It is Infertility Awareness Week and we at The Guiding Star Project would like to join our thoughts with the many who struggle with this issue. Sometimes infertility means being unable to conceive. Other times it can take the form of people who have had children, now being unable to have more. Some who experience infertility struggle to get pregnant; others struggle with being able to carry that pregnancy to term.
In my own case, I have lost three children to miscarriage, and I believe that it honors women when our losses, of whatever form, are honored. I have been mourning the loss of a child and have had medical personnel refer to my baby as “the products of conception”. It felt like I had only lost some miscellaneous products and not a child and therefore I had no right to mourn, as if being sad about losing miscellaneous “products” of conception was just silliness. But families do mourn when a child is lost, even if that child was lost at very young age, even a few weeks old.
Being on staff at Elizabeth Ministry, I have known of worse injustices done to grieving parents: their losses unacknowledged and parents having to fight to get the body of their miscarried baby so they could bury him or her with dignity. Whenever a loved one dies, our culture offers rituals that help the family members mourn and also honors the life of the one who passed away. When it comes to miscarriage, however, parents often find that there are no such rituals for them, which can add to the feeling that they don’t have a right to mourn. Because of this, I wanted to let people know of a resource that Elizabeth Ministry International offers. Elizabeth Ministry offers Miscarriage Delivery Aids for women who are experiencing bleeding and have been told that they will miscarry and others dealing with infertility issues.
The description for these aids reads: Sometimes an unborn baby dies and a woman is told she will soon miscarry. This resource offers a way to deliver the child with as much dignity as circumstances allow. This Miscarriage Delivery Aid Plus Burial Set includes a Complete Miscarriage Delivery Aid Kit plus a small round burial vessel appropriate for miscarried babies up to 11 weeks gestational size. Size of vessel is 5″ x 5″ x 3.75″. The Miscarriage Delivery Aid Kit includes an instruction card, supplies helpful in delivering your baby in honor and dignity, and our exclusive booklet “Mourning A Miscarriage”. The round burial vessel comes with sealant and is a perfect fit for the satin drawstring pouch included in the delivery aid kit.
Overnight or rush shipping is available for a woman who will soon miscarry, but as miscarriage is so incredibly common, as around 10 – 20% of all pregnancies will end in miscarriage, I feel that a miscarriage delivery aid is something that every sexually active woman should have on hand. Although some women will not experience the heartache of a miscarriage, it is nearly impossible for someone to never know someone who will. Although one hopes to never need one, the reality is that so many women will need one (or more) during their reproductive years, and the resources this kit provides will be so valuable if that time does come. This particular kit comes in various sizes, to accommodate early pregnancy loss as well as losses later in pregnancy.
Elizabeth Ministry also offers various other resources for women and their families dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss issues. In appreciation for our many Guiding Star readers, and to offer practical support for the many who are or will experience a loss, if you choose to buy a miscarriage kit, you can enter in this code INFE4202014 at checkout and get a 10% discount. However, this code is not only good for the miscarriage aids, but also for all products within the fertility/infertility section of their web store and all miscarriage items.
I hope the many resources they offer will be of benefit to you and your sisters and friends who experience these many issues.
Elizabeth Ministry Online Store: http://shopelizabethministry.mybigcommerce.com/
Coupon Code: INFE4202014
This coupon is good for Infertility Awareness Week, so order soon!
Guiding Star founder, Leah wrote an opinion piece last week about Miriam, the Duke University Freshman who is receiving a lot of media attention because she is working her way through college by starring in porn films. The post got me thinking. CNN host, Piers Morgan; the women of The View; and many others are scratching their heads about why a bright young woman, bright enough to make it into Duke University (and a professed feminist who talks about women’s liberation!) would choose to be a porn actress. For me, however, I am not confused. In fact, her decision makes perfect sense to me. Allow me to explain.
On The View, Miriam told Barbara Walters that she has been watching porn since the age of 12. This is rather consistent with the statistics of porn use among the youth of today. Nearly 9 out of 10 children with internet access, between the ages of 8 and 16, have viewed pornography on the internet 1. The average age of first viewing is 11 years old. Most of these children do not go looking for it; they happen upon it while doing seemingly innocent internet searches. For those unfamiliar with the content of today’s porn, it is not just naked bodies or two people having intercourse. Hardcore pornography IS mainstream pornography. Today’s content includes sex with children, adolescents, and even corpses. Rape and violence are commonplace. Sex involving inanimate objects, defecation, urination, and vomit can be found, and mixing intercourse with violence, rape, mutilation, and even murder is common.2 Children’s natural curiosity about our bodies and about sex make it hard to look away from the images once they’ve stumbled onto them, which is perfectly understandable, as 11 is about the age that kids become more aware of sex for the first time. But as they watch, the sexual content releases a flood of neurochemicals that can create a high, not unlike that of street drugs.
The Brain Science
The book Rescuing Our Youth From the Porn Trap: A Parent Primer explains that during sexual activity, including porn viewing, the brain releases several neurochemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, serotonin, and for males, vasopressin.
These chemicals have the following effects:
- Dopamine narrowly focuses one’s attention, causes the person to ignore negatives, creates feelings of ecstasy, and creates dependency.
- Norepinephrine generates exhilaration and energy, increases memory capacity, and “sears” experiences into the brain.
- Oxytocin is “the bonding chemical” because it bonds two people closely together. This is the same chemical that surges through a woman’s body during labor and childbirth, as well as breastfeeding, creating a strong bond with her child. This also surges during sexual climax.
- Serotonin creates deep feelings of calmness and satisfaction and releases stress. It is often called “the natural Prozac.”
- Vasopressin surges in males at sexual climax and it is a bonding and commitment chemical.
Though these same neurochemicals are typically released during all kinds of sexual activity, Rescuing Our Youth From the Porn Trap shows how, depending on the context of the activity, these chemicals can have very different results.
In a committed and loving relationship, such as in a healthy marriage, dopamine narrowly focuses our attention on our partner, causes us to ignore negatives (isn’t that a great help in marriage!), creates feelings of ecstasy, and creates a healthy dependency between the two people. Outside this context, in the context of lust, dopamine does the same thing but can have very different results. In porn use, for example, the viewer focuses solely on the perceived positives and ignores thoughts of family, their personal values, or sometimes other factors, if they should be viewing it at work, for example. This is why many people have experienced job loss for this very thing. A dependency to the images can be created, rather than a healthy dependency to a trusted person.
