Labor, Delivery, and Breastfeeding Dogma: Part 1

The ideology of pregnancy and child birth pervades real women's perceptions...men too.

The ideology of pregnancy and child birth pervades real women’s perceptions…men too.

I’d like to, in two parts, share my labor and birth story with you and show you how breastfeeding (and the dogma of this act) affected my new family. When a woman has a baby, her birth experience and whether or not she breastfeeds, has a significant impact on her bonding with her baby, her recovery (both mental and physical), and so many other things. I’m hoping that my story can inform others and perhaps give other future mothers a bit more reality in the ideological marketplace of labor, birth, and your little one.

My birth story began on November 4th at 7:30 pm, when I started experiencing waves of back labor. I hadn’t read about back labor in my pregnancy research (another thing I decided wasn’t something I would be a part of?) so I didn’t quite understand what I was going through, although I felt reasonably sure that it was some kind of labor. So, I did what I was told to do and started timing them. By about 3 am, early on Nov. 5th, the contractions had become less than five minutes apart, and I told my husband that we needed to head to the hospital. I was in utter agony. The contractions felt like my back was being set on fire. Strike that. If my back were on fire, it would have been less painful.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to go to the hospital even with my contractions so hard, fast, and painful. I never saw a mucus plug, my water never broke, and nothing was really out of the ordinary prior to 7:30 pm the night before, In fact, I had my mom and grandmother over that day to check out the nursery. Not to mention, I was only 39 weeks along, my due date wasn’t until Nov. 11th. For the past two weeks, my OBGYN gave me the unhappy news at each checkup: no dilation or effacing (i.e. no progress that labor was impending). Ultimately, it was the intense pain that drove me to go. I could not even sleep with how awful the pain was.

Once in the hospital (we had to enter through the ER since it was about 3:30 am by then), I was welcomed into triage on the maternity/L&D ward, where I continued to experience the worst pain of my life in the form of this killer back labor. The nurse did a cervix check and lo and behold, I was still not dilated at all. Needless to say, I felt like my body must be going crazy. How could I be having such horrible contractions and my body was literally not opening up to prepare for delivery? Another hour later, the same nurse gave me another check and the same confusing, terrible news of no progress.

I was administered a shot of Demerol (guess where they shoot you for this painful injection?) and told that they hoped that the drug would calm me enough where my body could begin to dilate (yes, the pain was that bad). An hour went by, and a new nurse began to do a third cervix check. Although she didn’t tell me right away, I think I was still locked up tight, because she decided to sweep my membranes while she was doing the check. This proved to be one of the most compassionate acts I would experience in the hospital. It was painful and very uncomfortable, and I remember her saying that I would thank her for this (she couldn’t have been more right), and when she was done, she announced that I was 3 cm dilated. I felt like I survived a battle.

After hours in triage, in danger of being sent home due to lack of progress, I was finally on my way to an actual delivery room. I was admitted into the hospital given an identification wristband.

My ordeal was far from over. My body still refused to progress. I was told that my contractions were irregular; they occurred in pairs, called coupled contractions (scroll down to “Back Labor with an Occiput Posterior Baby” and/or see here). This happens when the baby is not situated ideally in the birth canal, usually with the head resting on the tailbone of the mother. This is what causes that back labor.

I asked for an epidural pretty immediately after being admitted. The pain was horrible, and unlike what everyone preaches, my pain was not meaningful. Because my body refused to continue dilating and move closer to delivery, it was nothing but suffering. If you’re like me, your friends and family probably tell you (or told you) that the pain of labor is/was endurable because it amounts/ed to something- it was meaningful pain. My experience served as a delightful lesson that everyone who told me that either is lying about the activity of their own labor, or that theirs were simply totally uncomplicated. Either way, I never once found the agony to be meaningful or spiritual. Just agony. So I asked for it to be turned off.

I was given my epidural probably about an hour after being admitted. I felt the sting of the needle while they numbed the area of my back as I was hunched forward on my husband. I didn’t feel the actual epidural needle, however. About 20 minutes or so later, I felt like a human being again. It was wonderful to be able to think again. A short while later, my OBGYN appeared and broke my water with the scary-looking hook thing (which was completely painless) since that didn’t even happen on its own (again, my son wasn’t in an optimal position to enable this). Once I felt the rush of warm fluid, I felt a kind of expectant exultation, knowing that once the water was broken the baby had to be delivered soon. That meant I would be meeting my son in the very near future.

The exultation however would mark the beginning of a very long time.

