Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Telling Scary Stories (About Childbirth)

The Navel Gazing Midwife posted this article on her Facebook page about the horrors of scary birth stories.  The reasoning in the articles goes something like: women tell pregnant women scary stories about childbirth, these scary births are likely due to over-medicalized birth, and talking about these scary births encourages women to seek over-medicalized births and to be emotionally unprepared for a good birth, which lead to a scary birth, therefore, women should stop telling other women scary birth stories.  The author also give the example of unspecified other cultures where women don't hear scary birth stories and have unmedicated and uncomplicated births.  Certainly this may be true for "other cultures," but Anglo American culture has a long history of fearing birth.  Just think back to 11th grade English and Anne Bradstreet's (1612-1672) poem "Before the Birth of One of Her Children."

Now I generally think women should refrain from saying shitty things to each other.  Examples of shitty things you can say to a pregnant women include: "you'll be screaming for that epidural," "only self-centered hippies want a natural childbirth," "doctors are butchers and hospitals are filthy," and "only a maniac would give birth in a tub full of jello."  If you want to have a conversation with a pregnant lady, you might instead say: "that's interesting, how did you decide on that plan?"  Or you could say, "Have you seen any good movies lately?  That new Adam Sandler flick Jack and Jill looks pretty awesome."

I also understand why some women don't want to hear scary stories while pregnant, and in that case it seems perfectly appropriate to say "Can I stop you, because I'm already nervous and you are freaking me right out."  Even though I was super nervous during my pregnancy and very scared of having a c-section, I still liked medically interesting birth stories (maybe that's why I developed pre-eclampsia).  Some birth training programs like Hypnobabies really encourage women to avoid negative birth stories. 

And if you could choose between a lovely, peaceful homebirth and surgical birth with various lives at risk, wouldn't you choose the former?  This is a really great birth story.  My story (mine, B's, and LB's) is not lovely in any traditional way.  It involves early and severe pre-e, hospital bedrest, ultrasounds, IV ports, magnesium sulfate, a surgical team, blood loss, and LB's infamous first photos that we refer to as the baby in a bag pictures (for heat retention-and her head was not in the bag).  Our story may not be a "good" birth story in the traditional sense, but for me (with memories softened by mag and morphine) it is a beautiful story because it brought us LB, and because even though B and I were both terrified we were very strong.

So does it hurt other women if I tell my story?  Should I not be allowed to participate in motherhood's ritual of swapping stories?  On the preemie message board that I read there are often women who feel desperately guilty and ashamed to have had a preemie, and as well, to have "failed" at natural birth.  I respect the emotions of those women, however, I don't understand.  Getting sick with pre-eclampsia was no more my fault than getting any other disease (although maybe if I got the flu after licking a subway railing I would blame myself).  I so desperately wanted LB to stay on the inside, and if I had been able to control my body through sheer force of will surely she would have been full term.  I really resent the implication that women have high risk births because of bad thinking or because they are duped by "The Man." [And of course there are dupers, but it my case the medical team including OB, nurses, and midwives wanted exactly what B and I wanted-for me and LB to live.]  Certainly there are mind/body connections that we don't fully understand, but I think any reasonable person would agree that telling a woman who shared her experience with breast cancer that she was A) harshing your mellow, and had B) brought it on her own self by being such a stress case, and C) maybe should take these herbs I read about online because western medicine will kill you, would be a total asshole move.

I am a woman and a mother, and I have a beautiful story to share about the birth of my daughter.

(If you had a scary birth, how do you tell your story?)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Guidance from the IRS for Same Sex Couples (About Taxes)

The IRS recently published FAQs for taxpayers who also happen to be same sex couples. Info can be found here.  Here at the Ladybug household we are still waiting/hoping for our adoption tax credit.  B was asked to provide additional documentation, and we will see what happens.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

First Tomato Pie of the Season

I'm not saying it's health food, but it is so good.  Tomato pie is really easy.  Most recipes call for bisquick, but I make my own biscuit for the crust.  I usually use this Alton Brown recipe for the biscuit (although I reduce the salt to a scant 1/2 teaspoon). Pat the biscuit dough into a pie pan.  In another bowl mix a cup of shredded cheddar and a cup of mayonnaise and put aside.  Thinly slice a little bit of onion or some scallions, as well as a couple tomatoes.  Put half the cheese mixture on the biscuit, followed by the onion and tomato, and then the rest of the cheese.  Sprinkle with black pepper.  Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes (it can go a little longer if it's not looking too brown).