In a healthy loving relationship, norepinephrine gives the partners feelings of exhilaration and energy and later, the spouses can recall small details of their partner and the intimate moments they have shared with one another. Outside this context, in lust, the person gets a rush and the images or experiences are “seared” into the brain, causing the images to be recalled with great detail and sometimes at random moments even years later.
Oxytocin bonds the couple together as powerfully as the couple bonds with their newborn when they hold him or her for the first time. This can be a help for the stability of the relationship. In the context of lust, oxytocin is not released in the same amounts as within a loving relationship. The brain releases a very small amount. Often people turn to porn or casual sex when they are feeling lonely and craving real human intimacy, but the amount of oxytocin released is by far insufficient to fulfill their human need for connection. Thus, many feel even more empty and lonely than before which can cause them to return to another experience of pornography to fill this hole.
Serotonin can be a great help for a couple, as life is often filled with many stresses. Serotonin can relieve stress and help the couple feel calm, renewed, and better able to meet the demands of daily life together. Within the context of lust, however, such as during pornography use, serotonin behaves the same way, which is why pornography is the drug of choice for many people when they are feeling stressed and overwhelmed with the difficulties of life. After climax from masturbation, the person experiences feelings of calmness and satisfaction.
Vasopressin can help a man be more committed to his partner. With each loving sexual encounter, he becomes increasingly loyal and protective of his spouse and family. Within the context of lust, a man becomes more and more committed to himself, the fantasies or any objects involved (such as the computer). Each experience reinforces this loyalty to self and the person can fall into a world of denial, isolation, and narcissism all while vehemently defending his unhealthy behavior.
Rescuing Our Youth From the Porn Trap also explains that when young people view pornography, the above powerful chemicals often cause them to move quickly through the stages of addiction: 1) Curiosity, 2) Pleasure-Seeking, 3) Self-Medication, 4) Dependency. Though some doubt that pornography use is a legitimate addiction, brain scans have shown that frequent porn use causes identical brain damage to that of heroin addiction.3 In the case of sexual addictions, the person becomes addicted to his or her own brain chemicals, making it an actual chemical addiction. When it comes to children who watch porn, they too can become addicted, but research shows that they often experience pornography different than adults do. Children are less likely to view it as fantasy, instead seeing it as reality. Rather than seeing it happen to other people, they often visualize and experience it as happening to themselves.
In the case of Miriam, she was a child who was not protected from the many dangers on the internet. What likely started as accident, fueled by normal curiosity, turned into an addiction. If she ever did try to stop, she likely found herself with the scores of others who have found themselves unable to kick the habit by sheer willpower. Those who try to stop porn use often get trapped in the avoidance cycle. They believe that if they just avoid the internet, or if they avoid being alone, or whatever their trigger is, then they can just stop. They think that if they just try hard enough, they can quit. Since porn use can be a chemical addiction, however, and they have learned to rely on the neurochemicals in order to cope with the struggles of ordinary life, more than likely when they are feeling lonely or stressed, they will be unable to resist their habit. Until they learn other ways of coping, until they learn to truly connect with others in an authentic way, and until they learn skills to change their thought-patterns, willpower alone will likely prove to be insufficient.
In this context it makes perfect sense to me why Miriam talks about porn as liberating. The shame that addicts feel is often very isolating and they usually feel great guilt. If she ever felt this way — and it is likely at the age of 12 she did — or if she has ever been trapped in the avoidance cycle and felt the hopelessness of being unable to stop despite her best efforts, simply embracing her addiction is probably experienced as a kind of liberation. If she has experienced the guilt and shame that is so common among porn addicts, telling herself and hearing from others in the sex industry that there is nothing wrong with porn probably DOES feel liberating. However, being free to live with an addiction can never be the same thing as being free from an addiction and living a healthy lifestyle.
Several studies have shown that one effect of porn is that it gives people unrealistic ideas about what sex is and makes them think deviant behavior is normal. With Miriam, here was a girl of 12, who essentially received her formation about sex and about what it means to be a woman from the porn industry. Just as trafficked girls and women are often shown porn as their training so they will know what to do and how they are to act, Miriam too was groomed for several years to embrace her present lifestyle. Considering all of this information, Miriam’s present choices are not surprising. Like the many other children that have viewed mainstream hardcore pornography, she likely has little to no concept of what healthy sex looks like. Although Miriam may not have been coerced into viewing pornography, nevertheless, she is one of its victims. She likely did not start out deviant. Like the many other children who are currently addicted to pornography, she was probably a normal kid doing her homework and happened to stumble on something that corrupted her innocence. Furthermore, her concept of her worth and her place as a woman was defined for her at that critical age by pornographers.
As nearly 9 out of 10 children with internet access has viewed hardcore pornography, statistically, Miriam is likely not the only child in our society who is being formed in this way. In fact, I would argue that this is the primary mode in which today’s youth are getting their sex education. Many parents treat sex education as having “the talk” as an awkward, one-time thing, usually too late in adolescence and insufficient to combat the overwhelming messages and training about sex that they are getting elsewhere. I feel that a more holistic approach would be better, one that begins simply by showing children how special their bodies are. This approach would begin with birth and, as they age, the parent would teach them in an age-appropriate way what a special gift their sexuality is. Rather than treating sex as something surrounded in shame or fear I feel the truth about our sexuality should be communicated. Sexuality is something beautiful that allows us to connect in an unparalleled way to another person in mutual love, respect, and self-giving. Furthermore, sex is an act which should work in conjunction to the many other ways in which the two people show one another their mutual and unconditional love, respect, and self-giving in the whole of their lives together.
I hope that one day Miriam and the many others like her will experience the true freedom that she surely yearns for, not the false freedom of doing whatever one wants, but the freedom of living a life free from addiction and in accordance with her unfathomable dignity, a dignity which she even now possesses in the same quantity as she always did, even if she and others don’t see it.