After hours of only dilating one more centimeter (now 4 cm) amidst more contractions, I was put on Pitocin, a human-made synthetic Oxytocin, which is a hormone that does many wonderful things in the body, including initiating labor in pregnant women. I would be on Pitocin from the early afternoon of Nov. 5th right up until the birth of my son at 10:17 pm that night. The nurses would jack it up double, triple, and finally quadruple trying to get my body to progress to the full 10 cm needed for delivery of the baby. I stalled at around 7 cm that night despite the drug. My labor was taking so long that I had to get a second I.V. bag of epidural fluid because it began to wear off and the horrible Pitocin-times-10 contractions were beginning to re-shred my mind.

By then, I hadn’t slept since I woke up on Nov 4th and only had saltine crackers and ice chips to keep me going. Slowly, over the course of the evening, family began to arrive with smiles and patience, since the labor was going at a snail’s pace. Around 9:30 pm or so, I started hearing the dread news from the hospital’s nurses: I was going to need a C-section. Apparently, my cervix was inflamed and there was a kind of “lip” in the way of the birth canal. Waiting it out didn’t relieve the condition.

This was death to me.

Since the very beginning of my pregnancy, I knew that a C-section was the number one thing I wanted to avoid unless medically necessary. I had educated myself endlessly about what I could do, what the procedure was about, etc., all in the hopes to never have to be cut open to birth my son into the world. I literally spent my pregnancy fearing something like this may happen. And here it was, in the form of a sympathetic nurse with a child-like voice. After all the pain and time I had battled through: the catheter in my body destroying all semblance of modesty, the epidural needle in my back and painful I.V. in my hand, the amount of Pitocin pumped into me…all for nothing- so I could be sliced open.

I was told that I had about an hour to make my decision, which was hardly a “decision” at this point. It was between a C-section and possibly laboring for another 24 hours or more. By an hour’s time, my OBGYN would be back and able to do the procedure. She was apparently delivering another baby during this time.

I was in complete despair. My mother-in-law came in (she had an emergency C-section with my husband) with kind and brave words for me. I relaxed some but I was truly and honestly terrified of this surgery. I mean, you are conscious through the whole thing. Yeah, just in case you weren’t aware, mothers are only completely anesthetized for emergency C-sections, not for ones that you make a decision to go through. You receive a local anesthetic in which you apparently feel no pain, just pressure. When I hear that, I think “Yeah sure, doctor’s always call pain ’pressure’”. Just like when they are going to stick you with a needle and they say, “There’s going to be some pressure”, and all it really does is hurt. So naturally, I was horrified at the idea of this procedure.

Just before 10 pm or so, my OBGYN walked in and asked me how I’m doing. I told her that I wasn’t well, due to the fact that the nurses were telling me that I had to get a C-section and that I wasn’t progressing. She got quiet and somber-looking. She came over to me and started doing a cervix check. It took her no time at all to announce, after a bit of work, that I was 10 cm dilated and that she had moved over the inflamed parts of the cervix that was preventing my son from emerging. She said to me, “if you want, we can give pushing a try now.”

It took me no time at all.

After only about 15-20 minutes of pushing during contractions as my OBGYN carefully turned the baby as he worked his way out, he

Is this what breastfeeding was like for you? Not likely says the hundreds of pregnancy message board complaints and cries for help.

Is this what breastfeeding was like for you? Not likely, says the hundreds of pregnancy message board complaints and cries for help.

was born. The relief was instantaneous. He was whisked away to get his standard “Apgar Tests” with his daddy, who happily photographed the first moments of our son’s life on Earth. Since I was still on the hospital bed, I couldn’t see it for myself, so those images are precious to me (hint hint, make sure someone does this for your baby too!).

The placenta came just a few moments later; I didn’t even need to push. I was surprised at how heavy the brilliant organ looked as my OBGYN held it up to place it into a specimen container. It seemed quite consequential after all. There is so much emphasis on the baby you are carrying, it is easy to forget this amazing bit of you that has been there from the beginning, feeding and caring for your baby perfectly.

After the placenta was taken, its long role completed, my doctor gently pushed down on my tummy, and a huge rush of blood came, splashing on the floor unexpectedly loudly, causing her to jump back in surprise. True story, I apologized for possibly ruining her shoes. I bet she thought that was funny. Or nuts. Or both.

It was 27 hours of labor and a second-degree tear.

After this ordeal, the breastfeeding culture of the hospital began to emerge full swing. Of course, since I was not only ready but very happy to be participating in this remarkable activity (I mean, what has more history than breastfeeding?), I jumped right on the bandwagon less than an hour after my son was born. Things didn’t go as planned.

With the nurse’s “encouragement”, what would become a harrowing ordeal involving breastfeeding gone wrong and dangerous dogma, began.

Stay tuned for part two of my labor, delivery, and breastfeeding story. You’ll find out how a faithful follower of nursing became a heretic…and more.

