27 December 2010

Flame Retardant on Adult Pajamas?

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.

16 October 2010

The Girl Effect

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.

01 October 2010

Light a Candle on Oct 15th

I found this video really touching. I'll be lighting a candle at 7pm on the 15th. Please join me.

16 July 2010


This is sadly quite an accurate depiction of pregnancy and birth in the mondern American medical system. See comments on the author's blog here

02 July 2010

Coming Out as a Birth Activist

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.

10 May 2010

Ethical Eating

This is the preparation I put together for my Covenant Group's discussion of Ethical Eating this month.

Definition: Ethical eating, like ethical living, is not about absolutes. It's about doing the best you're willing and able to do—and nurturing a will to keep doing better.—eatkind.net

Princeton University professor and founder of the animal liberation movement, Peter Singer, believes that if alternative means of survival exist, one ought to choose the option that does not cause unnecessary harm to animals.—Wikipedia

'' . . . in my first voyage from Boston . . . our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food . . . But I had formerly been a great lover of fish and when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, 'If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you.' ''—Benjamin Franklin

Technological advances and organizational changes affecting agrifood systems in recent years have been radical and rapid; the repercussions, however, will be felt for a long time to come and the consequences may be irreversible. Whether these changes be as specific as individual food production techniques or as broad as the effects of globalization, they have refocused attention on age-old human values and fundamental human rights, including the right to adequate—and safe—food.—fao.org

"Should I assume that I have a God-given right to access the entire earth's bounty, however far away some of its produce is grown? . . . If you send it halfway around the world before it is eaten, an organic food still may be 'good' for the consumer, but is it 'good' for the food system?"—ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan in Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods

Questions for Reflection

What does ethical eating mean to you?

Do you know how your eating habits effect your environment? The global environment? The economy? Your heath?

How do your food choices reflect your personal ethics? Do you have a code of ethics that helps you choose what foods to buy/eat?

When choosing food, do you focus more on taste, nutrition, production style (eg organic), locality, or something else?

Are you ever conflicted between ethical food choices and convenient, economic, nutritious, or tasty choices? Which factor usually wins out over the others?

 I'll post my own thoughts, based on the above questions, as a comment. Please share yours as well. Maybe we can get a discussion going.

08 March 2010

Intrenational Women's Day: Feminism, Personal Choice & Respect

I'm going to be talking about something that may seem controversial in the context of International Women's Day: the challenges faced by women who choose a 'traditional' homemaking career. It is only recently that I began to realize that some people might not consider this a 'feminist' choice. I was raised by a strongly feminist stay-at-home mom. She taught me that feminism is about respect for women in all areas of life, and about a woman's right to make her own decisions about how to live her life.

In the past few years, I've been exposed to another type of feminism--one that  focuses strongly on women's rights in the workplace. On some level, I've always been aware that the terms 'feminism' and 'women's rights' usually refer to workplace and education rights, and the phrase, 'a woman's right to choose' refers to abortion. I also know that many women (and men) have fought hard to break through gender and sex stereotypes and create more career options for women. However, I suddenly find myself in a situation where I am making choices that don't fit this picture of feminism, yet I still consider myself a feminist.

For example: I am currently a homemaker by choice. Traditional feminism sought to give a woman the right to choose to work outside the home, but I do not think that the intention was to prevent women who truly wanted to devote themselves to home and family from following their passions. Unfortunately, that seems to be what has happened. Housewives are portrayed in our culture as un-liberated, intellectually dull, and tied to their children. Housework is seen as drudgery to be avoided. These attitudes may be left-over from a time when women had few choices and were expected to cook, clean, and care for the children. Today, many women are homemakers or stay-at-home-mothers by choice. However, since there are more career choices available to women, we are expected to want to 'do more with our lives.' In social situations, stay-at-home-mothers are often discounted or left out of conversations that revolve around the common question, 'What do you do?'