How We Got Here
Patrick Trueman, former Chief of the US Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, explains that beginning with the Clinton administration, all recent administrations have chosen to not enforce federal laws against hardcore pornography. While prior to Clinton’s presidency, pornographers were making softer porn in order to evade prosecution, now they can make hardcore pornography without fear of prosecution. Typically, new porn users do not search out hardcore material. They start with softer porn, but due to the Coolidge Effect, they eventually progress to harder material. Like drug and alcohol addictions, porn users find that the material that used to give them the desired high ceases to do so. Thus they progressively need more hardcore, more taboo material in order to get the same response. The Coolidge Effect is the biggest reason why the fastest growing demand in pornography is for child pornography. The majority of people seeking out this type of porn began with viewing adult women, but bit by bit are led to eventually viewing children. 4
The good news is there is hope. Recent science into the workings of the brain has shown that it is incredibly neuroplastic, meaning it is changeable! Though many online recovery programs exist, many are ineffective and advocate avoidance and willpower to overcome addiction. There are, however, online and anonymous recovery programs that exist that were created by working in conjunction with neuroscientists who studied how people become addicted, and have used this science to help people become un-addicted. The old adage “Once an addict, always an addict” is no longer true. With practice and training, many people are re-wiring their brain to break sometimes life-long habits and learning healthier ways of thinking and behaving. Here are two such recovery programs:
candeobehaviorchange.com – This is a secular program.
reclaimsexualhealth.com – This is identical to the Candeo program but it also includes Catholic theology and Scriptural references.
Covenant Eyes: This is filtering software to protect your family! This is the one I am familiar with, but there are others. You can easily do a Google search and find others.
Rescuing Our Youth From the Porn Trap: From the makers of RECLAiM, this is a book for parents on how to help their teens who may be trapped in the use of pornography.
Fighting For Your Marriage: From the makers of RECLAiM, this is a book, written by women whose spouses were addicted to pornography, and it is designed to help other women who are dealing with infidelity issues.
1. “Social Media & Mobile Internet,” Amanda Lenhart, Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2007, http://www.pwerinternet.org. quoted in Kristin Bird, Bruce Hannemann, Jeannie Hannemann, et al. Rescuing Our Youth From the Porn Trap: Parent Primer (Kaukauna, WI: Elizabeth Ministry International, 2013) 4.
2. . Kristin Bird, Bruce Hannemann, Jeannie Hannemann, et al. Rescuing Our Youth From the Porn Trap: Parent Primer (Kaukauna, WI: Elizabeth Ministry International, 2013) 4.
3. Bruce Hannemann. “A Call to Awareness and Action” (presentation, Reclaim Sexual Health Conference, Appleton WI, October 27, 2011).
4. Patrick Trueman, “A Call to Awareness and Action” (presentation, Reclaim Sexual Health Conference, Appleton WI, October 27, 2011).
Kristin Bird, Bruce Hannemann, Jeannie Hannemann, et al. Rescuing Our Youth From the Porn Trap: Parent Primer (Kaukauna, WI: Elizabeth Ministry International, 2013).
I recently came across the Piers Morgan interview with a Duke University student who has been living a double life as a college student and porn star. This young lady, Miriam Weeks, says she has been working in the sex industry to help pay for her college tuition, but that she would choose this lifestyle regardless of financial need. She says she loves the support and understanding she has received from fellow sex workers and feels at “home” in the world of adult films.
The interview is actually excruciatingly difficult to watch as someone who can see how this industry is going to eventually kill her naturally sweet disposition. She really seems like a nice person, someone you’d hire to babysit your kids. The youthful optimism and energy with which she embraces the cause of pornography is infectious and reminds many of us of times we threw ourselves into ideals and movements without even understanding what we were advocating for. She smiles naively as she says things like,
“We are in a society where we are repressed every single day. We’re told sex is bad, we’re told not to have sex, we’re told not to show our bodies; and that’s really true for women. And to be in porn and to be able to be naked and free and have that sexual autonomy is so incredibly freeing.”
Though some are raised this way, many people are bemoaning the fact that our culture is increasingly sexualizing young girls at ever younger and younger ages. One look at modern fashions will tell you that young women are certainly not told to cover their bodies and that the more sexually available a young woman makes herself appear the more socially accepted she will be. Her out of touch reasoning and her perception of sexuality seems to have been fed to her by an education system bent on convincing women that we are the victims of a patriarchy that wants to keep us covered up and shut up. What they fail to see however, is that whenever the whole totality of a woman’s personhood is not recognized, she is still being oppressed. If she is treated like she is a walking womb, without regard to her emotional needs or the other gifts of her personality and intellect, or if she is treated like a sex toy to be used for someone’s sexual pleasure without regard to who she is as a person, she is objectified.
Miss Weeks is a proud Women’s Study major at Duke, which might explain why the responses she gives when questioned about choosing pornography as her outlet for sexual autonomy sound exactly like lines out of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique written in the 1950’s. Women’s Studies programs are infamous for promoting the ideas of Second Wave Feminism, which are outdated at best. The ideas of sexual repression and a cry against sexual victimization by a restrictive culture are what led to the massive Sexual Revolution of the 1960′s. This Women’s Studies major has absorbed the talking points of the Second Wave Feminists of the 1960’s and has failed to see that the zeitgeist has shifted massively since these ideas where first thought of as advances for women’s liberty. The idea of free sex = liberation trope is really exchanging one form of oppression for another. But what is strange about her application of the women’s rights talking points is that what she is advocating for with them is linked with a rape culture and the abuse of women. Julie Meadows, a former porn star sums it up best saying,
“This industry is full of people that hate – literally HATE women.”
The fact is that like abortion and contraception (and all the other ideas that women have allowed men to convince us are really in our best interest, pornography is not really about us at all. It is about men and power and women choosing, for whatever reason, to become players in a game that involves lust, money, and domination. Many women willingly go into this industry and experience an initial euphoria at being desired and adored, however the realities of STDs and high levels of depression usually cause these women to soon leave. The average life expectancy of a porn star is only 36.2 years.1
Every act that places our sexuality in a position where we must suppress the fullness of ourselves in order to act it out will have consequences far beyond the initial satisfaction and reward we receive. When we betray our body and our spirit for the satisfaction of others, our own joy will be short lived and in the end very empty. I fear she will suffer the same sad consequences that millions of women who have embraced the “free sex” mentality have over the past forty years.
