Friday, August 14, 2015

So Do You Know What the Gender is Yet?

"So, do you know the gender yet?" is the first question a lot of people asked, pointing to my belly, sometimes even before "How are you?" or "Nice to meet you, what's your name?"

I used to laugh at the articles making fun of the outlandish, or well-meaning but invasive things people suddenly feel the right to say to pregnant women. Even a few months ago, I laughed and thought, "Omg, who says that?" But as my belly had swollen to more obvious proportions, I found out just who, exactly, says that. Everyone, anyone. Except for a few women who've been through this themselves and gave me a knowing, commiserating look when they overhear this.

I'm still laughing, trying to maintain a sense of humor, reminding myself that people are generally well-meaning and curious. I thought about writing about the most common questions I got asked but there are several posts/ articles out there about the funny and ridiculous things people say, and I find myself stuck on that one question: Do you know the gender yet?
Now I also commonly got asked how far along I am, when I'm due and/ or if I'm excited. I found myself doling out rote answers, 5 months, beginning of December and Yes, of course I'm excited, and anxious, and yes, life is going to change. Although I wanted to answer things like, what baby? how fat have I gotten, omg! But I can understand people's assumption that I was, in fact, pregnant, because I had a small frame with a protruding, baby-shaped belly.
But back to gender: Literally everyone has asked this question, from the moment we decided to tell people about the pregnancy. Ok, except my parents and my brother because they're awesome and we're just excited about the baby, and because they know we are keeping it a secret (even from ourselves). So this question has been bugging me, and making me think for a while.
Some people were excited we decided to keep the gender secret, and some were perplexed- Don't you want to know they ask? Don't you want to plan? I would need to know so I could plan...
Well, I ask back, is there a difference in the basic needs of boy or girl? Because as far as I know, no matter what sex the baby is, they need diapers, food and love, not much else.

The word "gender" gets me in this question. Do I know the gender? Well, no. I don't know the gender, not only because we've asked not to know, but because the ultrasound, or other tests, would only tell me the sex. I'll have to wait until baby can tell me their gender identity. Wait, they ask, I'm confused. Yes, sex and gender are different- sex is about your genitals, gender is about your identity. We like to thing they are the same thing, and they are often tied. Most people with vaginas identify as women and most people with penises identify as men, but not always. And then there's intersex: not everyone with a penis is necessarily XY chromosomes, nor does everyone with a vagina necessarily have XX.
I decided that I didn't want to know the sex because I didn't want to be tempted to gender the baby before they are born. My beautiful husband, also perplexed, let me do things my way here and has since gotten much more understanding. I know that as soon as the baby is born, their genital status will be known, but I thought, at least I can protect them for a few months from the onslaught of pink or blue, ballerinas and dolls or trucks and football. That's another thing I tell people, they can be a ballerina or a football player, either way.

Now that I've ranted about other people's reactions, the most important thing I've learned by trying not to gender my child yet, is how I really think about gender myself. Why do I have a hard time buying pink, lace, polka dots or bows for a unknown gender- am I afraid of putting a bow on a baby boy? Yes, kind of. Gender neutral is mostly gray in the stores and we have a bit if yellow. When buying things, I'm leaning towards green, blue, pants, dinosaurs (which, I just like anyway, so even if I knew it was a girl, I would get), things in the baby boy section. We can't let things get too "girly."

Now that my baby has been born, a boy, I find myself avoiding the "girlier" clothing we have. Aqua-marine and polka dots? That's girly for some reason. But now the real job of not gendering my son begins. It is about way more than clothing and it is nearly impossible.  For now, I tell him he is not just strong but sweet. Not just handsome but beautiful and smart. And most importantly, loved.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Happy Thanksgiving!

