Family

Childless or Child-free?

Husband and I had an interesting conversation the other day that led us into a bit of a debate that ultimately left me with an itching, goading, thought-provoking question on my mind….

Are parents more capable of effecting change in the world via their parenting than those who do not have children?

Is one doomed to not affect as much change in the world as they could have, had they had children?

I was telling dear husband about this article the other day [in which the author argues for people to stop talking about appearance when approaching her daughter, as well as all people’s daughters] and in the ensuing discussion/debate about it, he began to postulate that one would effect more change via writing an article directed at parents about parenting, rather than writing a prescriptive article to all people everywhere about how they should, or should not, treat children they meet in day-to-day life. In his opinion, a more effective article would be one in which the author addresses parents about how to raise their own children (& henceforth, how their child will be), rather than trying to change how all other members of society think, act, etc.

This immediately caused within my brain a line of logic to spring forth that suggested that one would generally be able to effect more change in the world via their act of child-raising than would otherwise be possible if one didn’t have kids. Perhaps, as husband suggested (though he was really not suggesting this at all), the most effective mode of change in the world is found in parenting itself. Whereas I, as a writer, am merely addressing all members of society about society’s issues, perhaps to no avail at all. At least kids kind of have to listen to their parents, right? (Just kidding—even those of us without kids know—they’re totally not listening to you!) However, it is a fact that no single person, or medium, will influence them [children] more than their parents. Ipso facto, as my crazy brain was thinking, parenting is the ultimate way to potentially effect change in society (via raising that new little member of society—your child).

Now, I know that this is not at all what my beloved partner was actually saying. He was just speaking in terms of what kind of article would be most effective. But I couldn’t help but continue pondering the difference… Moms v. Non-moms, Parents v. DINKS, The Child-bearing v. The Child…less? (is it “Childless” or “Child-free”?)

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Anyone that knows me (or has followed this blog, at least) knows that I have long-held the belief that raising a child can be one of the most profoundly feminist acts of one’s life. Yet I’m not doing it. And I’m not necessarily “planning” on it either. Am I childless, or child-free? The latter term insinuates freedom, while the former, lack and loss. Which do other women in a position similar to myself refer to themselves as? (i.e. over the age of 30, married, and with multiple “furkids,” but no human ones)

And is there such a chasm of difference between the moms and non-moms? Once again, many other women in my “situation” are most likely familiar with such oft-heard phrases as, “Well, you don’t have kids, so…,” or “It’s a mom thing,” or my favorite,  ”When you have kids you’ll understand,” which implicitly states that I’m just generally expected to procreate, not to mention it also infers that unless I do have kids, I will never, ever, understand…

I think Caitlin Moran says it best in her book, How To Be A Woman, when she says:

“Men and women alike have convinced themselves of a dragging belief: that somehow women are incomplete without children. Not the simple biological “fact” that all living things are supposed to reproduce, and that your legacy on earth is the continuation of your DNA—but something more personal, insidious, and demeaning. As if a woman somehow remains a child herself until she has her own children—that she can only achieve “elder” status by dint of having produced someone younger. That there are lessons that motherhood can teach you that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere—and every other attempt at this wisdom and self-realization is a poor and shoddy second…

But I don’t think there’s a single lesson that motherhood has to offer that couldn’t be learned elsewhere.”

While I want to ask why it is that all people everywhere seem so interested in whether or not a woman plans on procreating (and let’s face it- this is a truly personal, serious decision)— coworkers, friends,  family, some who may be no more than a casual acquaintance won’t bat an eyelash at asking you, dear female reader, whether or not you plan on reproducing —I already know the answer. Reproduction is more than just one’s personal experience—it’s social reproduction. It’s about population control. It’s about environmentalism. It’s about your tax bracket. It’s about what kind of parent you will be, and what kind of child you have. It’s about sex, it’s about birth control, and it’s about childbirth. It’s about that highly politicized, most basic element of society, the family. Yes, it’s personal, but it is also political. For just one example of this, see here.

In spite of this, however, to borrow from writer Suzanne Moore, “having or not not having children should not define or divide women.” We are all women, nonetheless. We are all human beings nonetheless, and we are all ‘precarious’ in some way, living in this society and this world, dependent upon one another. No man, woman, or child exists in a vacuum exempt from one another.