Pornography is BIG BUSINESS. Worldwide pornography revenue in 2006 was $97.06 billion. Of that, approximately $13 billion was in the United States. The United States adult film industry produces 4,000–11,000 films a year and earns an estimated $9–$13 billion in gross revenues annually. An estimated 200 production companies employ 1,200–1,500 performers. Performers typically earn $400–$1,000 per shoot and are not compensated based on distribution or sales.2
And the sad truth here is that this beautiful young woman is just a disposable, replaceable piece in the eyes of her money hungry employers. They are not her family and they do not care about what her decisions now will do to her for the rest of her life. She is being used, but she doesn’t even realize it. She has naively allowed herself to be convinced that this is in her best interests. She has ignored the protests of her own family, who are reportedly very upset by this news, and she instead chooses to believe that people who are profiting off of her sexual appeal somehow see her fully as a unique and irreplaceable human being. They do not see her as more than her body and her willingness to do what those who use her demand.
I suspect, that the $1,200 she is paid for each scene is not enough to keep her subconscious from waking up screaming in horror each day, but the psychological manipulation that convinces her that this is “what liberates her” is. She must maintain the psychological safe-guard that is telling her this is what she wants; that this is what liberates her. If she is to one day wake up and decide that she would like to stop doing porn I can assure you the friendships she has in the sex worker industry would also end. Why? Because these relationships are founded on the soothing comfort of being with people who will not challenge her decisions. These relationships are with people who are profiting off her poor judgment. If she ever sees the light and decides to stop making adult films she will realize very quickly who her real family is. They will be the ones who have been waiting and praying for her safe return to a home where she is valued as a whole human being, not just a commodity. We certainly hope that day comes sooner than later for Ms. Weeks and in the meantime we’ll work to educate and fight the rampant abuse of women that takes place in all the sex trades.
http://candeobehaviorchange.com/ A secular, anonymous, online recovery program that uses the Brain Science of Change to actually heal the brain from the damage caused by sexual addictions.
http://reclaimsexualhealth.com/ A Catholic, anonymous, online recovery program that uses the Brian Science of Change to actually heal the brain from the damage caused by sexual addictions.
1. Retrieved 3/24/14 from https://www.thepinkcross.org/porn-industry
2. Retrieved 3/24/14 from https://www.thepinkcross.org/porn-statistics
How can we support survivors of sexual assault while encouraging the rehabilitation of sexual assault offenders?
The above question has been plaguing me since I started writing this post weeks ago. It follows that supporting survivors and dismantling rape culture would include rehabilitation and counseling for offenders, as well as understanding offender demographics, but how can we accomplish that without minimizing the effects of sexual violence? In order to best guard our communities against sexual violence, we must:
• Be rid of victim-blaming.
• Dismantle rape culture and the norms that allow its existence.
• Rehabilitation for offenders.
Sexual violence is real. Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted. One out of every six American women and one out of every thirty-three American men are victims of an attempted or a completed rape in their lifetime. It is a real crime with real victims and devastating consequences. Victim-blaming is common: Her skirt was too short; she was too drunk; she wasn’t careful enough; the woman was too promiscuous to say no; he shouldn’t have ended up in prison if he didn’t want to be raped.*
Rape culture also allows for sex to fall in a gray area. ** It is treated as a debt owed instead of a way to deeply unite two people. There are jokes about fancy dinners on dates in return for sex. Alcohol is used as an excuse to waive consent. Abortion is used to cover up the evidence of a crime. We need both men and women fighting to dismantle rape culture. We need women to support women. We need men to discourage and stop sexual assault. We need a culture that does not encourage men to be sexually dominant. We need a culture that does not demand women be sexually provocative but then admonishes them for it. We need a culture of life that respects both men and women.
How are we addressing the offenders themselves? There is the controversial sex offender registry. There are moves for harsher punishment, longer statutes of limitation, pushes for survivor protection during trials. The truth though is that only three out of one hundred rapists will serve time, and it stands to reason that sexual assault convictions are along those same lines. Offenders are less the masked evil-doer in the bush and more the acquaintance or boyfriend or friend. Even male survivors are more likely to be assaulted by male offenders, though offenders can be of any gender.
While punishment and justice certainly are a piece of this, rehabilitation is important as well. If approximately two-thirds of rapes are committed by parties known to the survivor, then offenders are friends, intimate partners, brothers, and fathers. They are known to the survivor, and sometimes loved by the survivor. To follow a consistent pro-life message all the way through to its logical conclusion, rehabilitation for offenders is a must. Dignity for all from conception to a natural death includes sexual assault offenders. We know that released sex offenders are four times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime versus non-sex offender releases. This means there is a pattern of recidivism that must be addressed through the appropriate channels of justice and rehabilitation/counseling.
April is dedicated to Sexual Assault Awareness. Please share this post, or some of the resources linked above and below. We can do better for survivors by engaging in this conversation.
*I have written more in depth on the consequences of victim-blaming here.
**A specific example of both victim-blaming and sexual gray areas here.
In general, there are few things that can entice me to grocery shop with all of my kids in tow, for obvious reasons, but deals too good to pass up is one of them. Our local grocery store has a “Dollar Day” four times a year. I prep my list the night before, bring a snack to shamelessly bribe the kids with post-trip, say a prayer, and hope for the best.
A few weeks ago, I strapped on my ten month old, loaded the six and four-year-olds into the “car” attached to the front of the cart, and popped the two-year-old into the front of the cart. This lovely arrangement lasted about 7.5 seconds before said two-year-old decided she would rather walk, the denial of which resulted in loud, dramatic complaints. At this point, any sane mother would have likely headed back to the car, deals to be had or not, but I decided to just plow onward. Fifteen (long) minutes later, I checked out with 75% of the kids now protesting various injustices. In situations like this, when I feel like a walking birth control ad, I am even more aware of the importance of being a pro-life witness. I gave the cashier a gigantic (albeit somewhat forced) smile and told her to have a great day. As I turned to start bagging the groceries up, I heard someone say, “Would you like a hand with those?” I looked up to see a friend’s mom, a woman who raised five kids and, as she noted, has “been there and lived to tell about it.” I was immediately filled with overwhelming gratitude.
