If cultural reality is composed of myths, do we ever look beyond those myths? Do we ever see the forest, or do we only see the trees?
A wise man once said: To dispel the darkness, bring in the light. May this blog be a spark of light.
Apparently. My mom bought me two new sets of PJ's from Pajamagram this Christmas, and both smelled suspiciously chemical. I decided not to wash them right away, but did wear one set for about half an hour one afternoon. After that, my skin was really itchy the rest of the day. Not cool. I can't sleep in something that makes me itch!
So I returned them. I am really bummed. They actually fit (unusual for my body-type), plus they were super cute and sek.sie. I called the company and asked if the chemical stuff would wash out, but they said, no, the PJ's are treated with flame retardant. WTF? I know that legally they have to put the stuff on kids cotton sleepwear, but adults? Yuck! Plus, if it makes me itch within minutes of putting it on, why would someone want to dress a child (who presumably has more sensitive skin than an adult) in the stuff?
Although I understand the reasons why the flammability of children's sleepwear is a concern, I was also raised to believe that fire safety was more about not leaving candles (or cigarettes) burning at night. Flame retardant PJ's are basically a last defense. I also get why kids need them--they are more likely to have a hard time getting out in case of fire than adults. My issue is with this company's decision to put flame retardant on adult PJ's, but not mention (at least not in any obvious place) on their web site that the garments are treated with flame retardant, or that this chemical treatment may cause itching.
Bottom line, if you are looking for comfortable, cotton PJ's because you have sensitive skin and can't tolerate synthetics, avoid Pajamagram. Flame-retardant-treated cotton is probably worse than untreated synthetics.
This summer I read Three Cups of Tea & Stones into Schools. Both books are about the Central Asia Institute and its work building schools for the least accessible, least privileged communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. One thing that really stuck with me from these stories was the idea that educating girls reduces terrorism. If I remember correctly, when a young man wants to go on a violent jihad, he will usually ask his mother's blessing. If she had a balanced education as a girl (one that includes math, science, social studies, reading, writing, etc.) she's less likely to give her blessing, and if she doesn't give her blessing, her son is less likely to go on the jihad. I can't remember the specifics of why, and unfortunately, I was a good citizen and returned the books to the library so I can't look it up. If you want more info on how that all works, read the books yourself. :-)
What's really interesting, is that this phenomenon is part of a documented effect--The Girl Effect. Educate a boy and he will leave his village, move to a bigger city, and better himself. Educate a girl and she will use that education to better her village. On the revolution page The Girl Effect claims that, "Less than two cents of every international aid dollar spent in the developing world is earmarked for girls. And yet when a girl has resources, she will reinvest them in her community at a much higher rate than a boy would. If the goal is health, wealth, and stability for all, a girl is the best investment." Educating girls is a simple, proven way to improve quality of life for the poorest of the poor and at the same time reduce terrorism. In an article for the Oxford Leadership journal, Tamara Woodberry states that, "There is a strong case made for the connection between subjugation of women and girls and the promotion of violence, extremism and terrorism."
Below is a video about the Girl Effect. They focus on adolescent marriage and pregnancy, but many other factors are influenced by the education or lack of education for girls in a community. I agree with most of what the video presents, but I take issue with one thing. The video implies that raising maternal age to about 18 years will lower maternal mortality. However, maternal age is not the only factor (or even the main factor) that influences mortality rates. Public health and sanitation also play an important role. In countries and communities where most women have their first child after age 18, public health and good sanitation are generally more widely available and even teen moms usually have good outcomes to their pregnancies. Areas where adolescent pregnancy is the norm also often have little or no access to public health, good sanitation, or clean water. These factors may have a large impact on maternal mortality, regardless of the mother's age.