I'm sure you could do this with different vegetables and cheeses, maybe some sliced summer squash, and you could use goat cheese or brie or whatever (although in that case probably leave out the mayo).  Some people add chopped basil, but to me basil it just out of character with the dish (at least in it's tomato and cheddar form).  Some chopped parsley or even a little thyme could work, but not basil.

Tomato pie!

Hot Summer in the City

After a mild start, we have finally gotten some of the oppressive Baltimore heat we know and love. Wednesday night was the worst, but I think we are starting to adjust. We have to plan carefully to get LB outside, otherwise we can get to bedtime and realize we have kept her in air-conditioned (or at least fanned) splendor all day. This morning we took the dogs for a walk at around seven and it was still really nice, then we filled up the water table in the backyard before it got super hot. Now that LB is a walker it's much easier to have her in the backyard or the alley, and this morning she had fun toddling up the alley and shaking the back gates of our neighbors.

This is the most neighborly place I have ever lived, and we can usually count on some neighbors to talk to, or kids to play with, or cats and dogs to visit. Regardless of what people are doing in the rest of the country, here kids still play outside a lot. It seems like there has been a definite baby boomlet in the past five years, and many of the older folks in the neighborhood seem delighted to once again have young kids around.

[I guess this post offers some sort of implicit answer to the first question you get if you live in Baltimore: "Is it like The Wire?" The only answer to that question is "it depends who you are."  To say that our lives do not at all resemble that show seems to miss the point that our lives do have some similarities with the middle class white people on the show, and that no matter how we live, Baltimore is a place where many people suffer from structural racism and poverty.  Our neighborhood is a mixed income white enclave, as far as I know the neighborhood boundaries are no longer maintained with fists and guns, but in a 95% white census district in a 66% Black city, clearly they are still boundaries still at work.  Part of that racial difference is due to the continuing bad reputation of the neighborhood, as well as informal racial steering.]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Second Parent Adoption in Maryland

I'll preface this post by saying that I am not a lawyer, I don't know how to get a 2nd parent adoption (also known as a gay adoption) in Maryland without a lawyer, and I don't know how to get a lawyer without paying said lawyer.  So with that information, you can decide whether this post is of any use to you.

The system of state law in the US makes it particularly challenging to figure out issues of family law.  Maps like this one from the Family Equality Council can only provide a starting point for understanding 2nd parent adoption in Maryland.  If you go to one of the national gay rights organizations looking for information about 2nd parent adoption in Maryland, you will likely find some version of "maybe it's possible."

The answer on the ground in Maryland is simple.  You hire a lawyer who knows something about 2nd parent adoptions, and regardless of the county in which you live your lawyer will file in the Baltimore City Circuit Court where all the judges have agree to approve 2nd parent adoptions.  This Baltimore Sun article gives more background on second parent adoptions in Baltimore City, as does this editorial in the Sun.  Jennifer Fairfax handled our adoption and we were very happy with her work.  Our portion of the work of adoption involved writing a check and collecting a bunch of documents-doctor's notes, financial statements, photographs (must include photo of your front door?!), and letters of support.  We also had to write some essays, which I seem to remember writing while on hospital bed rest with great resentment.  Getting the materials together took some time, and at times the whole process felt intrusive, but overall it was not hard-no need for a home study or anything like that.  It's not clear to me that anyone actually looked at our carefully compiled materials once they were sent to the court.