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A Pregnancy-Related Meltdown

Note the presence of sprinkles here. Its natural.

Note the presence of sprinkles here. Its natural.

This article was originally written on November 4th and then passed to my editor (see: HUSBAND). I went into labor the following day, so this never ended up being posted! I have some more good stuff to come, especially about my labor/delivery and postpartum experiences, but I couldn’t leave this little nugget out. Besides, this foreshadows future post-pregnancy woes, you’ll see. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, I gave my theory and problem (discussed below) another try after being released from the hospital (the second time, I’ll explain later), and the discrimination against a certain kind of donut continues. My disappointment is eternal. Enjoy. 🙂

From Nov. 4th- I’ve heard and read about a great deal many things that push a pregnant woman over the edge over the past nine months. Stranger’s well-meaning but ultimately insensitive comments, in-laws, cravings, weight gain, complications with high blood pressure and other issues…all of which I have read on pregnancy message boards or threads at some point or another. Something I secretly prided myself on as I read through them (and listened to at mommy preparedness classes) was that I never felt like I was pushed to the edge like other women described. When parents, in-laws, even strangers interacted with me and I was asked the typical redundant and even invasive questions, I felt pleasant and understanding of what seemed to be an interest in something insistently and intrinsically human. I have to admit, I have liked this part of myself amidst my pregnancy.

However, I have recently discovered that I am not exempt from the pushed-to-the-edge feeling after all. It hit me one morning when I found myself having an utter meltdown after bringing the very serious problem to the attention of my husband over breakfast.

It was donuts.

Yes, I said donuts. Or doughnuts, if you prefer.

During the past few weeks, I have wanted donuts. But not just any donuts, my favorite, most wonderful, tasty donuts on earth. I’m talking about frosted, sprinkled, chocolate cake donuts. These are the number one choice of donut for me, with maple bars coming in a rather distant second.

When I first requested donuts, it was a weekend. Sunny, warm, nice. I told my husband and we headed down to a local donut shop- a place that I knew about because some of this establishment’s donuts (a cheesecake donut) were served at a graduation party hosted by a family member months ago. With the memory lingering in my hormonal brain, this seemed like the perfect place to quench this need.

After waiting in line, which was a short line but unnecessarily long due to the lack of staff, I gazed into the glass display case full of yummy pastries of various sorts. I found my chocolate, frosted, cake donut. I remember that I was a bit shaken that it lacked sprinkles –I mean, what else do you do with frosting, which is not coincidentally (intentionally!) a natural adhesive- but I overcame. Pleased and ready to be satisfied by this nagging need, I smiled as my husband ordered up a dozen treats and the box was retrieved and set up to hold my sweets. I asked the clerk for my cake donuts.

I was informed that the one that I saw in the display was all they had.

It felt like I was hit with ice water and set on fire. In that order. If it was the other way around, maybe the ice water would have improved the whole on-fire thing. Maybe I’m over thinking this. I was pretty angry. Either way, I swallowed it completely, through my head was spinning. I’ve never been the type to act rude or take out my dissatisfaction on store staff. But now, my need was getting bigger, and I didn’t have enough to feed the beast.

I had to deal. What else could I do? Perhaps some pregnant women may use their hormones as a (great) excuse to get what they want, maybe even to force my husband to drive me to another donut shop in search for my chocolate, frosted, sprinkled, cake donuts, but I just didn’t want to be that woman. So, we filled the donut box with my one, single cake donut and a bunch of other, less-desirable, second-rate treats.

I was determined to fix this issue next weekend. My husband suggested trying another donut store he knew about, so I had a plan for next weekend.

When the next weekend came around, I was confident that I would have my stash of chocolate cake donuts. We were heading down to another shop, and my anticipation was high.

In we went. Another line in an understaffed store with a gloriously unenthusiastic clerk. Of course, I could care less at this point. I was finally going to stave off this monster that I felt I had done a stellar job in keeping penned up. We ordered the dozen box, the clerk awaiting our donut choices. I spotted my target (again, without sprinkles; what is with this lack of sprinkles?!) and asked for several. At this point, I wanted as many as I could get. Gluttony was not a concern.

She said flatly, “This is the only one.”

I remember a rushing in my ears and my head swimming. I know it must have been clear on my face that what I just heard was not ok. It was certainly not ok. How is this even possible?? Another, completely unrelated donut shop, on a completely different weekend, and the same freaking outcome?? Only one?! WHO MAKES ONLY ONE DONUT, EVER?

Apparently everyone.

Over and over again, wherever I go, donut stores only ever have one, single, chocolate, frosted cake donut. And I can just forget sprinkles. I mean, that’s just asking too much.

