Thursday, February 27, 2014
If you have a birth defect of some sort, you're not a person
As LGF goes a bit off the deep end:
Enforced emotional torture / blackmailing of women by requiring doctors to inform them that fetuses with fatal abnormalities can be admitted into special hospice centers.Yes, what a horrible thing to do, tell people that their children who will have short lives, once born, can be cared for by the state. It's torture I tell you. Plus, since they will have but short lives, they're not people, but "it"s. Terrifying.
Now, all these are pretty standard cult-written anti-women attempts at religious control, we've seen them in plenty of other states (although the "yeah, your kid will be born without a brain but we have a hospice center you can put it in until it eventually dies" thing is particularly horrific and new to me), but McClurkin, the "voice votes with gawd" lady, her reasonings are... scary. Even for an anti-women cultist:
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
They're worried about abortions, not contraception, it seems, and if we can invoke the mysteries of life to justify abortion, why can't I say the same thing to not pay for them?
The government and its amici have at times tried to blur the distinct line of when a human organism begins with semantics about when “pregnancy” begins. Relying on a definition of pregnancy that begins at “implantation,” the government and its amici argue that “emergency contraceptives” are not “abortifacients.”
However, such semantics arguments miss the mark and skirt the scientific facts. When “pregnancy” begins is not the scientific benchmark here; the relevant scientific benchmark is when the life of a human organism begins – and that is undisputedly at fertilization. “Emergency contraceptives” might not end a “pregnancy” under the government’s definition, but they can end the life of a unique human being. What the family businesses conscientiously oppose is not simply the ending of a “pregnancy,” but the ending of a human life itself.
Some good UN related links in there. On a side note, I don't know why everyone keeps talking about the Indian court decision, their ruling seems quite correct as a matter of Indian law, regardless of whether it's a good idea or not.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Sweetening the Pill
Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control
The medicalization of women’s bodies has a dark and bloody history. Throughout history, but perhaps most prominently from the Victorian era onward, women have been subjected to all sorts of poisons and ills to “treat” those processes which indicate good health. Why is it that the very things that make us women, (menstruation, gestation, ovulation, lactation, birthing, and menopause) have so often been treated by the medical field as problems to be dealt with? Perhaps because the medical field has been dominated by men for the past several thousand years, with the exception of midwifery and “witchcraft,” which in some cultures may have simply been female herbalists who used spirituality and natural treatments for common ailments. But most of what we think of in the past two thousand years as “medicine” has been a male-dominated field. Are hormonal birth control pills a conspiracy of the patriarchy to oppress women? To reduce and regulate those frightening menstruations, to render women infertile, to blunt the effects of testosterone and other “raging” hormones, and make women more available sexually? Maybe. Is it a conspiracy of capitalism to make women buy a drug that they need to take every day, even when they are perfectly healthy? Just as women need to buy tampons and pads, shavers and creams, moisturizers, make-up, deodorants, and a hundred other products, just to function daily as a woman? Maybe that is also true.
These aren’t my ideas; I came across them in reading Holly Grigg-Spall’s wonderful work, Sweetening the Pill. Grigg-Spall is a feminist and writes from a non-religious perspective on the dangers of hormonal birth control and lauds fertility awareness methods and other non-hormonal forms of birth control. I found reading this book refreshing and empowering. It has been sometime since I read truly feminist literature, and I felt as though reading this helped put me in touch with the broader struggle women face today.
Grigg-Spall posits that ditching the pill can be an act of rebellion against the patriarchy, and encourages women to reclaim their bodies and their biology. She discusses feminist groups in California who meet in circles and use speculums to observe the changes to their cervixes and mucus throughout their cycles, and also learn first-hand the many variations of the female body. It is a radical act of taking gynecological knowledge into their own hands. Most women have never seen their cervix, or even looked properly at their own genitalia, and this allows women to familiarize themselves with their own bodies. I loved this example, although just one of many instances in which Grigg-Spall describes women reclaiming their biology through self-knowledge and awareness. I love it because it is a metaphor for NFP or fertility awareness methods of birth control. These methods are first and foremost about KNOWLEDGE of a woman’s own body. So many women don’t understand why at certain times of the month they find a lot of fluid and mucus, and may even think this is abnormal, such as an infection, and don’t realize it is a sign of healthy fertility! So many PMS symptoms, risks of miscarriage, hormonal imbalances, PCOS, and other health problems can be detected from charting a woman’s cycle. Grigg-Spall argues these health problems can be treated best, not with the magical cure-all pill, but with synthetic hormones that very closely mimic the ones in our own bodies, which is not the same thing as what is in most hormonal birth control products.