Because most of the 2nd parent adoptions in Maryland are filed in Baltimore City, adoption day in family court tends to be dominated by gay families.  In our case, because of LB's NICU stay, our court date was two weeks after LB came home (and her adjusted age was two weeks).  We were otherwise in quarantine, but we took LB to the courthouse in a cab that smelled as smokey as the 1970s and offered a distinct lack of safety features.  We made it through the metal detectors, and proceeded to family court where there were about ten lesbian couples, a few single ladies (sexuality unknown), and one straight couple.  We chatted with the lesbian couple sitting behind us with their gigantor three month old.  I proudly told one of the moms about LB, "she's  a preemie, she just came home!" The woman very kindly said, "Oh she is so cute!" while her eyes said, "yeah, no kidding she's a preemie." Our judge was borrowed from criminal court and seemed to thoroughly enjoy his sojourn in happy court.  Each parent or couple approached the bench individually with child, which took under a minute, and then the whole courtroom clapped for each family.

Understandably, most lesbian moms approach 2nd parent adoption day with a mix of happiness and anger.  It's great to have our relationships recognized by the law, but frustrating to have to pay and jump through hoops for the privilege.  We were the outliers with our entourage of three grandparents and one aunt, and our whole group crying tears of joy because we were so happy to have LB home and whole.

LB's whole first year we kept saying, "oh she used to look like such a preemie, but she doesn't anymore." Clearly she looks like such a preemie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ladybug Ear Update

No stickers. Much screaming.  Exam results: fluid in one ear, low-grade infection in the other ear.  LB got some antibiotics.  Follow-up in three weeks.  Some talk of tubes, but Badger and I are pretty strongly opposed.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Curing My Phobias

After spending a nice day with her granddad, who she finds fascinating, and assorted other relations, LB capped her day off by vomiting spectacularly as we crossed the Bay Bridge.  I think it was my first trip across the bridge that didn't involved closed eyes and white knuckles.  Good to know that mopping up vomit is very distracting.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Family Dinner

I like it.  I like eating, and that requires cooking. I've been trying to get ahead of my cooking by making some freezer meals, but we keep eating all the food.  Tonight was a quiche with red pepper and onions and salad.  I love cooking while listening to the news when I get home from work.  It's all a little less relaxing with a baby, but LB and I have gotten into a decent routine.  One of my measures of the quality of my life is how many meals I eat at table, rather than hunched over the kitchen counter, or in front of a computer screen.  It's really nice to be able to sit down with LB and B and eat and conversate.

LB joined us for dinner, as always, and deigned to eat a few bites of crust, a slice of pepper, and to lick a tomato.  Her main foods are beans, tofu, pasta, blueberries, and broccoli, along with copious amounts of cheerios and raisins, but for the past couple days she has been on a blueberries-only kick.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

It's Hard to be a Diamond in a Rhinestone World

After LB came home from the NICU, we spent the rest of the winter in quarantine-limited visitors and only leaving the house for essentials (LB only went to the doctor's office).  One of the things we did to fill the time was have record dance parties.  I guess you could have an Ipod dance party, but the choices might be overwhelming.  The nice thing about the record dance party is that we only have one eclectic crate of records.  Cobbling together a decent mix of music becomes part of the fun.  Sunday morning we did a mix of Waylon, Dolly, and Crosby Stills Nash and Young.

Perhaps we should be trying to raise LB with some modicum of meditative silence, but honestly I would find it painful.  I was raised with no TV and lots of nature, with a silent Friends meeting on Sundays, and now I love noise.  I have a serious NPR addiction.  I love television-more than anyone I know who was allowed to watch television as a kid.  We aren't strict about keeping LB from the TV, and she has shown no real interest, but I do think less is probably more when it comes to kids and TV.  So, instead of turning on the TV, I pick out a record.  And Ladybug, you could do worse than Dolly Parton as a role model.  She is a smart, talented women with a generous heart.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Gay Parenting in the NICU

The past few days have involved a lot of carrying a screaming, thrashing toddler through the streets of our neighborhood.  Thankfully, she can't fully verbalize her feelings, so the world only hears an angry "MAMAMAMAMA," rather than "This sucks! I want to do it my own self!  Why can't I stay at daycare! You are such an asshole!"  I'm sure that stage will be fun when we get there.  Thankfully, all the neighbors have seen and heard worse.  I saw a teenage girl on our street tell her mom and a cop, "I can do any fucking drugs I want to and you can't stop me!"  Is that what they call speaking truth to power?  There are at least ten kids under five on our block, so there's often a symphony of crying babies and they don't attract much attention.