This total un-reality has led me to quite the crisis. I’ve needed some actual talking down to prevent myself from believing that the

Apparently this is more of a donut than the cake variety

Apparently this is more of a donut than the cake variety

universe itself is refusing me donuts. I mean, how can it be possible that twice on separate weekends, only one donut that I wanted was available, while there were trays of glazed, maple bars, jelly and cream filled round things, bear claws, etc. ready for the taking? Could it be that when donut shops were preparing for the day, staff arriving early in the morning and preparing the morning’s bounty, there was a list of donuts to make: 6 dozen glazed, 5 dozen maple bars, etc., and next to chocolate, frosted, sprinkled there is written a “1”? No even one dozen but simply, ONE? How does one even make a single donut when they are made in batches?! It was like a special circumstance just for my choice in donuts.

Of course, the other possibility is that chocolate cake donuts are just so very popular that I conveniently find myself at the end of the cake donut rush when I arrive for my share. But this I doubt. My husband says that when he imagines the quintessential “donut”, he envisions a glazed round or a maple bar, you know, one of the yeasted, risen donuts, not the cake variety. I believe him. Besides, the single donut occurrence in multiple locations just seemed too coincidental. Sample size was clearly not a priority in this adventure.

It’s my hormonal mind, or actual reality, that there is a grand conspiracy against chocolate, frosted, sprinkled cake donuts. During my pregnancy, I have asked for very little. I take it easy with cravings in general, have gained the “normal” amount of weight, and have done what I can to not be too demanding on others, like my husband. I’ve just never been the type that seeks to inflict others due to my personal circumstances.

But this is ridiculous. I can’t catch a break for these damn chocolate, frosted, sprinkled cake donuts. They exist as a fantasy.

Now, I am 39 weeks pregnant, knowing full well that any day now I could go into labor and my life will change forever (not to say it hasn’t already). I just wanted my donuts to see me through this change.

I’m still mystified by this.

So, as I sat this past weekend lamenting this insane and unbelievable loss of donuts to my husband, it occurred to me that I was definitely over the edge. Just like so many other pregnant women.

A classic glazed, yeasted donut...which overrides the cake.

A classic glazed, yeasted donut…which overrides the cake.

Since then, I have thought through my donut problem. I understand now that this issue is actually two-fold. Not only are donut shops making only one chocolate cake donut (and consistently leaving out the sprinkles), but donut shops themselves are in pretty inconvenient locations –at least in my area. I want to visit donut shops when I am out with my husband shopping, but we always find ourselves with groceries in the car that need to be put in the fridge or some other situation that prevents donut investigation. It seems that since donut shops are never situated near grocery stores or other places we typically find ourselves when running daily errands (gas stations and near malls instead), it seems that you would need to make a specific run for donuts rather than just remember to drop by on a whim. If there isn’t a convenient way to look in on a donut shop to research my theory (and get my single donut), I tend let it go or just forget altogether. I mean, I may be a hormonal pregnant lady obsessing over donuts, but I do have other priorities. Either that or my own mind is sabotaging me from getting my fix, too. I’m not sure which one is more likely.

Unfortunately at this rate, the donut mystery won’t be solved pre-baby. That will certainly complicate things further.

The College Math Requirement: Another Critique of Higher Ed (and a bit of public ed)

Since when could we use a calculator, anyway?

Since when could we use a calculator, anyway?

I thought today I may return to my critique of higher education, prompted by a great email conversation I had with a friend and fellow blogger. While chatting about various issues of feminism, I happened to inadvertently stumble onto a topic we happily disagreed on: the math requirement for undergraduate freshman in college.

Yikes! Stick with me! I know I said the “math” word, but bear with me and try not to focus too hard on taking notes. This will NOT be on the test.

What happened in our conversation is that I brought up how much I disagree with what I believe is the archaic and elitism-steeped, algebra-enforced gateway to a college degree. Specifically, I criticized that my university required students of accounting to complete math courses up to pre-calculus- a requirement that I think is overt, unnecessary, and undermining to students. My friend disagreed and said she would prefer hiring an accountant that had demonstrated the ability to think on a level that could defeat a pre-calculus class.

I couldn’t agree more with her. About the necessary ability to think, that is. What is disagree with is that math classes, especially high level abstract math, measures anything more than a student’s amount of free time (no family or job!), income, ability to take tests, and short term memory.

In short, I think the current math requirement (from algebra to calculus) is invalid; it just doesn’t measure what we think it does about students. I think that it instead measures something quite expected about universities: elitism.

Wake up! The next parts will be on the exam!