Every year, I think I'll do better at cultivating gratitude and thankfulness year-round instead of leaving it to one day, and I think maybe I am slowly getting better. Setting aside a day to focus on gratitude and family is still a good reminder to keep working at it, and to acknowledge that thankfulness, love and grace. Perhaps setting aside more times throughout the year or a few minutes a day. At any rate, a list of the things I'm thankful for:

I'm thankful for my family, my supportive parents and sweet but annoying brother who shaped who I am today.
I'm thankful for my loving husband who's always by my side and keeps me grounded. 
I'm thankful for my roommates who encourage me to eat more vegetables and cook me delicious healthy meals.
I'm thankful for my friends at school who engage in long theoretical discussions with me.
I'm thankful for my professors and mentors, who provide guidance and feedback in my writing and praxis.
I'm thankful for the women who've allowed me to be a part of their birthing experience and the nurses who guided me in guiding them. 
I'm thankful for the women who came before me and the women that I get to work with towards reproductive justice.
I'm thankful for the food that I'm eating today, the Earth that nourished it and the hands that grew, picked and packaged it to get to my supermarket. 
I'm thankful for much more, but will keep this short here. 
Peace and Love

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Update and new beginnings

Hello again online world!
I have neglected this blog, and only two months after it started :( Well, I have been busy getting my research up and going, starting summer courses, starting a garden (finally), and now, looking for a new housing situation.
This post is going to be rather candid.
Okay, so I really want to keep writing here, often, to improve my writing skills. But I struggle with self-doubt and whether what I have to say is really important, if I really should be trying to be heard, and just how much to share. Sometimes I think about what to write and I wonder whether it's just a petty rant or something that needs to be said? Sometimes I struggle with telling myself I don't have to write essays with references, deferring to "expert" opinion. Mostly though, I get too caught up in other things going on to remember to write. I have a habit of letting the urgent get in the way of the important and a habit of obsessive worrying that keeps me from doing too much at all.
For instance, with our housing situation (needing to move, asap) I've been so worried and stressed out for the last week that I end up just sitting on the couch worrying instead of actively seeking to fix the situation and/or go on with life as normal until the situation is fixed. Dinner still needs to be made, I still have homework, laundry, reading and writing to do.
I've also never been too good at the self-regulation thing. I work hard, but I need some outside structure usually, some threat of outside punishment if I don't get something done. This is something I need to work on if I want to eventually become a mid-wife with my own practice and essentially be my own boss. That and keeping my cell phone on me, and the ringer on, at all times.
So, I will continue to write, weekly from now on. I will allow myself to write things that are not earth-shattering or deep or perfect. While ideally I'd like to say that there won't be an exact day because life is messy and the creative spirit can't be scheduled, I feel like I need a little bit stricter guidelines, like a specific day to shoot for. So let's pick Sunday and let's start again.
Until next week,

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Who's Body?

And yes! This has been a theme in some of my readings and thinking this past month. In class, I did a presentation on cesarean sections and women’s choice in which I had to rethink how women’s bodies were being portrayed in the alternative birth movement in addition to the critiques of the representation of women’s bodies by medicalized birth. Who is a woman’s body for? Is a woman exercising agency when having a cesarean in order to avoid stretching out her vagina? Or if she’s convinced that cesareans, while posing a high risk to her, holds less risk for her child? Why is there so much controversy over a whether a woman loses the baby weight and looks good in a bikini as soon as possible after birth? Is it about her health, or setting a good example for the kids and keeping the fire alive in her assumed marriage? Or how she feels about herself?
While I’ve been pondering this academically, I’ve realized that in real life, I was stuck in a strange pattern of thinking lately which I think of my future children as the reason/ motivation for creating healthier habits. Yes, a healthy pregnancy is good for both mother and baby. Yes, I should be concerned about my children’s health. But should someone else really be my reason to be more vigilant about flossing? If movement makes me feel good, why do I think, “I need to do this so I don’t gain too much weight” instead of “This is going to be fun” ?
In my own experience, my judgment of others has more to do with how I feel about myself that day than anything other logic. Why can’t we celebrate how someone (of any gender) feels about and in their body, than what they look like? Wouldn’t that set a good example? Wouldn’t that be healthy? Personally, I find that when I’m more concerned with how I feel in my body, I eat better, move more, love more and my happiness even makes my husband happier. 

 But that's my experience, and it isn't easy to stay in that mind frame.