During our first few months with LB, all of our parenting was conducted in the public space of the NICU.  This experience was not ideal, and only occasionally blissful.  It's hard to parent in public.  It's hard to parent in public under stress.  It's hard to parent in public under stress as a member of a marginalized group.  Lesbian moms in the NICU face specific legal and logistical issues.  In the urban teaching hospital where I had LB, Badger faced no problems related to NICU access.  Badger was able to go to the NICU and hold LB while I was still passed out from the birth.  I'm sure the NICU is used to dealing with diverse structures, and their default seemed to be to allow liberal access.  Despite our good experience, I was very glad that we had consulted with a lawyer with a lot of LGBT experience to get our 2nd parent adoption started.  If we had had a problem, we knew that she was someone to whom we could reach out.  [If meeting with an LGBT lawyer is logistically or financially impossible (and if money is a problem, call around to compare rates and ask about sliding scale fees), at least have the number of an LGBT advocacy group you can contact if you run into serious issues.]  We took all our paperwork to the hospital, but no one seemed very interested in seeing it, and I seem to remember that I had to force someone to take a copy of my advance directive.  If you are lesbian parents who know that your baby is likely to need NICU care, you can request a NICU consult before the birth-both to learn about specific policies, and to get a general sense of the NICU's attitude toward gay parents.  [While I try not to be paranoid and/or assume the worst about people, cases like this one, from NC where only one mom could adopt their child, and when the child was hospitalized the mom who was not allowed to adopt was not allowed to stay alone with the child overnight because she was a "visitor" and not a parent are incredibly distressing.  If we had had to deal with this crap while also dealing with a premature baby, I would have lost my mind.]

LB shortly before she came home
Most of our NICU time was spent doing the same things that straight parents did-crying, holding, staring vacantly, glaring, furtively texting, taking pictures, listening to the nurses gossip, etc.  The unknown is very stressful at the beginning of a NICU stay: will we get a nurse we like and trust, and additionally for us, will we get a nurse who isn't weird with us or freaked out by us?  We never got an anti-gay vibe from our nurses, and some of them went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.  So if no one challenged us, and no one disrespected us, why was it hard to be gay in the NICU?  In part, because it was just one more element of uncertainty in a scary and stressful situation.  Would someone say something offensive (and would I then flip the fuck out)?  Would people see us at our worst and use that image to judge all lesbian parents?  Would people watch our parenting and think we weren't good enough? In reality, as middle-class, educated, married, white lesbians, we were pretty low on the taxonomy of judgement.  It was usually the young, poor, African American and non-English speaking immigrants were occasionally treated with obvious frustration by some of the nurses.  The mildly insensitive comments we got (who is the mom?) came from the med students and younger residents-and I tried to remind myself that we were part of their learning experience.

My advice for parents: figure out who your allies are and ask them for help.  A sympathetic charge nurse or NICU social worker can help you find your way through the NICU.  And if you are too tired to address every problem you encounter, that is okay also.  You can always write a letter after the NICU is over.  Try not to stress and worry, which is pretty much the most useless advice ever.  My advice for health care providers: our primary goal was to have calm and competent care for LB, but the people we really liked made an extra effort to ask us little things like "So how did you guys meet?" or "How long have you been together?"  Normal questions that made us feel comfortable.
If you are looking for resources about the rights of gay families and what you can do to protect your families, these are some groups with more info:
Family Equality Council
National Center for Lesbian Rights
Lamda Legal
It's Conceivable

[Edited due to a serious lack of previous editing.]