Ok, I lied. Now, what was that about elitism and invalidity? Here’s some food for thought:

In both these New York Times articles: Why Americans Stink at Math and Is Algebra Necessary?, both an emeritus political science professor of New York University and Elizabeth Green, the chief executive of a journalism site for public educational change called Chalkbeat, weigh in on the nature of the math requirement as well as the way America teaches math itself. It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the U.S. currently sucks at teaching math to students. I mean, how did you do in your public school math lessons? Chances are, you were about on par with me: not great. But we excelled in other subjects, right? Yep, there’s the issue.

First off, the U.S. teaches math in a way that doesn’t click with American students. While there are great examples of how successful math can and is taught elsewhere, such as Japan, the U.S. continues to burden its students with an ineffective system of empty, inapplicable memorization and silent note taking. U.S. public schools seem to be more concerned with how learning should appear, rather than how learning is best accomplished. In Japan for example, maths tend to be group focused; where students can bounce ideas off each other and build an internal, personal understanding of why concepts work (why is that the right answer?) and why some do not. Of course, this environment may not look American enough to fulfil U.S. educational ideals. I mean, children should still be seen and not heard, right? Groups? Bah!

So then, with an ineffective system of teaching math in public school, the vast majority of students begin a college career without the ability to do math as expected in yet another ritualistic, sit-and-shut-up, note-taking fashion.

And, just in case you may believe that the inability to do school-style math is just a tendency for lazy, self-interested, independence-loving Americans, check this out:

The unschooled may have been more capable of complex math than people who were specifically taught it, but in the context of school, they were stymied by math they already knew. Studies of children in Brazil, who helped support their families by roaming the streets selling roasted peanuts and coconuts, showed that the children routinely solved complex problems in their heads to calculate a bill or make change. When cognitive scientists presented the children with the very same problem, however, this time with pen and paper, they stumbled. A 12-year-old boy who accurately computed the price of four coconuts at 35 cruzeiros each was later given the problem on paper. Incorrectly using the multiplication method he was taught in school, he came up with the wrong answer. (From Why Do Americans Stink at Math)

So, when faced with an American, public education-style math method, this perfectly competent, unschooled boy failed. This is what I mean by invalid- the math requirement is likely not measuring a real ability to reason or think. This may be an epistemological kind of problem.

In Is Algebra Necessary?, it is suggested that the math requirement fulfils more of the elitist needs of a university than to serve to educate the public, which is becoming more and more necessary for a decent living and continued upward mobility in the U.S. While no one is saying that math should be given up altogether (not even me!), the requirement has served to be a detriment more often than it may be proving a set of skills or academic readiness. Take this for example:

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below “proficient,” along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.

California’s two university systems, for instance, consider applications only from students who have taken three years of mathematics and in that way exclude many applicants who might excel in fields like art or history. Community college students face an equally prohibitive mathematics wall. A study of two-year schools found that fewer than a quarter of their entrants passed the algebra classes they were required to take.

“There are students taking these courses three, four, five times,” says Barbara Bonham of Appalachian State University. While some ultimately pass, she adds, “many drop out.” (From Is Algebra Necessary?)

So, while the “onerous” math requirement is busy weeding out everyone- including minorities and other marginalized populations- from gaining a foothold on the

...really?

…really? Why didn’t they tell us this years ago?!

fleeting American Dream, the associated cost is staggering. Consider that in order to take these required math courses, many students must take pre-requisite after pre-requisite, sometimes 2-5 extra classes, all at full cost (including the time invested) with textbooks. Not only can this add an extra year or more to a student’s college career and student loan expenses, but it is well known statistically that the longer a student spends in college, the less likely that they will ever finish their degree- and this goes double for non-traditional students with jobs and families (estimated to make up at least half or more of the current student population today).

By now you are probably thinking, “Yeah but, at least STEM careers need to have that heavy math requirement! I mean, who will build our rockets, bridges, and cell phone components?” Well…

Nor is it clear that the math we learn in the classroom has any relation to the quantitative reasoning we need on the job. John P. Smith III, an educational psychologist at Michigan State University who has studied math education, has found that “mathematical reasoning in workplaces differs markedly from the algorithms taught in school.” Even in jobs that rely on so-called STEM credentials — science, technology, engineering, math — considerable training occurs after hiring, including the kinds of computations that will be required. Toyota, for example, recently chose to locate a plant in a remote Mississippi county, even though its schools are far from stellar. It works with a nearby community college, which has tailored classes in “machine tool mathematics.” (From Is Algebra Necessary?)

…so yeah, I’m not sure that argument holds water even for the great, lofty STEM degrees. What about those STEM careers, anyway?

A skeptic might argue that, even if our current mathematics education discourages large numbers of students, math itself isn’t to blame. Isn’t this discipline a critical part of education, providing quantitative tools and honing conceptual abilities that are indispensable — especially in our high tech age? In fact, we hear it argued that we have a shortage of graduates with STEM credentials.

Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists. (From Is Algebra Necessary?)

So there’s that bit of sha-bang. Ok, ok. So, if I’m not arguing to simply wipe the math requirement or public math off of the American educational map, what can be done to make this all more realistic, equitable, and open?

Very recently, NPR released this article about a new way of teaching math in college: Who Needs Algebra? New Approach To College Math Helps More Pass, focusing on math that is less abstract and more applicable to students. And, its working.

…the Quantway course is organized around concepts important for immediately useful topics: personal finance, health and civics.

This may sound like the old debate over replacing “pure math” with “applied math” or “business math.” But Karon Klipple, who directs the Pathways project, says what’s even more important to this new approach is changing how teachers teach, and how students think about math — and even how they feel about it.

Pathways tells instructors to emphasize “productive persistence” — using good study strategies, and trying hard. They talk explicitly with students about calming math anxiety. They try things like putting students into study groups whose members are responsible for following up if one of them skips class. (From Who Needs Algebra?)

While probably not perfectly ideal, this new perspective on math to students is refreshing and appears to be opening doors to allow more students to achieve their degree, which again, is becoming the new necessity over the previously golden high school diploma. Personally, I still believe the culture of teaching math needs to be seriously rethought; too much responsibility for failure is placed on individual students, as if they all suffer from math anxiety when they fail. I have a feeling that the unschooled Brazilian boy who failed at the very same math he does every day didn’t know what math anxiety was, much less suffered from it.

While there are gaps and surely more needs to be done to address this, the math requirement remains a cruel, unnecessary gateway that forces students to rethink their education, time, money, and sanity. Even worse, it is likely a systemic, society-wide issue that has been foisted onto students as their personal failure. Even this blogger had to change her college degree choice due to the mountain of pre-requisites to attain a specific math credit- and it wasn’t even a STEM degree. All that, and I am fully proficient (even intuitively) at algebra when I sew and knit. Measuring the ability to think and reason? Probably not. Measuring the control over universities as gatekeepers to their precious degrees and further, their guarded careers? Yep, probably.

A Change of Focus: Life and its Necessary Chaos

So, I feel like it has been one hundred-thousand years since I’ve blogged or written. It certainly has been awhile, exaggeration notwithstanding. As may be expected, plenty has gone on over my absence interval, including a grad school/university administrative hiccup that resulted in a devastating last minute loss of an opportunity, but rather than focusing on this nonsense, I wanted to discuss a far more important change.

My husband and I finally decided to get pregnant.

Are you sure this is such a good idea?!

Are you sure this is such a good idea?!

Currently, I am 33 weeks, and for all of you that view the whole “weeks” thing in pregnancy time as a mystery (as I did!), that’s 33 weeks out of 40. I am eight months along with about 6-7 more weeks until my expected due date in early November.

This decision was a very difficult one, when viewed in terms of how long it took for us to be comfortable with the idea. With a deep sociological background (both of us), parenting looked to us like a losing proposition. Certainly an exercise in futility…and perhaps even masochistic. Parenting to us, thanks to mainstream media, disconcerting sociological literature and such, seemed to be dangerous, thankless, and even arrogant (who am I to raise a human being?).

So, what brought about the change in perception…or perhaps, expectation?

For me, a strong factor was the utter and final disappointment in higher education. And no, I don’t mean that I simply decided that a child would be a welcome distraction or amusement while university failed me. I decided that I wanted to invest in life. Essentially, I was sick of playing ideological, empty-identity games in graduate study and decided that spending a term investigating a bit of real life was called for. Higher education has a way of appearing to be much more important and satisfying than it actually is, and I no longer felt that I was willing to engage in, or was emotionally/psychologically interested, in the great illusion.

Some of you may be asking by now, “well, isn’t parenthood full of the same illusions, expectations, and let downs?”

Sure, I agree. Parenting seems to be abounding with the very same frustrations as graduate study. Certainly to my husband and I, parenting appeared to be a lose-lose situation. And, to top it off, and expensive one that leaves you with a self-absorbed ingrate. Plus, parenthood may just destroy your perfectly good marriage.

But here is where my experience in higher education finally pays off in the real world.

As it turns out, there are parents everywhere who are equally uncomfortable with the me-centered societal norms of raising children, and who actively practice methods to resist these influences. Yes indeed, just like a sociological grad student or researcher, these parents subscribe to frameworks that can shape their behavior and parenting style. I’m not just talking about the authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful parenting styles of psychological study. I mean specific frameworks that, like theoretical and methodological frameworks, shape your interaction with your subject. If you’ve ever heard of Free Range Parenting, you understand what I am talking about.

