Think that anti-choice politicians and activists aren’t trying to outlaw contraception? Think again. Follow along in an ongoing series that proves beyond a doubt that they really are coming for your birth control.
Sometimes, I like to add a little commentary to these “hey, they really want to take away your birth control” posts. But it is possible that we’ve finally found one to which, literally, no additional comment can be made.
Via RightwingWatch, it seems that talk show host Kevin Swanson has talked to “some doctors” who believe that if you take birth control, tiny little dead babies are simply hanging around, embedded into the lining of your womb.
Swanson: I’m beginning to get some evidence from certain doctors and certain scientists that have done research on women’s wombs after they’ve gone through the surgery, and they’ve compared the wombs of women who were on the birth control pill to those who were not on the birth control pill. And they have found that with women who are on the birth control pill, there are these little tiny fetuses, these little babies, that are embedded into the womb. They’re just like dead babies. They’re on the inside of the womb. And these wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.
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Now, I’m not usually one to feel the need to go all Biology 101 and point out that even if somehow there were tiny mini babies stuck in your uterus, they would come out when you menstruate since THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF MENSTRUATION. Because obviously, whatever school Swanson attended must have not only skipped over the entirety of sex ed, but likely a full spectrum of basic science classes as well.
Oh, wait. He was homeschooled. And now he is a leader in the homeschool movement. And his radio show is “the world’s largest homeschooling and Biblical worldview program that reaches families across the US and in over 80 countries.”
So, hold onto your pills, folks, because Swanson and his ilk are coming for your birthcontrol, as well as your right to an education that allows you to comprehend basic bodily functions.
Twenty-one years ago today, my father died. Twenty-one years ago today, I watched the perspiration puddle in the dent below his Adam’s apple for the last time. I watched him lick his parched lips. I saw the crisp hospital sheets sag with his sweat—sweat from his poor body, riddled with cancer, emaciated, aged, and somehow bloated, all at the same time.
Days earlier, when I brought his dictaphone to the hospital, with the miniature tapes that used to go into answering machines, I held the recorder to his mouth and—because I, his 14-year-old baby girl, asked him to—he said, slowly, carefully, effortfully, while looking me straight in the eye: I love you, Sharona. I. Love. You.
For the last time.
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I was 14, and it was the end of childhood. Childhood had been ending for a while, during the months of illness, false hopes, and horrible disappointments. The tumors were in his kidneys, and they were growing. They were shrinking. They were back. They were in his chest, his brain. The radiation was working (“Look, my girl, they drew a target on my head!”); it wasn’t working. I learned gallows humor. I learned to pretend there was nothing unusual about finding my father marooned on the staircase at home, unable to make it to the top. Both of us choking back sobs as I said, “Wait, Dad. Wait,” and walked myself—calmly, steadily, like you’re meant to do when walking around a swimming pool—next door, and softly explained to our neighbor, Mr. Wood, that we needed his help. Alarm shadowed his eyes, and Mr. Wood grabbed his keys and my hand, and back we went to our house. The three of us sweated and grunted our way up the stairs, around the landing, into my parents’ room, and laid my dad in bed.
Then Mr. Wood—Tony, to my dad—stood there, awkward, silent and sad.
“I’ll see you ‘round, Terry.”
“Yeah, see you ‘round, Tony. Thanks mate.” Breathless. Relieved. Humiliated.
“Yeah, no worries, mate.” A hesitation. A shattering pause.
And he left, because Tony is a decent man, and he knew we needed to be alone.
Iska Coutts / Rewire
People try so hard to be kind to grieving kids, but they’re bad at it. They don’t know how. They do things like invite you to the movies, but end up taking you to see Casper the Friendly Ghost. Then they’re speechless afterward, because what kind of an idiot takes a kid to see a movie about a little boy who died, the day after her father died?
Kind idiots. That’s who. We’re all idiots in the face of that sort of meaningless tragedy. Because it shouldn’t happen. And yet it does, all the time. And still, we don’t know what to say, or do. Or whether saying or doing are what’s called for, what’s wanted or needed—because we also find it so terribly hard to ask, and of course, how is a child supposed to know what she wants or needs, other than for none of it to be true?
It’s the powerlessness that does it, breaks your confidence in the order of the world. The helplessness. The total lack of agency. Oh, of course, you can fool yourself by talking yourself into and out of all sorts of mental and emotional contortions. This will make me stronger. The brightest candles burn out first. Ultimately, what reveals itself is that time is both the oppressor and the savior: You must wait out the grief, but you don’t know how long it will hold you hostage. And you don’t know how damaged you’ll be once it’s done with you. And there is very little you can do about any of it.
For me, it turns out, it took about 20 years. There were ten years of numbness, of deep denial. I was crushed, I remember, when Australia added a digit to the beginning of all phone numbers, some years after my dad died. I was distraught thinking that he wouldn’t know our phone number if he came back. If he came back. I caught myself in that delinquent thought. Consciously, you know these things—he’s dead, he’s gone, he will never, ever be back—but your subconscious rebels, riots even. In dreams, in daydreams, and sometimes, in little jabs that wind you as you go about your day. Your subconscious refuses: This loss, I will not accept.
