought, in deed, in expression, and in art.