Any mom who has more than the socially acceptable 2.3 children has no doubt heard variations of “You sure have your hands full!” (I did before even entering the grocery store), but how often do those moms hear that glorious phrase my friend’s mom asked? Many people, upon seeing someone with their arms full of packages, bags, etc., won’t hesitate to ask if they can help. So why do we as a society shy away from helping, or at least asking to help, mothers with their arms full of children? Why is our conditioned response to tell a woman with children that she has her hands full? No one would, upon seeing someone drowning, yell to him, “Boy, you sure are drowning!” This analogy may seem snarky or dramatic, and I use it only to make a point. I do know that many people are simply afraid of interfering or offending the mother in our easily offended culture, and I have of course encountered wonderful strangers who give me an understanding and encouraging smile, little old ladies with tears in their eyes who remind me it all goes so fast, and even people who stop their own busy days to help for just a moment. These little things give me so much encouragement as a mom, and I always pray that I will be bold and courageous enough to encourage other moms in tough situations.
A friend recently shared a story of taking five of her children out to eat, the youngest of whom is six. As they were sitting quietly, perusing the menus, a waitress approached. The first words out of her mouth were not “Hello,” or “How are you doing?”, but rather, “Boy! You sure have your hands full!” My friend said she looked around at her well-behaved, self-sufficient children and thought, ‘Not really.’
We live in a culture that views children as a burden rather than a blessing. Having more than two children constitutes a handful and something to be avoided. The Guiding Star Project’s informational video clip uses the George Meredith quote, ”What a woman thinks of other women is the test of her true nature.” I would take this one step further and argue that what a society thinks of children is the test of its true nature. We needn’t look far to see that our society’s priorities where children are concerned are greatly lacking.
This is why I love the Guiding Star Project so much. The Guiding Star Project is working to create a culture where children are viewed as blessings; a culture where moms have the help they need to endure the craziness of motherhood; a culture that asks, “Would you like a hand?” rather than noting the obvious. Each day, with your help, the Guiding Star Project is becoming more and more of a reality. It is my hope that by the time my children are having their own children, we will live in a culture that values women and life so much that my grandchildren will never hear how full their mother’s hands are, but only see how full her heart is.
Our culture likes to paint the female body as an oppressor, a sinister villain opposed to all the dreams that women have for themselves. It is the nemesis who cunningly tries to foil all our chances at equality by menstruating, gestating, and lactating. In this scenario, birth control pills and devices, and abortions are the necessary liberators that will free women from the burden of being themselves. In opposition to what we feel is just another misogynist caricature of femininity, New Feminism aims to give honor and respect to the amazing abilities of our feminine bodies. We believe that any so-called progress that is won at the expense of our natural and healthy functioning, is not progress. It is in fact, another form of oppression. If we are ever to be recognized as true equals, we must not do so on on men’s terms and on the pretext that we incapacitate our normal and healthy functioning, but we must gain this recognition by being fully, and most wonderfully ourselves.
So while we seek to give due respect to the “Feminine Abilities” of ovulating, gestating, and lactating, the fact remains that some women are not able to do these things. Many women struggle with various menstrual disorders or infertility or struggle to breastfeed their infants. What about them? Does New Feminism throw them under the bus? Is New Feminism saying that they are not fully women or that they don’t have worth? As a New Feminist I believe that the answer is a resounding NO! but rather than hear about it from me, a mother of three who breastfed all her children, I think it would be great to hear from a woman who has struggled with some of these issues. It is with great excitement that I can share this interview with a dear friend of mine, Ms. Rexann Hammons. Rexann is a professional woman who works as a nurse. She has struggled for more than a decade with severe endometriosis.
Can you tell me a little bit about your health history?
In the fall of 2000 I was a senior in high school. I started experiencing pain in my abdomen that seemed to correspond to my periods. After several emergency room visits and a belittling diagnosis of constipation I was finally diagnosed with an ovarian cyst. I was thankful for the diagnosis because that meant my pain could be treated and I could be healed. I had surgery to remove the cyst. At that time I also started my first oral contraceptives to regulate my periods. This was a difficult decision at 17 to take something unnatural to my body. I was a young Catholic woman and didn’t want to be on contraceptives. I was somewhat comforted by my confessor who clarified that contraceptives were okay if used for medical. As my illness progressed I was placed on one form of contraceptive after another. In the Spring of 2001, I was diagnosed with dysmenorrhea, or painful periods. I proceeded to attempt to live life as a normal young woman. A few months later I had my second surgery to remove a dysfunctional gallbladder. I felt relieve that maybe this was the cause of my pain and I could be free of it and I could embrace my freshmen year of college pain free. I proceed to have pain and go through treatment after treatment, doctor visit after doctor visit, and have no answers and no relief. In fall of 2002, I had another surgery, and finally a diagnosis of endometriosis. Little did I know what this would mean. I would begin a life-long journey of physical and emotional pain that has no cure.
I know you’ve tried both conventional treatment for endometriosis and NaPro Technology treatment. Can you tell me about your experience with each of these approaches?
As I said there is no official cure for endometriosis. Contraceptives, pregnancy, and NaPro Technology have helped many women. However, contraceptives and NaPro Technology have not helped me. For five years I was on a roller coaster ride trying anything and everything for a cure. I went from trying conventional methods to NaPro technology. Conventional methods seemed to be band-aids just covering the endometriosis but not even treating the symptoms. I was drained emotionally and felt broken and worthless as a woman. I felt NaPro technology and Creighton Model Charting gave back my dignity. I was not taking any synthetic drugs and I was able to learn my body’s rhythms and what was my normal cycle. I was able to begin to love my body and accept it as a gift. I was unable to continue treatment with the NaPro as there were no clinic near me and long distance was not working for me at the time. In 2007 I turned back to mainstream methods. I began taking the Depo-Provera shot in eight week intervals and Arimidex daily, a drug used in breast cancer therapy. I was only able to take this regimen until I turned 30, as it increases one’s chances of heart disease and osteoporosis.