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remains of My Youth

A woman I went to summer camp with published this photo essay about our camp.  The camp seems gloriously unchanged since the 1980s.  Camp wasn't perfect, and I'm sure not all kids had as good a time as I did, but I loved it.  As my parents struggled with their own demons, and benign neglect became active dysfunction, camp became the best part of my teenage years.  A hippie, sex-positive, lefty camp catering to slightly damaged punk kids, what could be better?  Our counselors had done a lot of est, and were into "rapping" in the '70s sense.  We always had contra dancing, visiting tax resisters, sweat lodges, and went to a nude beach.  We were required to do much of the work of cleaning the place ourselves and everyone did regular kitchen and cleaning shifts. There was a never ending coffee urn and we spent a lot of time sitting around on the big porch drinking coffee and smoking (I doubt they are allow to smoke now, but in the 1980s we were also allowed to smoke outside my high school-different times).  There was also a lot of head shaving and manic panicing.  For me, it was a place where I could be transgressive in safe ways and talk honestly about the stuff that was going on in my life.  I sincerely hope that LB will not need this place as much as I did, but I would love for her to have a similar place to go as a teen.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ladybug Eye Update

LB's sticker says "I got my eyes checked!" Not to worry, no motivation killing empty superlatives there.

Mild astigmatism, may self-correct.  No need for action at this time.  Same time next year.

Note: do not google "eye speculum," instead, simply imagine that scene from A Clockwork Orange cast entirely with premature babies.  Now you know what eye exams are like in the NICU.  The eye exam for ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity) was the worst thing I saw done to LB in the NICU (for other things they sent me out of the room).  And by saw, I mean I huddled in the opposite corner of the room trying not to look as LB screamed bloody murder.  This time last year, LB was cleared of ROP, so now they are just waiting to see if she develops generally crappy eyesight, either related to prematurity or genetics.

My big healthy girl rewarded me with 21 pounds of raging, thrashing, screaming love this morning before Badger took her to her eye appointment and then again on our walk home.  I'm trying to remember that feistiness will serve her well in life.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Black, White, Gay Thing

I'll just say in advance that this post may be more unfocused than usual.  I've become interested in straight African American attitudes toward gay marriage, and here I'm trying to keep track of the links that I've been collecting.  I think this Slate article was representative of a lot of the post-Prop 8 coverage of the issue-basically that Black people had provided the margin of victory for Prop 8.  Just based on my own experience (as a white lady) talking to people about gay marriage, it's hard for me to see any strictly racial divide in attitudes.  It seems to me that Black and white folks break along the same lines-age, education, and religiousity.

From Pew, support for gay marriage by religious affiliation, and by race.  This polling shows more support for gay marriage among whites than Blacks overall, and that Black Protestants support gay marriage at higher rates than white Evangelicals, but at lower rates than white mainline Protestants.  This link goes to a long scholarly article from Gregory B. Lewis titled "Black-White Differences in Attitudes Toward Homosexuality and Gay Rights," published in 2003.

One of the post-Prop 8 critiques of pro-gay marriage strategies was that the state's predominately white gay advocacy organizations had done a poor job of outreach and coalition building with African American activists and communities.  In Maryland (with 30% of people defining themselves as AA), activists of all races seem to be learning from that lesson.  Unless something really crazy happens, MD will have a referendum on the November ballot, which will decide whether the legislature's vote on gay marriage goes into effect.

The two major local pro-marriage organizations are Marylanders for Marriage Equality and Equality Maryland.  MME has many videos from locally prominent people, including this odd video from
Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire).  I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes at these organizations, but from the materials they are putting out, it seems like most of the current action on gay marriage in MD is among African Americans reaching out to other African Americans.  [Edited to add this article from the Times about Black/Gay coalitions (and also mentioning the existence of Black gays).]

People have also been talking about the "Obama Effect" in Maryland since Obama's statement in support of gay marriage.  Public Policy Polling reports recent movement in the polls on gay marriage.  Rachel Maddow has analysis here.  While I don't want to ignore Obama's influence, I wonder if he isn't, at least partially, reflecting a larger cultural shift rather than driving that shift.

Some final links: a nice piece on the problem of Black/gay invisibility.  And a pro gay marriage statement from Rev. Dr. William J. Barber.