Suzanne Moore also stated the following in her recent Guardian article:

“I fear that if we put all our eggs in the basket of motherhood, we are bound for disappointment. We must fully appreciate that those without kids subsidise those of us with them and contribute in myriad ways.”

“Some women without children need to “heal”. Some don’t. Some with children feel as existentially lonely as those without. Children are no guarantee of care in old age, or even company.”

“Having kids gives meaning to lives, but this is not the only way to have a meaningful and wonderful life…  If it takes a village to a raise a child then it is worth saying that those who reproduce and those who don’t do not live in separate villages. We are, in fact, next-door neighbors.”

#FreeOurMidwives

midwife listening to belly

The following excerpts are taken from the CFAM website, a site dedicated to California Families for Access to Midwives:

 

“Yelena Kolodji and Kavita Noble are CA Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) who are being prosecuted. Their only alleged offense: failing to obtain physician supervision.

It is virtually impossible for midwives to obtain physician supervision for out-of-hospital births. California Families For Access to Midwives (CFAM) fought hard to remove this unnecessary requirement from law. Thanks to enormous consumer pressure, as of January 1, 2014, physician supervision will be a thing of the past for Licensed Midwives in California —  but not for CNMs.

While most CNMs practice in hospital settings where physician supervision is virtually automatic, the few CNMs who provide out-of-hospital maternity care are forced to practice illegally since physicians are unwilling and/or unable to supervise them.

Yelena and Kavita have been providing comprehensive care to pregnant mothers and newborns for more than a combined 40 years, and have caught a combined 2,000 babies in hospital, birth center, and home settings.”

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“This case also raises the broader question: do mothers have a right to access the full range of maternity care services their providers are trained and skilled to deliver?

When two skilled, experienced, and appropriately licensed midwives are prosecuted for providing appropriate care that results in a healthy mother and healthy baby, it is a sign that something is wrong with the system.”

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“Please get involved in our efforts to support midwives Yelena and Kavita during this trying time by:

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The legal issue at hand is one of non-compliance with CA state law mandating physician supervision for CNMs. But what is the purpose of such a law? It’s mere existence infers that midwives are inept, or at best, not fully competent, to attend childbirth as autonomous medical professionals—as if they need an authoritarian medical professional overseeing them. Yet midwives are extensively trained in childbirth and perinatal care. If anything it’s the OBGYNs who are not trained well enough in the ways of natural childbirth and effective labor coaching.

Rules like this are in place for bureaucratic reasons—in the legal and financial interests of physicians—not in the interests of mother and baby’s health. It’s about insurance, it’s about money, it’s about fear of lawsuits. It’s not about the best birth outcomes.

 

For more information, check out my Sources:

 

who decides how she gives birth

 

 

 

If It Wasn’t For You

My Sister & I

My Sister (the blonde) & Me (in the bib)

Today is my sister’s birthday. I can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to have a sister like her for almost 31 years now. Every year on her birthday I can’t help but reflect— selfish as it may be— on how different my life would have been without her.

I’ve always held my mom as the most important, and most pivotal, person in my life (after all, she is (a) my mom & (b) she adopted me), but my sister is a very close second.

Hence, why I’ve always said, “I don’t know how other girls and women function in life without a sister.” For one, I truly don’t know, as in, I cannot even begin to possibly fathom such an experience because I have, in fact, grown up with a sister; But secondly, I say this because in a world rife with sexism, in which the majority of every female life is fraught with eating disorders, sexual assault, criticism for either being too “ugly” or too “pretty”, teen pregnancy, and other discernibly gendered problems, well… having a sister may not save you from any one of these particular issues, nor may it make any such experience easier, but… having a sister can give you the greatest, most understanding companion a girl could ever dream of having while trudging on through this world. Also, she may potentially be the one and only person who will understand your tears of fanaticism when you, at age 8, see Paula Abdul in person, shopping at the same mall as you.

If it wasn’t for my sister, I wouldn’t have much of the bubbly sense of humor that I have today. If it wasn’t for my sister, I wouldn’t have had any sex education during my teens, like… at all.

If it wasn’t for my sister, I would have probably felt completely alone from age 12-17, as opposed to just mostly/semi-alone. If it wasn’t for my sister, I would have never done as many open mic nights as I did when I was younger, singing and playing the guitar in front of complete strangers, with her singing right beside me.

If it wasn’t for my sister, I may have never learned the first thing about empathy & compassion until much too late in life. If it wasn’t for my sister, I would have never learned at such a young age what true beauty is.