Friday, May 23, 2014

I got to see Andrea Smith lecture in person!

Earlier this month I had the amazing opportunity to hear a lecture by renowned Indigenous feminist scholar, Dr. Andrea Smith. I was super excited after taking Indigenous feminisms last quarter, and reading her book Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, which everyone ever should read. Like right now. I’ll wait…
Anyway, she did not disappoint. Although much of what she talked about was in the aforementioned book, it was worth hearing again, and with the passion that she displays behind her words. I’m regretful now that I didn’t speak to her after the lecture, but I was too shy and of course, everyone was lining up to say hi to her. I would have loved to have her sign my copy of her book, but I didn’t want her to see I have a used version (maybe silly, I know).
Dr. Smith’s work focuses on domestic violence and prison abolition, but her works span a range of topics, expertly connecting issues such as sterilization, boarding school abuse, birth control, immigration reform, war, sexuality and environmentalism, to name but a few. Perhaps you hear what you want to, but I have found her work to be convincing and eye-opening, explaining how hetero-patriarchy is “the basis of colonization and empire” through normalizing systems of dominance. It is the root of many of the social issues we face today, and our inability to effectively organize a large-scale movement against violence. This is concisely argued in her article, “Dismantling Hierarchy, Queering Society”. While I myself can be a little slow at doing so, I feel that much of her work can be applied to birth and our dismal state of maternity care.
As an aspiring birth worker I’m concerned about the state of maternal health care, for everyone in the US. Still, it stands that some women have worse outcomes, higher risks of mortality and infant mortality and morbidity than others. I’m not na├»ve enough to think that we can ever lower the risk of maternal mortality or morbidity to 0, but that risk should not be higher because of socially-constructed hierarchies that determine who is worthy of concern. As a white middle-class woman, I sometimes wonder if I have the right to question something I have never been on the other side of, or if I would be perpetuating systems of dominance through activism.
What I enjoyed the most about Dr. Smith’s lecture was that while she critiqued the politics of inclusion (“the Women of Color caucus approach,”) and the politics of recognition (“we are rare and need to be protected”), the solutions she offered were inclusive. Similar to feminist author bell hooks who calls for a return to consciousness-raising groups, although Smith doesn’t use that phrase, Smith lectured about creating “safe spaces where we practice bringing the revolution into being.”  Throughout her writing, and in her lecture, Smith talks about “taking power by making power,” which I am understanding as giving ourselves the authority to recognize ourselves, creating the change we want to see, rather than looking for a non-profit or state program to legitimize our movements. Smith talks about needing a critical mass of people to really make social change happen, but to get that critical mass, we need to organize as “the sick and tired people that we are” instead of an idealized vision of ourselves. Rather than waiting until we are not sick and tired to organize, and expecting others to be perfect, we need to accept where we are, who we are, and that we are all still learning. Some of us might need help to see how our actions are oppressive, or to recognize our privilege. We also need to learn to celebrate the moments of liberation that happen now, she says, instead of always focusing on how to make things better in the future.
In all, although Andrea Smith’s works make clear that there are some very serious issues in society, I find her work to be some of the most uplifting because she offers some actual steps and strategies towards revolution rather than just a general call for the complete overhaul of society, as if it would be that simple. Still, working together and accepting ourselves and others as we are might be a bit more difficult than it would seem. I'm pretty sure that was the gist of Jesus' message and 2,000 year later here we are. 
So, to find a birth worker consciousness raising group…. Or create one?
 I wonder what she would have to say about doulas...