Historically, the importance of improved public health and sanitation has been overlooked as a major factor in maternal mortality rates. For example, if you look at the time period in the US when hospital birth was coming into vogue, maternal mortality rates did decrease overall. But during that same time period, public health and sanitation dramatically improved. Who's to say which was the main factor in decreasing maternal deaths? We all agree that there was an improvement, but I think that pinning it on just one factor is a very simplistic way of looking at things. Anyway, just something to keep in mind as you watch the following video. I'm all for the positive aspects of the Girl Effect, but I think that improvements in public health and sanitation that occur as a result of educating girls does at least as much to prevent maternal mortality as raising the average maternal age.
I've decided to officially come out as a birth activist on this blog. As my first step, I've added a widget to my side bar that will let you listen to Gloria Lemay's weekly Blog Talk Radio programs (and her archives). She's a home birth midwife in BC, Canada & has been attending births for 30 odd years. From her writings and ''broadcasts'' I get the clear sense that she knows what is normal in birth, how wide the range of normal is, and how to keep things normal. Because of her beliefs & experience, she has chosen not to become registered, but to practice independently.
Midwives like Gloria provide an important option for women who want home births. Midwives who choose to become licensed, registered, or otherwise regulated can be hampered by protocols & standards of practice, which are designed to be uniform and therefore are not always flexible enough to allow truly individualized care. If I were ever to become I midwife, I would want to be one like Gloria Lemay. My disillusionment with the trends I saw in California home birth midwifery (along with my dislike of late nights and unpredictable events) let me to drop my pursuit of midwifery as a career in 2008.
However, I am still passionate about what I see happening in the current obstetrical system in the US. Our national C-Section rate has risen to more than 33%. That's right. If you enter a US hospital in labor, you have a 1 in 3 chance of having major abdominal surgery during your stay. And once a woman is cut open, it becomes nearly impossible for her to every have a vaginal birth in the future. The cascade of interventions that lead to the over use (and, in my option, abuse) of cesareans has been well documented in many places.You can read a brief overview here or a more lengthy discussion here.
The lack of real options for birthing women in this country, and the lack of information about the real risks of many common tests and procedures appalls me. It is time for change. Feminists demand power, choice, and respect in many areas of women's lives, but they do women a disservice by ignoring one of the major rites of passage most women experience--pregnancy and childbirth. It is left to the birth attendants & to the birthing mothers themselves. As another wonderful birth advocate, Dr. Sarah J. Buckley writes:
"Birth is a women's issue, birth is a power issue; therefor birth is a feminist issue. My logic may be correct, but the issue of birth has been at the bottom of the feminist agenda in western countries for some years, well behind matters such as equal opportunity, sexual harassment, bedroom politics, abortion, and body image, to name but a few.
"Feminism has championed many other women's health issues and resisted the medicalisation of menopause, the other major rite of passage in our culture; however, there seems to have been no equivalent analysis of birth. Yet most women in our culture will give birth at some time in their lives, and for the majority, it is their first experience as a hospital patient, with the loss of autonomy implied in that role. Many will feel the conflict between their own desires, needs and ways of knowing, and the technology-does-it-better approach that the medicalisation of birth has produced."
I now add my voice to others to demand access to true choices and full information about those choices in childbirth. This issue has been ignored for too many generations. It is time for women to take back the rite childbirth. Each woman should have the right to make truly informed choices, based on a realistic assessment of all the risks and benefits, and which risks she is most comfortable taking. But many women are not given this information. They are instead asked to sign "informed consent" forms, implying that "once you are informed, you will consent." This may make things easy for doctors, nurses, and institutions, but who's rite of passage is this anyway? The mother's and her baby's. So what is more important--convenience for hospital staff? Or respecting the wishes of the birthing mother?
I'm not advocating a complete shift to where home birth becomes the only option. I'm just asking that it stay a viable option for the women, like me, who want it, and that we be able to find midwives who are free to give individualized care, based on each mothers needs and desires. And I'm also advocating that hospitals offer balanced information on the risks and benefits of any procedure, and time for the mother and her support team to think about it before deciding what to do, as long as there is no immediate danger to mother or baby.