...what we (especially me) are trying to avoid as a parent.

…what we (especially me) are trying to avoid as a parent.

My husband and I are very interested in a parenting style called RIE Parenting. Prior to the birth of our child, we are reviewing the various foundational books on the subject and discussing how we feel about the elements of this framework. For my husband, he feels strongly about the essentials of the style, which focuses on a basic and sustained respect for babies as competent, self-engaged and self-teaching individuals. RIE parenting encourages gentle, careful observation to learn baby’s cues and self-control to allow baby to express themselves and develop self-reliance. As much as I feel like this is a powerful and effective parenting style, it runs a bit counter to my own experience with parenting as a child. Due to this, I am working hard to challenge my own presumptions about parenting and gain new perspectives on how to raise children in a way that I feel is responsible and ethical. Plus, unlike my husband, I tend to be a structure-focused, somewhat tunnel-visioned person, which worries me if my child prefers to be independent, self-motivated, and easy-going. I don’t want to inadvertently smother or undervalue their natural personality.

It’s not easy though, to challenge yourself to such different ways of thinking. Especially when it involves your own child.

With about 6 weeks to go, I am looking forward to applying the RIE parenting study I have been committing to. I’ll have to bring you along on this little journey of ours so see how this framework affects our new family! Will it work? Be a total disaster? Completely ineffective for my child and their needs? What if a change in parenting will be necessary after we begin? What a cliffhanger! Either way, I invite you to stay tuned. This will undoubtedly get interesting.

When is a life finally “together”?

Recently, I was wondering what it means to get your life “together”. I’m sure you hear it too; especially when you see commercials concerning young people and for-profit education. I heard a young mother, who was probably in her very early 20s, say about a national medical assisting school: “I was so excited when I made the call [to the school to enroll]. I felt like I was getting my life together”.

So, what does it mean to get your life “together”? Better yet, how do you know when you’re there? When you’re “together”?

If we leave it up to for-profit schools, a person is only “together” if they are engaged in overpriced, questionably-accredited education. Apparently, being a parent or a loved one, earning an income (regardless of where you earn), and generally being alive and healthy doesn’t quite cut it in the “together” department.

This, I think, raises a precarious but important question: if we rely on the media or other institutions (like higher ed, for example) to let us know when we’re “together”, wouldn’t it be quite in their interest if we never made it to that point?

Naturally.

So then, this has been a reminder to rebuke, reject, and downright deny any other entity instructing you of when you are “together”. Leave that to the experts: ourselves. Maybe, this is as good as it gets. And maybe, that’s just fine.

Disneyland: Where Commercial Dreams Come True

A magical land of sales, branding, and products peddled by the apathetic, underpaid, and costumed

A magical land of sales, branding, and products peddled by the apathetic, underpaid, and costumed

My husband and recently headed down to Palm Springs, CA. For him, it was yet another business trip. For me, I was looking forward to the short drive to Disneyland which we had planned to do after his business responsibilities were finished.

Yes, that’s right. I wanted to go Disneyland. Now, you may wonder what a 30-something year old with only her husband and no children in tow (or that existed, for that matter) wanted to do at Disneyland. Well, the reason is sentimental. The first time I ever heard the most genuine, child-like laughter was at Disneyland, and I just wanted to hear it once more.

It was years ago, when Al and I visited Disneyland together, under the pretense that neither of us had been here when we could control the experience we had. You know what I mean; the crazy family Disney trips where “fun” was so diffused among all the people involved that no one was really satisfied. Well, we were there to reclaim what we were sure existed there at the park, without the cranky, tired adults.

After a rather tumultuous day that really was too long (you may think all day at the fun park is awesome as a child, it’s just downright exhausting as an adult) and generally uncomfortable (crowds don’t bother you as much as a child either, apparently), we stood in line for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. In case you are unaware, the ride is somewhat roller coaster-like but without any loop-de-loops that cause spontaneous loss of both equilibrium and lunch. We boarded the ride rather quickly, since it was the tail-end of the day, and the train began to hustle and jostle down the tracks. I was having fun, in a general sort of way, when I heard this wonderful, pure, child-like laughter ringing away beside me. My husband Al was utterly enjoying the experience in a way I couldn’t seem to myself. His joy was unabashed for those few minutes on the zooming train, and I was so taken by the sound of it that I forgot to pay attention to rest of the ride.

Since that day years ago, I knew I wanted to return to Disneyland and experience that unbridled joy with Al again. You see, I’m a serious sort of person. I actually have trouble experiencing fun because I am analytic and critical; a consequence of both my upbringing and my educational background which interferes with my ability to just enjoy something for enjoyment’s sake. Al, on the other hand, can and does. My intention to return to Disneyland was to hear the sound of his sweet, shameless laughter again.