If it wasn’t for my sister, I wouldn’t have made such a great manager throughout my retail career (she trained me in my first supervisor position & her work ethic really stuck with me.)

If it wasn’t for my sister, I would have never had some of the greatest experiences/best days/best nights of my life (I’m already thinking of about five of em right off the bat… remember that first house party you took me to when I was 15? where I got drunk off screwdrivers while watching “Absolutely Fabulous!” with your friends..?)

FACT: One of the highlights of 2012 for me was not only flying out to Arizona for a whole 24 hours in order to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday with him (& in the midst of my first semester of law school, I might add), but helping clean up after his party with my sister, all the while both of us singing along to one of the greatest albums of all time: Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation.

My sister may be tall, with dirty blonde hair and green eyes, while I’m petite with dark hair and dark eyes, but man are we sisters. Our physical disparities may belie our relation, but our personalities most definitely do not. Thanks to my sister for being a best friend, an educator, a second mom while ours was doing the single mom thing, and for always having such a great sense of humor. Also, I didn’t send you a card, so I hope this’ll do.

HBD BIG SIS!

Book Review: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

how-to-be-a-woman book cover

Three word synopsis:

Hysterical, Intelligent, Contentious.

Here’s the deal: I really enjoyed this book. The entire first half had me in stitches. I was laughing out loud in the break room at work, on the BART train home, and in my own living room. She is hysterically funny. Both the stories in and of themselves, as well as her sense of humor. I was so thoroughly entertained I wasn’t even taking notes. And I am ALWAYS taking notes. Or, at best, resisting the urge to notate any and every book I read.

Here’s a glimpse at one of the parts that had me beside myself cracking up at work—on the topic of naming your vagina, naturally. I ended up sharing it with my coworker:

 

“But, let’s be honest, “pussy” is the least of it. There is a panoply of slang words that are, in their ways, just as truly awful as “vagina.” Let’s bullet point!

  • Your sex: sounds like a preemptive attempt to shift blame.
  • Hole: a bad thing that can happen to stockings or tights. My Johnnylulu is a GOOD thing that happens to stockings and tights.
  • Honeypot: inference of imminent presence of bees.
  • Twat: an unpleasant melange of cow-pat, stupidity, and punching. No.
  • Bush: the band of the same name are tiresome. The vegetation has spiders. No.
  • Vag: sounds like the name of a busybody battleaxe, a la “Barb” and “Val.” Suggestion also of chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, and borderline addiction to bingo. No.”

 

I mean, really—”Vag”—she is so dead on with that description.

Oh, and then she goes on to list a few of the names that she does like, and that bit may actually be even funnier (especially if you like Star Wars and/or came of age in the 80s).

 

Moran is a British writer, born and raised in the countryside of Wolverhampton, who at 16 gets to go work for a rock magazine in London. Her upbringing is interesting, to say the least, especially to someone born and raised in LA like myself. It is not only foreign geographically, but culturally. She grew up in a small house, in the English countryside, sharing what little space they had with 5-6 siblings in addition to her parents and a dog. (She not only shared a room, but a bed, with one of her many sisters.) On her 13th birthday she gets, instead of a cake, a baguette filled with Philadelphia cream cheese. And the cultural, class, and gender differences just continue on from there.*

*note: there is not much said, or discussed, in regards to race throughout the book. end note.

Her chapters go from pre-adolescence to present-day womanhood, in chronological order, and one of my favorite aspects of this journey is her chronological commentary on sexism. Ironically, the chapter titled I Encounter Some Sexism!—found dead center in the book—is also the point at which I wanted to bang my head against a wall out of frustration. Really, it boils down to the fact that:

(a) she says “You couldn’t find a woman making music for love nor money” in the early nineties. Hello?! L7, Verruca Salt, 7 Year Bitch, PJ Harvey (whom she does mention, at least), Tori Amos, Hole, The Breeders… and I’m sure many of you can think of even more amazing female artists, both rock and otherwise.