The next ten years were a mix of depression, anxiety, and an all-encompassing bewilderment that these emotions were now cascading over me, unmitigated, untidy, unpredictable. I did and said things that I found excruciatingly embarrassing, because I could no longer hold myself under such tight, absolute control. Like water in an old pipe, the emotions had found ways to leak out at weak points. At times, I felt my structural integrity was compromised. I was, in short, afraid that I was about to collapse. Therapists would ask, “And what would happen if you did collapse?” and I would stare at them, in disbelief at the premise of the question: That will not happen. Cannot happen.
We are given a tiny sliver of time in which it is generally acceptable to display the symptoms of grief. Six weeks after the death of a loved one, few people will realize you are sad because of grief. Six years later—or 16 years—gushes of grief can seem mad and unhinged. You’ll get more sympathy for a broken bone than a broken heart. People will wonder: When will you “get over” the loss?
In writing personal pieces like these, there is always a judgment about what to say, and that is really about how much to hold back. I take the view that it is necessary to hold most of it back. Not for shame or fear, but because there is a province of the self that is sometimes better left untrammeled. It’s as if there are parts of the self that risk oxidation by exposure to the air; like a delicate, old artwork, you’d see them for the instant before they cracked and flaked away.
What I wanted to share here is a celebration. Not of my 21st birthday as a child of grief, but a different birthday: the birth of my daughter late last year. For me, it has only been through becoming a parent that I have been able to let go of the grief over my own parent.
Don’t I wish he were here to see me as a mother? To know his grandchild, to give her all the things I forbid him to give her, and to teach her dirty jokes that will lead teachers to place her in detention and make me laugh hysterically when I find out why?
Of course I do. Of course, of course.
But it’s not about that. It’s about a radical shift in outlook, and one that I suspect is a key to forcing grief to move out of the way, to the extent you can. Maybe just to move it enough so that some light gets past its shadow.
Having a baby has brought me back to the present in the most profound way I could ever imagine. In fact, I couldn’t imagine it; it has taken me by surprise. Because I know she will need to eat, and I will feed her, I know I will see her every few hours. And I actively, constantly, intensely look forward to that. I look forward to changing her diapers, because I can blow raspberries on her belly and possibly, hopefully, make her laugh. She will need her nap, and then she will wake up, and she will look for me. And I will be there. She will need a bath before bed, and to be nursed and hugged and held and loved. And I will be there.
Never in my life have I lived so joyously in the present, looking forward to every increment of the day. To be able to share it with a partner who is just as overjoyed and present is more than I ever hoped to have. I know that my daughter will have a love for her father just as strong as mine was for the one I lost.
My message for those who grieve is bound up in this. We are taught to mourn, to pine, and never to forget.
While grief will hold onto you for as long as it wants, try not to hold onto it so hard. There is no honor or reward in gripping the memories of lost loved ones so tightly that your knuckles are white and your soul is sore, and you grow tired. Better to focus on what you do have, on the small things, the tiny things—whatever can or does bring you joy. That, after all, is what any parent wants for their child—that they live a joyful life, not one that longs mostly for what isn’t there.
There are two public health issues that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was evidently trying to address: the dangers of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and the high number of unplanned pregnancies in this country. By not keeping them separate, the agency effectively reduced all women to nothing more than fetus-vessels-in-waiting.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came under heavy criticism last week when it released new guidelines suggesting that any woman who might become pregnant should consider not drinking alcohol out of concern for their hypothetical fetus’ well-being. Had the CDC limited its advice to women who were already pregnant—or even those who were actively trying to become pregnant—it would have been likely seen as reasonable, based on existing research about the risks of alcohol during pregnancy. But the suggestion that the advice should apply to all women who are sexually active and not on birth control is overreaching and patronizing.
There are two public health issues that the CDC was evidently trying to address: the dangers of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and the high number of unplanned pregnancies in this country. By not keeping them separate, the CDC effectively reduced all women to nothing more than fetus-vessels-in-waiting.
Experts believe that FASDs are widespread and under-diagnosed. Symptoms of FASDs range from mild to severe and include a variety of physical, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems. Research shows that exposure to alcohol in utero can cause structural or functional problems to the central nervous system, heart, brain, bones, and kidneys. It has been associated with higher incidents of behavior disorders, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and impaired impulse control, and learning disorders, such as difficulties with mathematics, language, memory, and problem solving.
There is no great way to measure whether it’s possible to drink just a little bit without exposing the developing fetus to any risk. We don’t do randomized controlled trials on pregnant women, for example, because it would be unethical to intentionally expose a developing fetus to any substance that might be harmful for the sake of research, and other factors such as genetics, nutrition, smoking, and prenatal care make every pregnancy different to begin with. Many studieshave failed to find any negative outcomes from light drinking during pregnancy.