As if social pressure and stigmas weren't enough, there are also new economic problems. In a society where many women choose to pursue paying careers for intellectual stimulation & personal fulfillment, in addition to financial reasons, it has become much harder to live well and raise a family on a single income than it was in the 1940's and 50's. As dual income families have become more common, it has also become more necessary for both parents to bring home paychecks. Inflation has increased faster than salary levels, and now there are families where one parent would very much like to stay at home as a full time parent, but cannot because of financial pressure.

In our modern culture, women can be tied to earning a paycheck in a way that is similar to how they were once tied to home and family. I know that some families still survive and even thrive on a single income, but it is much harder to do than it was 60 years ago. We have not necessarily expanded a woman's choices and options as much as we think we have. Women's choices of external careers are more varied now, it is true, but the option to choose to focus on homemaking and motherhood is becoming less and less available.

Many people see financial independence and increased career choices for women as important feminist successes, and they certainly have made life better for many, many women. However, I think the central feminist issue is really respect. Does a woman need financial independence in order to be respected? In choosing to be a homemaker, I am financially dependent on my husband, but my choice does not change my need to be respected by my fellow humans. Mutual respect and appreciation is essential in the creation healthy interpersonal relationships. It is this respect that I see as the central issue of feminism, and I think most feminists would agree with me.

So what about the next, core tenant of feminism--equality? In the struggle for equality, it sometimes seems to me that feminists set out to prove that they were as good as men by trying to act just like men. Anything that marked them as female was seen as a weakness--just as women had been seen as 'the weaker sex' for centuries. I would like to see feminists advocating respect for woman regardless of whether we want to pursue careers or be homemakers. Unfortunately in same the way women who wanted to work outside the home were once looked down on, stay-at-home moms are now too often frowned upon. Is this an either-or situation? Is there a way for us to live together, and strive to protect and support women's rights to the full spectrum of choices? Or must we decide between the right to have careers and the right to stay-at-home and care for our families?

Another personal choice that can have feminist implications is whether or not a woman changes her name when she marries. Some people have expressed surprise that I chose to change my name. I won't speculate on why some women choose to keep their maiden names; a name is a very personal thing, and I think that the decision of whether or not to change it is equally personal. One of the reasons I chose to change my name was that I saw it as the socially expedient option. Our society still expects parents and children to share a last name, & since I hope to have children someday, I think having one family name will make my life easier in the long run.

Another reason I changed my name goes back to the issue of respect. Before women entered the work force on a large scale, a woman's husband was responsible for caring and providing for her and her children. In choosing to take my husband's name, I am following a tradition that honers his promise to care and provide for me and any children we may have. Does honoring my husband in this way make me less deserving of respect? Does it make me less of a feminist?

The only problem I see with my claiming to be a feminist is that the word implies a 'liberated' career woman who has proved she can do everything a man can do. I, on the other hand, am a homemaker and I hope someday to be a stay-at-home-mom. I believe that my choice is equally valid and deserves as much respect as the choices of more traditional feminists. So I found a new word. I started calling myself a 'Neo-Feminist.'

What I mean by Neo-Feminist is this: a Neo-Feminist is someone who believes that a woman has the right to make the choice to be a career woman, a working mother, a stay-at-home mom, or anything else on that spectrum. A woman has the right to be respected as a human being, without having to prove herself to anyone. To me, equality is about equal respect, and men also have the right to choose to work from home or be stay-at-home dads and still be respected. Neo-Feminism is about respect for the full human spectrum, for individual choices, for balance.

Is a person who chooses to devote their life to raising their own children any more or less deserving of respect than a person who chooses to work in a high powered career? How is stay-at-home parenthood not an equally valid, equally respectable choice to career parenthood? Or even choosing not to have children at all? Tell me, isn't feminism about a girl's right to grow up and follow her dreams? If my dreams have always been of motherhood, does that make me un-liberated? Or does it make me feminine? Isn't motherhood an expression of what it means to be female? So tell me, why would motherhood not be a feminist career?