(b) she furthermore states that we’ve “had little more than a handful of female geniuses” since women got the right to vote (“There was still no female rock band to rival Led Zeppelin…No female hip-hop artist to rival Public Enemy…”) *Ahem* I’d say Janis Joplin earns at least the right to rival Led Zeppelin, and as for female hip-hop artists: TLC, Lil Kim, Da Brat, and SALT N PEPA. And don’t even get me started on [musician] female geniuses between the 1920s and 1990s: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday (whom she does mention), Peggy Lee, Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane), Sarah Vaughan, Wanda Jackson, Alice Coltrane, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Kate Bush, Nico (The Velvet Underground), and I COULD name more…

finally, (c) I’m not sure whether it was in this chapter or the preceding one, but she does state at one point that she probably learned most about being a woman/how to be a woman from her husband; However, in this chapter she is upset at her boss saying, “You wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes,” when, as she says, she in fact is “a fat teenage girl, being shouted at in the street by arseholes.” Well, Mz. Moran, given that you just stated you probably learned most about “being a woman” from a man, perhaps it is not so unfeasible for your male boss to know more about being a teenage girl than you. It just seemed a little hypocritical to at one point say you learned most about being a woman from a man, but then say, well, this guy is a jerk for thinking that he knows more about being a teenage girl than I do (because, once again, apparently your husband knew more about “being a woman” than you did…? Perhaps she could have at least expanded on this in order to clarify…) I just found those two aspects of the narrative a bit incongruous and I was miffed.

With that bit of criticism stated, I did love her “Is this polite?” sexism test (as I’m sure most people would- men and women alike), as well as her chapter on strippers and strip clubs. It’s a really delightful, laugh-out-loud funny, and insightful take on the whole sex work/sex worker debate. Something I’ve yet to decide on myself, but I do like what she has to say. One of my most favorite aspects of the book is the pairing of the two chapters, Why You Should Have Children, followed by Why You Shouldn’t Have Children (Chapters 12 & 13). Maybe it’s due to my legal studies background, but I do so enjoy how she is able to argue for each side, and quite deftly at that. My only point of criticism here is the last paragraph of the former chapter (chapter 12). Having studied childbirth, and having a midwife mother-in-law, that last paragraph made me give the book a sideways glance while thinking, “ummmm….ok, Moran, sure. uh huh.” But it’s a trivial piece of criticism, really. This book is truly and sincerely more than the sum of its parts.

She decides to almost end the book (it’s the second to last chapter) with abortion, and wow. It’s profound. It’s clearly well thought out. And of course, it’s contentious.

In spite of my pieces of criticism it really is a great read. I am so glad I read it and would definitely recommend it. I love her intellect, and perhaps most especially her humor. It will keep you entertained, and make you think, and I don’t think a book lover can ask for more than that.

 

“I want to be bright!”

During a study group session one day with two classmates (both black women who had children), our discussion turned to white aesthetics. Not unusual as we were all essentially Sociology majors within our interdisciplinary department.

My one friend tells me how her daughter, after the first day of kindergarten, came home and said to her, “Mommy, I want to be bright!”

Naturally she said, “Baby, of course you are going to be bright. You’re already so bright. I’m sure you’ll be the smartest girl in class.” Then her daughter corrected her, “Nooooo mommyyyyy… I want to be BRIGHT. Like the pretty girls at school with the light skin and the smooth hair!”

How would you feel hearing your five or six-year old daughter say something like this?

This is the world we live in. History and law books were established and written by privileged white men, and therefore standards of female beauty set by the pure and virtuous white woman- the object of the privileged white man’s affection. Think Lillian Gish (ahem, The Birth of a Nation!), Barbie (does it get any more normalizing/indoctrinating than Barbie?!), Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Gisele Bundchen, etc.

[Hence, why Bill Maher says something to the effect of, “That’s why you didn’t get that lead role in Titanic!,” to Kerry Washington at the end of this clip, though it’s cut off]

I may not be a black woman, but I am “other,” and I’ve fought my own battles against the overwhelmingly “white” standard of beauty. Growing up I was often called “exotic.” Not pretty, not ugly, but “exotic;” In other words, different, unusual, “other.”

Do you know about the growing popularity of the eye surgery to make Asian women look more “Western“? Do you know about Renee Rogers, an American Airlines employee who wasn’t permitted to wear her hair in braids while at work? (they asked her to pull it back in a bun and wear a “hairpiece” over it….) This also brings to mind the Chris Rock movie, Good Hair, a documentary set into motion by his daughter asking him, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair…?”

I will now refer you to this awesome critique and compilation of images via “beautyredefined.net.”

*Editor’s note: This article now contains [an addendum]