You say fertility charting gave you back your dignity. Can you explain a little more about that?
Learning the Creighton method I learn how indeed I am wonderfully made. While using the Creighton model and not taking any form of birth control, my body was able to return to its natural rhythms. At this time I feel I experienced the power of being a woman. By learning how my body cycles to work with a man’s body to produce life and learning my mucous and how it changes through the cycle I could see and feel this gift that only a woman has. Through this experience I found value in my body, and found my worth and dignity.
The relief I received from NaPro was short term as in my case I have microscopic endometriosis and it is most likely that all the endometrial implants were not visible during my surgery and were unable to be removed, and because of that I still experienced pain after the surgery. I would however seek NaPro again if future surgery is recommended.
Have you tried any other approaches?
I currently am trying a Naturopath physician who uses herbal treatment and diet changes. I was pain free last month and so far so good in March. I have not started my period since coming off Depo and Arimidex last fall but being pain free the last two month gives me hope in this current option. However I am waiting for insurance coverage to fully participate in the Naturopath treatments.
Instead of viewing the female capabilities as burdens, New Feminism seeks to honor and celebrate them. But the fact remains that some women’s bodies do not function normally. Maybe they experience infertility, have difficulty birthing vaginally or breastfeeding. Some women just aren’t mothers and so the whole breastfeeding and birthing thing is outside of their experience. As a single woman without children, and one who has a severe menstrual disorder, what do you think New Feminism can offer women like you?
I think we live in a very broken world. Part of that is believing we are flawed and that our bodies are flawed. In my case my body does not function like text books say it should. It is an ongoing challenge for me to love and accept myself as I am. New Feminism gives me the chance to share my experience of being a woman with other women. I find it gives me power to say I am a woman and though my female organs don’t work “normally” I still have power. I can still love passionately; I can be tender, warm, and understanding. These are not weaknesses. They are strengths. I can nurture and give life purpose and give meaning to others’ suffering through my own suffering. I channel this energy to family members, friends, patients, and anyone I meet daily that needs to be loved. Being a nurse I have lots of opportunities to use my feminine abilities to comfort those in my care. I am a woman!
Many women experience an enormous sense of accomplishment and empowerment when they discover they can birth children and breastfeed them. Conversely, when women have difficulty with these things, it can rock their sense of self and they can experience such heartbreak and feel like they are failures as women. Again, as someone with your health issues, and as someone who may be unable to have natural children, do you think women with these difficulties can find empowerment in another way? Or might you have any ideas about how they might learn to value themselves as women and cherish their femininity?
I wish I could say I had the once and for all fix to this sense of failure and heartbreak that comes when we can’t fulfill the role of being a natural mother. My faith and good friends have helped me in this area, but it is an ongoing challenge. I have to work at it. Some days I want to go for a long run or walk and my body says no you can’t. Some days I have to sit and enjoy the sunset from the porch instead of the beach, but I try to be thankful for the ability to still see the sunset. I try to embrace my body, love it, and work with it. Some days I do get down to the beach! The key is staying one with my body and one with my feelings. When I deny my normal and my natural for what the world or mainstream society says should be my normal, is when I lose ground.
I dislike my body. After four children, things are not exactly where they used to be. Things are bigger, other things are smaller, others are misshapen. It certainly isn’t he body I used to have. I’m jealous of women who bounce right back to their pre-pregnancy body. We all know someone who seems to miraculously melt off their baby weight overnight. And truth be told, I was once that woman. After my first pregnancy, I was right back to my pre-pregnancy shape in a couple weeks.
Now, I longingly look in my closet, wishing I’d fit into my old clothes. And then there are my skinny jeans. Oh, my “skinny jeans”. They are jeans I can wear only when I’m skinny. I’ve taken them out after every one of my pregnancies, as a goal. There is nothing wrong with setting a goal, but when it consumes and defines you, it becomes a problem. I wasn’t happy if I didn’t fit into those jeans. I felt fat. I felt depressed.
I‘d look in the mirror and wonder where my body went. Why did it need to go? I‘d sit and stare at these hips that seemed to take over my entire body. They are big. They are clunky. They run into walls as I am rounding corners. I don’t like the way clothes fit.
But while I dislike them, I’ve come far from the loathing I used to feel. It took me some time, but I needed to come to terms with why my body had changed. I needed to give my body a break and love it for what it had done and what it is doing. My body has spent years forming and nourishing little babies. It kept them alive and healthy. It continues to keep me strong and healthy so I can continue to care for my children.
I was once told that women comparing childbirth stories sound like old men comparing battle stories. And my body has been through a battle. My changing body is what I have to show for it. While these changes bother me, they don’t bother anyone else. My husband thinks I am beautiful; my kids see me as “Mommy” and not some giant pair of hips. And that’s what really matters.
I’m not completely over my body image woes. There are many things I don’t feel ok about. But, I can appreciate my post-baby body for what it is. My hips are for carrying babies, both inside and outside the womb. My hips are for shutting car doors when my arms are full of kids and groceries. My hips are for birthing beautiful children into this world, perfect little beings that I wouldn’t trade for the most in-shape and fit body. My hips are like my battle scars, and that, I’m ok with.
A few weeks ago, I was buzzing through Walgreens taking advantage of a little toy sale they had and getting a few other things. Having my 9 month old in the small cart and the 2 year old on my hip made for an interesting visit. My two year old is your average two year terror, wiggly and curious.
The worst part about a shopping trip with a toddler is when you have to stop. As long as you are moving, they move along with you. When you stop, they want to keep going – anywhere! So here we were at the checkout aisle…
…when something caught my eye. You must know that I’m also a woman who has a deep love for women and children. I’m against abortion in all its forms, seeing it as another exploitation of women. I believe we can do better. Women deserve better.
You can imagine my surprise then when I was standing in line to check out I saw this.
Right next to the snickers, gum, cough drops, is “PlanB”. No age restriction on purchase, no prescription necessary. My toddler of course running crazy and I was just shocked to see this so “in your face”, I just took a photo to document it. We bought our items and left. But I had such a sick feeling in my stomach. How could a product like that be put up next to candy bars like it is no big deal? All other contraceptive products are at least in the “family planning” where a client can choose to avoid them if they want, but this was right there in your face whether you liked it or not.