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Still, a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics released in October notes that drinking during the first trimester increases the odds of FASD by 12 times when compared to women who don’t drink at all. Drinking in the first and second trimester increases the odds 61 times compared to no alcohol, and drinking during all three trimesters increases the odds by 65 times. These are big risks, and the AAP concludes that simply “no amount of alcohol should be considered safe during pregnancy.”
With all that in mind, the logic behind the CDC’s advice seems simple enough. Ann Schuchat, the agency’s principal deputy director, explained to USA Today, “Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant. About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?”
But the advice the CDC released on its website is anything but simple: “More than 3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.” Remember, this is not referring to pregnant women, it’s talking about all sexually active women who might become pregnant.
Upon reading this, many on the Internet cringed. As Alexandra Petri pointed out for the Washington Post, the CDC released an infographic along with its report that outlined the risks of “drinking too much” for women. For pregnant women, according to the agency, these risks include fetal alcohol syndrome disorders, miscarriage, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome, and prematurity. For all women, the CDC continues, risks include “violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancy.”
If the CDC wanted to remind women of the dangers of FASDs, it should have stuck to pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant. You see, many pregnant people are accustomed to taking the advice of medical organizations, our doctors, and our friends and doing some personal risk-benefit analyses. Right before I sat down to write this article, I went to the medicine chest and washed down a few aspirin with an extra cup of coffee in an effort to stop my head from pounding. I was reminded of a time when I could not do that because while pregnant and breastfeeding, I was told to limit my caffeine intake and use nothing stronger than Tylenol. I also avoided deep-sea fish (because of mercury levels) and lunch meat (because of the possibility of listeria). And despite the horrifying heartburn I had pretty much every night I did not take the proton-pump inhibitor I had been on for a few years before pregnancy because it had not been tested enough to be considered safe.
I did, however, eat soft cheese. My doctor advised me not to because of fears of bacteria, but a friend in culinary school at the time along with the guy behind the counter at the Vinegar Factory assured me that all cheese sold in the United States is pasteurized. I believed them and indulged in some brie from time to time.
One friend, meanwhile, took ibuprofen during her pregnancy because her back was too painful to walk without it. Another suffered through a major sinus infection with no painkillers because even Tylenol made her nervous. Some drank a glass of wine every now and then, and others skipped booze entirely.
Medical advice to women changes frequently as science learns more. My mother smoked throughout her pregnancy with my sister because that was acceptable in 1970. By the time she was pregnant with me two years later she was told to cut out cigarettes, but late in the pregnancy, was ordered to drink one glass of alcohol a day to “quiet the baby.” Though that seems outrageous 40 years later, advice changed in the relatively short time between my two pregnancies as well. The second time around, I was allowed to take that proton-pump inhibitor, because it had been declared safer, but I was told to avoid peanut butter as a way to prevent an allergy in the baby.
Pregnant people are often used to reading and evaluating advice on what they can and can’t do. Tell them not to drink and many will not drink. Others may drink even less than they were planning to, and others may do whatever their doctor says; mine assured me that the occasional glass of red wine was fine.
Limiting the advice to this audience would have been a problem too, however, as it would have missed a large number of women who get pregnant each year. Why? Because, as the CDC noted, half of all pregnancies are unplanned, though not everyone decides to carry their pregnancies to term. And this was the real messaging challenge: The advice about not drinking starts from day one of pregnancy when most women, especially those who aren’t expecting to become pregnant, are unaware of their new condition. So the CDC’s message of risk elimination is understandable. There is another way to confront that, though: addressing the importance of contraception, recognizing that it is currently not equally available for all women, and advising policymakers to make it easier to access birth control.
This is how the CDC miscalculated. Telling all women who are not pregnant and not using birth control to stop drinking is an absurd strategy. It is unrealistic and undermines the real public health risk the CDC is attempting to highlight. And accusing sexually active women who are not using birth control of damaging a developing baby that they may never conceive or might not carry to term if they do is patronizing and demeaning to women. (Not to mention the fact that not all sexually active women are at risk of unintended pregnancy—women who only have sex with women, for example, are in the clear.)
Tell women who are or are planning to get pregnant that the best medical advice of the day is not to drink any alcohol. For the trickier bunch—those who aren’t trying to get pregnant but could, remind them that half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Point out the benefits of planned pregnancy, which do include avoiding unintentionally exposing a developing fetus to alcohol. If they do want to avoid pregnancy, suggest IUDs and implants, which prevent it for a minimum of three years without any effort on the part of the user. Work on making contraception more readily available and less expensive.
But don’t treat all women like pregnancies waiting to happen, don’t assume that everyone is going to get pregnant someday, don’t assume that everyone who does get pregnant will carry the fetus to term, and don’t tell them that they simply can’t drink during their fertile years.