On one hand, I think doulas, or the goal of the doula is to, create a safe space for a birthing person to make meaningful choices about their birth experience, and if we extend to some radical doula programs, to create a safe space for anyone to make meaningful choices about their reproduction, and be supported through those decisions. Some would say that is revolutionary, to be able to make meaningful choices about reproduction, so doulas are “bringing the revolution into being.” 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Complicity in Systems of Violence

My classes this quarter, (well, all year), and the great insights my classmates are providing in conversation are making me realize how complicate the concept of violence is, and the systems that perpetuate it. I used to think of violence and harm as something concrete and physical, but I’m coming around to think of it as actions that serve to oppress another, and by extension, a certain group with which they identify (gender, class, race, ethnicity, etc.). Or, actions that serve to reinforce one’s own power, or the power of a group one identifies with.
I’ve come to think of many things as violence that I didn’t define that way before. For example, someone in a group conversation stated that all standards of beauty are a form of violence against women. I’ve definitely felt the pressure to conform, and noticed my devastatingly low sense of self-worth when I was regularly reading Cosmo and Fitness but I never put it into the framework of violence. Oppressive, yes, but not violence.
I have a lot of privilege. Privilege has been a concept of conversation in nearly every class I’ve taken this year, as has Peggy McIntosh’s classic “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” McIntosh contends that having (unexamined) privilege makes one an oppressor (it “confers dominance”) and to realize your privilege makes you accountable to it. In other words, privilege is the flip side of oppression. If oppression is violence, and having privilege makes you an oppressor, then I need to examine the violence I’ve perpetrated.
I can’t give an exhaustive list here, I’m sure in the last 25 years I’ve perpetrated plenty of physical violence as well as been complicit and benefitted by many systems of privilege. I’m going to ignore the physical violence in this conversation and focus on complicity. I’ll start by listing my privilege: I’m white, upper-middle-class, young, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual-conforming, educated and a native English speaker and natural-born citizen of the U.S. Am I missing any? These facets of my identity benefit me in pretty clear ways here in the U.S. Class was an obvious privilege to me for most of my life, I realized that I was never at risk of going without. My other privileges have been slow realizations, white also being fairly obvious but growing up I didn’t see it as much since about 90 percent of my school and 100 percent of my neighborhood was white. I’m still struggling to understand some of my privilege, really understanding only comes through experience and conversation.
On the flip side, how am I oppressing? I think that most of the oppression that I perpetrate is unconscious, and mostly through being complicit in systems of violence and oppression in society. Some things are easier to pick out and change my own behavior accordingly. For instance, I’m slowly attempting to catch myself and use gender-neutral terms, which I struggle the most with in writing about birth. But we are dealing with systems. My own actions, while perhaps adding to a larger discourse or changing the way I, and those around me, think about certain things, will not be enough to change them. Some things are harder to even change my behavior on because I am embedded in the system. Because I live in society, I have to buy things like clothes and food. As hard as you try, you can’t do this without being complicit in some violence, against workers or the earth. Of course there is always the question of do these systems need to be changed, or altogether dismantled? 
 As I’ve come to understand it, racism is not about individual racist remarks, which are still hurtful, but about the structures in society that even well-meaning people who would never use the n-word keep intact. Its systems of power (privilege) that keeps not individuals, but the large part of certain racial groups in power and the large part of other certain groups in disadvantage. This is probably true for all types of privilege, racial, class-based, gendered, etc. As an insightful classmate wrote, “we have to stop participating in the standard if we want it to change, and unfortunately this is very difficult to do… because everything we do is in relation to the “standard”.” While they were talking about beauty standards, this applies to other standards and privileges. Actively opposing the “standard” is done in relation to the standard, and often perpetuates that being opposed, dualistic and oppositional thinking and weirdly validates the existence of the “standard.”

As I move on towards working as a doula and becoming a midwife, I want to keep examining these systems of violence in the context of birth. Amnesty International's report "Deadly Delivery" points out that women of color, low SES standing and/or who don't speak English face significant barriers to receiving care, and lower-quality of care once they get to a clinic. Much of this is from negative attitudes from staff caring from them. As a provider, what will I be able to do to mitigate some of these barriers? Will that be enough to positively affect outcomes? Will I be validating the standard of disparities in quality of care by opposing it?

I don’t have a conclusion for this, because I don’t think there is a conclusion. I’m still thinking about what systems I’m complicit in, and how I can perhaps resist them, but think I’ve made my point that *I* can’t do that much. So, what can we do? How can we/I be accountable to our privilege and not be complicit? I’m going to ponder on that this week…

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms in the world, whether through birth, adoption, fostering or however your family is formed!