Right as I was finishing this book, I attended a talk by Dr. Nolte of the Gianna Center in New York City. Her talk was on infertility, the bioethical problems of IVF, and the alternative of NaPro Technology. It is funny how Dr. Nolte, a conservative Catholic, and Ms. Grigg-Spall, a secular feminist, agreed on so many things. For one, they both agreed on the use of synthetic hormones that more closely match real estrogen and progesterone to treat hormonal problems in women. Too often the pill is used to “treat” these conditions, when in fact it does nothing to treat the underlying cause of the hormonal imbalance. Dr. Nolte says she does a full hormonal profile, which means drawing blood every few days from the woman for a cycle, to see exactly which hormones are out of balance and in which part of the cycle. Then she will use the closest thing to the actual hormone that is available, and only administer it during the part of the cycle it is needed. For example, if a woman is not making enough progesterone, she will take progesterone supplements, but only AFTER ovulation, which is when that hormone naturally spikes. To take it over her entire cycle would actually shut down the cycle and suppress ovulation (which is what some birth control pills do.) Dr. Nolte has found that women who have undergone this particular therapy who previously had a very high incidence of miscarriage, have been able to successfully maintain pregnancy to term, and have even had their cycles begin self-regulating, increasing natural progesterone and dispensing with the need to medicate.
Grigg-Spall and Nolte both would agree that hormonal contraceptive is grossly overprescribed and that most women are lacking a basic understanding of their own biology. For example most women don’t know that they are in fact only fertile for 12 to 24 hours a month, with sperm able to survive for a few hours to 5 days. The length of sperm survival actually depends on the woman and HER mucus. If she has fertile cervical mucus that nourish the sperm and allow them to enter the cervix, they can live for days. But if there is no cervical mucus, the sperm die in a matter of hours in the acidic vagina. Most people don’t know this! Why isn’t this basic biology knowledge taught in high school? (Well, I am teaching it in my classroom, but I can’t vouch for other biology teachers.)
Or course Dr. Nolte and Ms. Grigg-Spall would have their differences. Grigg-Spall is still pro-abortion and pro-condom, and favors a form of fertility awareness that is not kosher in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Ms. Grigg-Spall did not say much if anything regarding IVF in her book, but one of the downsides to hormonal contraceptives she did highlight, was the sometimes months or even years it can take for a woman’s natural cycle to return fully after quitting hormonal contraceptives. Dr. Nolte pointed out that many women are on hormonal contraceptives for most of their fertile years, and then when they want to conceive, have difficulty doing so. Part of the problem though, is lack of patience. A couple may feel their biological clock ticking, and rather than waiting and taking the time to chart cycles and detect the underlying problem, will go to an infertility specialist, and if they have the money, they are inevitably offered IVF. One of the main bioethical problems of IVF, from a Catholic perspective of course, is the creation of extra embryos, and the subsequent freezing of them. There are millions of embryos in frozen storage from IVF, and this in the eyes of the Church, is the same as creating human beings, with souls, and freezing them indefinitely. Big problem. Moreover, there is low success rate with IVF (around 30%) and this number doesn’t even account for the women who drop out due to complications before the IVF process is complete. It is very expensive, and has a high risk of multiple births. Often if a woman becomes pregnant with more than twins in IVF, she will be counseled by her doctors to “reduce” the pregnancy, by selecting one of the fetuses to be terminated for the sake of the other two. So now, after the heart-break of years of infertility and desperation for pregnancy, the woman is put through the painful decision of deciding which of her children to terminate. Dr. Nolte has had a very high success rate with her use of NaPro Technology, and boasts much higher success rates than IVF, although granted her process takes longer. She also has very rarely had twins, although it has happened. In the spirit of honesty, I should note that Dr. Nolte is my OB/GYN, although I have only just been recently seeing her. So far I have been extremely happy with her and the Gianna Center clinic. The level of care and concern was phenomenal. She didn’t just treat my reproductive system, but takes into account the whole individual. It was the first time I had an OB/GYN ask me about my diet, exercise, vitamins, etc. It was the first time I had an OB/GYN screen me for PMS and other hormonal problems. These are the things you would expect from your gynecologist, but usually all they are checking for is STDs and cancer and then they ask you what method of birth control you are using.
But I digress. Even though Dr. Nolte and Ms. Grigg-Spall may not see eye to eye on the sanctity of the embryo, I think they have a surprising amount of common ground and if women came together over fertility awareness, instead of arguing over our differences, much good could be accomplished. For example, I think both women would agree that fertility awareness could be taught in a high school biology curriculum. They might disagree on some of the details, but the basics of biology, the hormonal, mucus, temperature, and cervical shifts over a woman’s cycle, should and can be taught to young women (and men.) They both agree that hormonal contraceptives are over-prescribed and often have undesirable side effects such as depression and loss of libido.