I have to admit I didn’t know all the details about PlanB so I did a little research. I found many different sources, but here is what Webmd says:
“5. How does Plan B One-Step work?
Plan B One-Step works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. The drug acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. It may prevent a sperm from fertilizing the egg.
If fertilization does occur, Plan B One-Step may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb. If a fertilized egg is implanted prior to taking Plan B One-Step, the drug will not work and pregnancy proceeds normally.
6. Does Plan B One-Step have any side effects?
Like any medication, Plan B One-Step does have side effects. The most common side effect is nausea, which occurs in about a quarter of women after taking the drug. Other side effects include abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, dizziness, vomiting, and menstrual changes. If you vomit within two hours of taking Plan B One-Step, consult a health care professional to find out if you need to take another dose.”
So, it is a drug designed to take the day or two (up to 72 hours) after sexual intercourse and avoid a pregnancy. However, if conception has already occurred, it prevents the egg from implanting. It claims to not affect an already implanted egg.
But – woah – did you see that? Did you catch what they just did there? With just a twist of words, they have said it prevents “pregnancy” saying pregnancy “begins at implantation.” No one is talking about human life beginning, just pregnancy. By their own account, it prevents implantation. So, if someone believes that life begins at conception (which a great many people do), then this product can cause an early abortion and end a human life. (And that’s not even going into the debate of whether they can prove that it wouldn’t affect a fertilized egg that has already implanted. Many argue that this claim cannot be proven and therefore this drug could potentially cause an abortion to an implanted fertilized egg, aka conceived child, as well.)
It was in 2009 that it became a for sale “behind the counter” drug (no prescription necessary) to anyone 17 and older and in 2013 the age restriction was removed and it became an “over the counter” drug. Anyone of any age can buy this at any time. (But did you know that you need to be over 18 to buy Sudafed? But not PlanB…but I digress…)
However, pushing it at the front checkout line of all places could only encourage its dangerous use (some dangers including: – it triples the rick of ectopic pregnancies (a life-threatening condition if left undetected), – it fails 1 in 10 times, & – It is labeled as a group 1 carcinogen, the same cancer risk as cigarettes. See planbfacts.com or exposeplanB.com for more info) and especially eases the ability that women could be abused and forced to take this “one time contraceptive.”
With all this in mind, I felt that inner nudge. I had to act. I’m not a confrontational person. Really I’m not. I’ve always been strong, but I do not enjoy the confrontation. Regardless of my personality, though, I knew I had to take a stand on this. The next day I went in to Walgreens and spoke to the manager about the placement of the PlanB at the checkout counter and how it could be seen as inappropriate. I asked to know whose decision it was. She told me everything placed there is what they want to sell more of and it is a corporate decision, but she’d be happy to give me their number. I accepted the offer.
I called and left a message at Walgreen corporate fully expecting I wouldn’t hear back from them. It took a few days, but I received a voicemail from a woman asking me to call her so they could fully “address my concerns”. When we finally connected, I explained to her the concern I had about such a product being at the front checkout counter. She asked where I had seen it and said she would look into it and get back to me taking down my number and email. (This incidentally also happened to be my birthday.)
Later that day, she emailed asking for one more day to give me their official response. I replied thanking her, telling her that was fine and sent her the photos I had took (the ones posted above) as proof. Again, I was bracing myself for a “we stand by our decision” response, but I did find out in the meantime that this wasn’t the case for all Walgreens across the country. At my mother’s local Walgreens in Louisiana, she couldn’t even find PlanB much less see it anywhere at the checkout counter.
I did receive an email back then from Walgreen corporate last Friday the 7th and it said this was their official statement:
“We agree that this product shouldn’t be merchandised at the checkout counter, and we have communicated that to our stores. The particular store you visited has removed it from that area.” - Emily Hartwig, Corporate Media Relations, Walgreen Co., 108 Wilmot Road, Deerfield, IL 60015
Wow! I was surprised and so pleased! Our nanny offered to check at the store on her way home just to verify if what they said was true and this is what she saw:
Well, happy birthday to me! The tag was still there but all the product had been removed.
I appreciate Walgreen’s response and ability to hear and respond to the customer’s concerns. I’m sure they still sell it (which is unfortunate), but at least it is now kept in a more appropriate place.
Moral of the story, my dear friends:
- Be courageous. It may seem like you can’t make a difference, and it may seem like no one listens, but you never know when what you say might just fall on the ears of the right person at the right company at the right time.
- Getting all pro-life activist on a pharmaceutical company on your birthday might just pay off.
Theresa Martin is a blogger and author, follow her blog at NewFeminismRising.com
Tonight, I found the following photo haunting my Facebook feed.
For the sake of brevity, I will move beyond my initial
ranting thoughts that focused on lack of funding, true healthcare reform, and medical practices that over-complicate birth. I want to address the concerns that Dr. Wicklund mentions in her above experience: resources.
I hope this letter finds you well. I was struck by your retelling of a time where you reached out on behalf of a pregnant woman that desperately needed resources. I am deeply sorry to hear that those resources were not readily available for her. It can be challenging to acquire the resources to help pay for prenatal and labor/delivery care for women that cannot afford it, as you well know. I am also fully aware of the additional struggles that your neck of the woods face: transportation issues, and a deeper lack of funding. I am writing you to say that women like me, who do not believe that abortion is quality healthcare for women or their children, want to be able to provide quality care for all women that are seeking an abortion. We want to arm women with the tools to embrace their new roles as mothers, and to equip them so that they are able to provide for their children. We believe no woman should have to choose between herself and her child. Funding can be difficult to acquire, but there are many organizations in your area that, without a doubt, will do their best to serve women like the one that you mentioned.