Unfortunately, Disney had decided to change in the meantime. In a BIG way. Well, perhaps it had changed slowly and perhaps others didn’t notice like I did, but to us, it was a massive, uneasy change.

The park was practically busting at the seams with vendors, merchants, and stores. There was so much commercialization that Al and I had trouble navigating around the park, even though it was a Wednesday afternoon, school was in, and no holidays were in sight. Every street, thoroughfare, and pathway around the park was teeming with sales. It was so outlandish that Al and I had to take shelter in the “Tomorrowland” pizza restaurant to collect ourselves, modeled after the film Toy Story’s “Pizza Planet”.

As we munched on our slices of pizza, whose quality best matched the “Totino’s” variety but literally cost us nearly $30.00, we discussed how we couldn’t believe how saturated the park was with stores. Neither of us could remember it being so crowded with vendors and sales opportunities when we were there just a few years before. In fact, Al reminded me that it actually took us searching around for a store to purchase a souvenir the last time we visited the park.

This problem of the past had apparently been solved, ten times over.

By the time we left the pizza joint, we were both struggling to hang on to the reasons we had come to Disneyland in the first place. Over the past few years,

A theatrical show featuring the "Princesses", our ready and willing role models for little girls, and in some cases, adults.

A theatrical show featuring the “Princesses”, our ready and willing role models for little girls, and in some cases, adults. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Disney had become an immense conglomerate of a business, which now included ABC, Hyperion Books and brands such as Marvel and LucasArts. Everywhere we looked, images and references to Iron Man, the newer, child-centered Star Wars films and animations, and Thor reigned supreme in “Tomorrowland”, while “Disney Princess” had rather appropriated whatever resources were available in “Storybookland”. Older animations, such as Dumbo, Pinocchio, and The Sword in the Stone which apparently had limited brand appeal had given way to the plethora of princess-inspired junk that was offered at every single turn, nook, and cranny. Honestly, I don’t know how Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or the Davy Crockett Canoes have survived. Nearly every little girl at the park we spotted was swathed in some kind of Disney Princess gear. Oh, and the boys didn’t escape the masterwork of branding either. I know I saw at least one fully-costumed Iron Man child, and most of the others were decked out in t-shirts, hats or even backpacks covered in various promotions.

And, that was only the beginning.

Al and I charged away to get to the Big Thunder train ride. Earlier, I had explained to him just why I wanted to visit Disney again, so if nothing else, we both wanted to accomplish that much. We crossed the park into “Frontierland” where we were dumbfounded as we walked past a true-to-life “Mammy” standing in her long skirt and perpetual apron outside of the “Big Bayou” creole/Cajun restaurant, overlooking Tom Sawyer’s Island. Apparently, it isn’t just porn that remains the final bastion of overt racism, but Disneyland too.

We swung around a section of “Frontierland” heading for the train, noting how many new restaurants had seemed to literally “grow” up in the spaces between other buildings, like dispersed plants scraping a living out between two rocks. Both of us frowned as we walked on; neither of us could find the train. I couldn’t hear the roaring of its heavy, segmented body on the old, metallic tracks, and we couldn’t find them either. It wasn’t until we nearly circled around the train ride completely before we spotted the sign attached to a tall, makeshift wall:

“Big Thunder Mountain Railroad closed for maintenance (or something) until early 2014”.

I felt like I was suddenly in the movie Vacation.

Yeah. That was pretty much it for me. I couldn’t help but cry. I hadn’t even thought about checking to see if the one ride I wanted to re-experience with Al was even available before we came to the park. But, by then, the super-commercial joke was on me.

Both of us decided to leave. We hadn’t gone on a single ride but we DID have the lingering “joy” of two slices of $30.00 pizza and water, so cutting our losses was making more and more sense. We headed out through the main thoroughfare, jam-packed with shops and lingering, indecisive consumers with insistent children covered in Disney branding.

But, just like in Vacation, the fun wasn’t over yet.

As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice that we never seemed to actually exit the park. I couldn’t believe it, but as we left, we were quickly absorbed into a new abomination called “Downtown Disney”. Literally, it was an outdoor mall that had taken up residence directly outside of Disneyland, presumably because the shops out here were unable to infiltrate the park and instead, set up shop as close as possible.

After leaving the commerce-saturated park, Al and I were then forced to trudge our way through and entire outdoor mall, laden with shops that carried even more Disney products and brands, among other retailers. The whole ordeal was so insulting, I almost didn’t react to this sign I happened to see while we were escaping the mall:

...what did I expect, anyway?

…what did I expect, anyway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a disappointing trip.