My only major critique of Sweetening the Pill is a lack of citation for her scientific facts. Most of her science, to the best of my understanding and from what I have read in other sources, seems accurate. But it would strengthen her arguments if she bothered to properly footnote her statistics and facts with references to peer reviewed science journal articles, or at least something. She does reference many other books, most by fellow feminist authors, and she gives those books proper credit. She also has a list of recommended reading and resources in the back. Still, there is nothing like a good-old footnote to support your point if someone calls into question the integrity of this or that fact. Furthermore, I think she could have discussed IVF and infertility treatment and the modern process of birthing as yet other ways women’s bodies have been medicalized. But in her defense, the thrust of this book is the use of hormonal contraceptives and the effect on the bodies of women, and some topics she touches upon, such as menstruation, she does not have time to delve into in this slim book.
As for my own personal experiences, like Ms. Grigg-Spall and millions of women, I went on hormonal contraceptives at a young age. I was 17. Unlike Ms. Grigg-Spall who was put on the pill by her mother, almost as a rite of passage into womanhood, I chose the pill for myself, against my parents’ wishes. I was on it for nearly four years. During that time I experienced weight-gain and depression. I don’t personally attribute my depression to the pill, as I was going through many life-crises at that time, but Grigg-Spall recalls many anecdotal cases, particularly with Yasmin/Yaz, of women suffering from depression and lack of energy while on hormonal contraceptives. She claims that doctors and the medical industry don’t take these complaints seriously, but dismiss them, putting the blame on the women, not on the drug. There must be something else wrong with them, it can’t be the drug they are on, even though so many report mood changes when going on the pill, and then that fog lifts once they go off. But no, it couldn’t be the pill! Grigg-Spall seems to indicate that this dismissal of women’s reports of emotional side-effects, is yet another way the medical industry is silencing women and delegitimizing their experiences. It was Grigg-Spall’s own struggles with depression on Yasmin/Yaz and her subsequent recovery after eliminating hormonal birth control that prompted her to write this book. How many of my friends have suffered similarly? I don’t know. Although almost all my female friends have been on hormonal contraceptives at some point in their life, it is something we sadly don’t talk about. I do know that I had one friend become hospitalized from a blood clot that was partly a complication from her birth control pill. I also had a friend who always had very regular periods her entire life, experience loss of her menstrual cycle after using the morning-after pill. Her entire cycle shut-down and she went months without a period. Her doctor finaly had to put her on hormonal contraceptives just to restore her cycle. It was never the same after she used the morning-after pill.
Maybe what we need is some sort of Wikipedia space for women to report out about these side effects and document them publicly. There are many online forums where women gripe about this or that hormonal contraceptive and the side-effects they are experiencing. We need to make our voices form a collective and get these numbers to the FDA. Too many women bear their suffering in silence and alone, thinking it is just them, it must be a problem with their body, not the drug.
As an exciting development, just as I was writing this, several friends shared with me that Ricki Lake is teaming up with Abby Epstein to make a film documentary based on Sweetening the Pill. Awesome! I think a documentary by Ricki Lake will reach a wider audience than Grigg-Spall’s book alone. Women need to not be afraid to take on Big Pharma, and challenge what the ads claim is “natural, safe, and effective.” That fine print, those warning labels, need to be given a face and voice. Even if the percentage of women experiencing these side-effects is small (which it probably isn’t) with over 80% of women taking birth control pill at some point in their lifetime, we need to take these side-effects very seriously, and ask ourselves, is it worth it? Is this truly the best and healthiest way for women to prevent pregnancy? I hope Ms. Lake’s documentary will include alternatives, such as fertility awareness methods.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning
I was feeling blue about NFP when I picked up Fisher’s Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning. Everything I read previously, and the testimonies from couples I had heard on my Engaged Encounter retreat, sang nothing but high praises about how using NFP drew them closer together as a couple and fostered marital bliss. But I had difficulty charting using the Creighton method my first month of marriage and felt frustrated at the number of days of abstinence, and even had an argument with my husband over our choice of NFP. I needed advice from someone in the trenches, from a married woman who had been there, and tried NFP for many years, and knew that it can be difficult. I needed reassurance that I wasn’t a failure for having problems in the first month or two of trying it and encourage me to continue with practical advice. Sadly, I have few married Catholic friends who could speak to me from this perspective, so Simcha Fisher became my stand-in for a friend in this book.