I would like to invite you to learn more about The Guiding Star Project, an organization that seeks to provide holistic care to women. We recognize the challenges that face women today, especially the challenges in healthcare. The GSP model seeks to create a culture that:
- recognizes the true beauty and dignity of women and their families;
- honors and upholds the natural capabilities and uniqueness of our bodies;
- encourages women in all circumstances to embrace their dignity and find empowerment through their uniquely feminine gifts and talents;
- recognizes the importance of every single person on our planet and sees the threads that tie all humanity together
Supporting Guiding Star Centers would mean supporting an organization that wants to assist women in finding the resources they need, whether that be basic medical care, prenatal care or beyond.
Additionally, with the help of several other women that were concerned by this ordeal, I have compiled a list of resources with-in the four state area of your practice. This list of resources certainly can put the women that you see in touch with someone that can help them find solutions and a way to care for themselves and their children.
Here is a list of birth centers in the US.
LifeCall also has centers in all four state in your area.
Phone: 1-800-662-2678 Email: email@example.com
Needy Meds has lists of free clinics in every state.
203 West Madison Avenue, Suite E-2
Belgrade, MT 59714
Phone: (406) 388-7035
PO Box 9071301 11th Avenue
Helena, MT 59624
Phone: (406) 442-4130
(800) BABY-DUE (toll-free)
Florence Crittenton’s Center for Pregnant & Parenting Teens
901 North Harris Street
Helena, Montana, 59601
Phone: 406 442 6950
Religious resources (For referrals and information):
Community (Note: Some family planning services offered. This list includes abstinence, contraceptives, and natural family planning.)
801 East 41st Street
Sioux Falls, 57105
Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center
2401 W. Main St. Suite 2
Rapid City, SD 57702
Phone: (605) 341-4477 *Answered 24 hours/day
1614 Beck Avenue
P.O. Box 3185
Cody, Wyoming 82414
Phone: (307) 213-5025
Legacy Pregnancy Resource Center
847 Coffeen Avenue
Sheridan, WY 82801
Phone: (307) 673-4757
I truly hope this helps the next time you have a patient needing resources.
Finding your almost two-year-old standing on your kitchen counter digging in the cupboard for candy, completely naked. Calling your mother in tears to exclaim, “I’m running out of places to hide the knives!” or “They figured out the childproofing again!” Having your four-year-old charge head-first into your priest, nearly tackling him. These are all scenarios that I would likely have found somewhat unimaginable (albeit amusing) prior to becoming a parent. Now, they’re simply reality.
I was a nanny all through college for a family of four boys, a family of three boys, and a few other sets of high-energy hooligans. I truly (naively) thought I was prepared for motherhood. At least, as prepared as one can be. Boy, was I ever wrong! Motherhood is so much messier, literally and emotionally, than I ever could have imagined. While there have been many things that have helped keep me at least semi-sane during this crazy journey, one of the most important has been my friends. I have often heard that if you want to find out what kind of friends you have, move. True friends will help you move, an activity that is now in the top five of my “Please God, never again!” list. Our friends not only helped us physically move last fall, but during the five weeks prior brought us boxes, helped us pack, took our kids for hours (days!) to let us pack, brought us meals, baked cupcakes for our two-year-old’s birthday, and a whole host of other selflessly helpful things. To say we have excellent friends would be an understatement. Obviously, it goes without saying that I have never felt lacking in the friendship department, but rather abundantly blessed.
In particular, I have a women’s group I meet with monthly, comprised of my two college roommates and two other women who not only put up with our nonsense but actually seem to enjoy it. (And frankly, add their own level of laugh-until-you-cry hilarity.) When I graduated college, the mom of the family I had lived with for two years told me that I had no idea how lucky I was to have such good girlfriends and how important they would be to me in the years to come. She was right. I have appreciated those women more each year, as we got married over the course of four months and have since had 14 (soon to be 15) kids between us.
One of my other good friends is pregnant with her seventh child. My husband and I were married on her fifth anniversary, and our lives have taken oddly similar paths, with our third children being born exactly six years apart, our first four kids matching genders, and our oldest boys being crazy-high-energy. I have always felt so blessed by this woman’s friendship, in part because each time we’ve discerned a new child, I have thought, “Okay, it’ll be okay to have a (second, third, fourth, etc.) child because M has done it and her kids are thriving.” It has been a reassuring comfort to have someone walking the road ahead of me, someone to learn from, to bounce ideas of off, and send Facebook messages in hysterics.
As Aristotle noted:
Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good-and goodness is an enduring thing…But it is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare.
Being that such people are rare, I have always been extremely thankful for women who understand me and who are excellent friends in the truest sense of the word. I share all of this simply to note that I have never felt anything was “missing” in my life. On the contrary, I have always felt overly blessed with such fantastic friendships with incredible women.
Yet over the past year and a half, I have had the chance to get to know a woman from our homeschool co-op much better. She and her family have been an answer to a prayer I didn’t even know I had. Our eight kids are similar ages and have very similar temperaments, meaning neither one of us is phased when a two-year-old strips down in the middle of the living room. Not that we would know anything about that, of course! The kids all play remarkably well together, so little to no adult intervention is required when we get together. My kids are all fairly strong-willed, energetic handfuls — they keep me busy, to put it mildly, and while they are of course wonderful and amazing, as a unit they can be exhausting. Yet, this woman is the kind of friend with whom I am comfortable dropping my whole crew. She gets the chaos of four kids in five years because she is also living it currently. I could never have anticipated the blessings that would come from having a family that “matches” ours so well. Having someone walk through the craziness by our side, a “battle buddy,” has been so encouraging, more than I ever could have imagined.
One of my favorite bloggers, Jen Fulwiler, notes that we were never meant to “do” motherhood alone. In some respect, the way many of us are raising our kids, without close-knit neighborhoods and often far from extended family; makes motherhood even more overwhelming than the day-to-day grind does. It is easy to feel isolated and like our work is in vain. It is easy to get lost in the dishes and laundry and forget that this is the most important thing I will do with my life — raise my kids. To be able to observe a “mirror image,” mom and see the beauty of her busy kids and house is a direct reminder to me of just how blessed I am to be raising this crew. So to end, I’ll borrow a quote from Toy Story‘s Woody, where he is preparing the toys to move: “A moving buddy. You don’t have one…GET ONE!” Do everything possible to find a battle buddy, particularly if you are a stay at home mom of young kids. You will be blessed more than you could ever have imagined.