The book reads like a casual but intimate conversation with a dear friend, who isn’t afraid to bare all and tell you about her own struggles with NFP, while consoling you with very useful and heart-warming advice. She does so in a way that is non-condescending or judgmental, but she meets you where you are with kindness, a smile, and gentle jokes to make you laugh at yourself and realize you aren’t alone.
The slim book (124 pages) is broken into three parts. I read it in one sitting, as I was so desperately needing the help. The parts are: “NFP and Your Spiritual Life,” “NFP and the Rest of the World,” and “NFP in the Trenches.” Although the first part is titled “NFP and Your Spiritual Life,” for me, the real gems of spiritual advice came in Part III. Because in this part Fisher spoke concretely of how this spirituality plays out in your relationship with your spouse. Fisher ties in practicing NFP to love and Love, the Love we encounter from God who is Love. She makes a witty comment that NFP is called “natural” because it reveals to us our human nature, which is fallen. When practicing NFP we may see our weaknesses, and if we don’t practice NFP with love and cooperate with God’s grace, we can use this system to even hurt our spouses. If women berate their husbands for getting frisky in the bedroom when it is the wrong time of the month, and do not acknowledge that their husbands are simply in love, attracted to their wives, and have a need for affection, it can result in a hurtful comment, or pushing away an opportunity for expressed love. If husbands leave the full burden of charting NFP to the wives, and do little to understand or take part in sharing the responsibility, the woman may become bitter and resentful, losing motivation to chart and communicate about it. These things have been known to happen. Fisher, in both serious and light-hearted ways, always draws the reader back to foundation of love that is really the basis for the whole system, no matter what method of NFP you chose. If it is not done in love, no matter how scientifically accurate your method is, you may wind up damaging your relationship through this type of family planning.
Sometimes we have very practical questions about NFP that the Church does not answer for us. Just as unmarried couples practicing chastity may as, “How far is too far?” and there is not a completely black and white answer, married couples may wonder, “Just what can we do on fertile days, if trying to avoid pregnancy?” “Is this or that act okay?” Fisher deals with these and other gray areas well, she counsels us that we are adults, and the Church left this undefined for a reason. Because what is considered loving expression of affection, and what each couple can handle within the boundaries of chastity will vary from couple to couple. Some couples may choose to sleep together naked during periods of abstinence to still feel bonded sexually, but that may simply be too uncomfortable or inviting trouble for another couple. Fisher emphasizes communication between spouses and a strong prayer life as the solution to possible moral quandaries that may arise. From the big questions of, is now a good time to get pregnant? To how to please your spouse and make him or her happy in bed, to whether or not your are comfortable with certain actions, all can be brought before the Lord in prayer, and discussed with your spouse in loving conversations of mutual respect, and this will be the foundation for your answers.
Perhaps what was most refreshing for me about the book was simply the fact that it is for Sinners. There is an acknowledgment that we aren’t perfect, we may not like or even hate NFP at times, and we may not always adhere to it perfectly, and we may not have holy sex lives (just that phrase makes me laugh a little), but it is okay to laugh at ourselves sometimes and pick ourselves up and try again. Confession, conversation, openness in communication and revisiting questions with our spouses, and a prayer, will give us the graces necessary to find the moral compass to guide us in our sex lives and family planning.
Thank you Simcha Fisher for the kind advice and picking me up during a low point and giving me the courage to confront my sins and keep trying to do the right thing, knowing that I am not alone in this journey. Thank you for the reminder to do all things in love, most especially that which we call “love-making” and all the complicated conversations and decisions that act entails!
My current method of birth control, wearing a hideously ugly scarf, is working pretty well for me right now, so I'm not going to change that up.
Friday, February 14, 2014
A three part series on a philosopher's conversion to Catholicism
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
For example, the committee stated that the prohibition of abortion “places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls”and urged the Vatican to amend canon law to “identify circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.” It expressed “serious concern” about the Vatican’s policy of “denying adolescents access to contraception.” The Vatican must put “adolescents’ best interests” ahead of other concerns, the committee said. And the committee expressed concern that the Holy See’s disapproval of homosexuality may lead to discrimination against LGBT children and the children of LGBT parents. It recommended that the Holy See amend canon law to recognize diverse family arrangements.Sounds like they need to take it up with God, not the Pope.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Sanctity is about love for others, not just rules
In Maria Goretti’s case, she was focused on her rapist — and I am sure it was her love for him, and not her blindingly pure devotion to chastity, that converted him and brought him to repentance before she died. That is how conversions happen. That is how people are saved: when other people show love for them. It’s about other people. It’s always about our love for other people. That’s why, before someone is declared a saint, they have to perform two miracles for people still on earth. Even after death, it’s not about the cause or the system or the virtue in the abstract. It’s always about our love for other people.As read in SF's excellent article.