Tagged: pregnancy

Ten Great Books About Women’s Health

I'm committed. So don't spoilt the ending.

I’m committed. So don’t spoil the ending.

I don’t read too much non-fiction these days. Right now I’m speed reading  Gone Girl . It’s kinda sorta okay but makes me feel like my brain is melting. I don’t really like Gone Girl, but I can’t stop reading it. It’s kind of like my sugar addiction.

On my shelf waiting to be read I have Swamplandia and The Time Traveller’s Wife. This month my reading list fits  my demographic profile way too neatly. Amazon could peg me perfectly.

To my credit, the last time I went to the library, I checked out Far From the Tree, Buddhism for Mothers and  In the House of the Interpreter. But I haven’t read them yet. This summer I read everything Jamaica Kincaid ever wrote (except this one) . She is so perfect. But I also read The Happiness Project.  Please don’t let me read Jodi Picoult. If I read Jodi Picoult, it’s all over.

Anyhoo, back when I was a full-time smarty pants, I spent countless hours reading nonfiction, I read about health. Particularly women’s health. There is so much out there, and I feel lucky to have been introduced to it. So in case you’re looking for something to read that’s not a white lady novel, here  we go.

Ten great books about  women’s health:

1. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty. Dorothy Roberts is a great writer. This book will help you understand the racist undertones of much of American political discourse about reproductive health and entitlement programs.

2. How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex. Cristina Page. Best title ever

3. Cunt. Speaking of titles… okay, it’s a little crass and the language is tiny bit outdated, but Inga Muscio’s take menstruation, reproductive health and sexual freedom is still empowering

4. A Darker Ribbon. One of the most well-researched critiques of the breast cancer movement that is not preach or overly academic.

5. Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control. This should be required reading for anyone working for — or wanting to work for —  an international development organization.

6. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down : A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and a Collision of Two Cultures. A can’t-put-it-down kind of read written by a journalist.

7. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis on America.  An ethnography of genetic counseling. A little bit on the jargony side, but still a good read.

8.   Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor.Paul Farmer will make you want to try and save the world.

9. Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety. You are what you eat. Marion Nestle.

10. How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS. Would get the award for best title if I hadn’t already given it to Cristina Page. Paula Treichler is one of my favorite smarty-pants writers.

And one bonus book…

11. Birth as an American Rite of Passage. Robbie Davis-Floyd. A classic. Read it.

What about you? What are your favorite women’s health books? What did I forget?  And hey, what are you reading? I’ll forgive you if it’s Jodi Picoult.


Keeping it consistent when it comes to abortion


Have you heard about this case in Ireland where a woman  was denied an abortion and died as a result?

Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old dentist, was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child. She began having severe back pain and was told that she was miscarrying. She then requested that her doctors medically terminate the pregnancy, but was denied because abortion is against the law in Ireland. She died of blood poisoning a couple of days later.

There has been worldwide media attention on the case, since it’s a situation where an abortion actually would have saved the life of the mother.

Ireland’s constitution officially bans abortion, but in 1992, the Supreme Court ruled  that it should be legal when a woman’s life is at risk.The government never passed a law to this effect, which means that Irish physicians are very reluctant to perform abortions, regardless of the circumstances.

In 2010, three women sued the Irish government in the European Court of Human Rights for denying them access abortions. The women each had extenuating circumstances: an alcoholic with four children, two of which were disabled; a woman undergoing chemotherapy, and a woman who had taken emergency contraception that had failed to work. The court found they had no right to abortions under the constitution, and their complaints were dismissed. However, the court also found that Ireland’s ban on abortion even in the case of life-threatening pregnancies was in violation of European Union law.

Halappanavar’s death coincided with the release of a  long-awaited expert report that recommends  possible changes to Irish abortion law. The report was commissioned by the Irish government   after the 2010 European Court of Human Rights ruling.

Currently, about 4,200 women travel outside of Ireland every year to terminate pregnancies.

I’m as pro-choice as they come, but you’ve got to give it to the Irish. They are so adamantly against abortion that they sought a travel injunction against a 14 year old who was raped by a neighbor and whose parents were trying to get her to England to have an abortion.

They refuse abortion in all cases. No matter what. No exceptions for rape, no exceptions for life-threatening conditions, no exceptions for the threat of fetal-alcohol syndrome, or neglect, or deformity caused by chemotherapy.

It ain’t pretty, but if you are against abortion, then own it.

They acknowledge that sometime women die when they don’t have access to safe, legal abortion. They have no problem with the fact that outlawing abortion means that  women and girls are forced to carry pregnancies to term and then parent children that are the product of rape when they are denied access to safe and legal abortion.

That’s the reality, and at least the Irish government is willing to take the fall out.

What do you think?


Irihs Times op-ed

Isn’t it ironic?

Alannis Morissette has spoken publicly about her struggle with postpartum depression after the birth of her son, Ever.

When I was pregnant, I was in the hospital for 2 weeks before I gave birth. When my son was born, he was three months premature and weighed only two pounds.  Less than 24 hours later,  I was given my walking papers and sent home.

To say I experience postpartum anxiety and depression is a bit of an understatement. The experience left me shaken and shattered. On the exterior  I think I appeared to be handling it well (maybe not, but that’s the image I thought I was projecting), but at home I clearly wasn’t. Whenever I closed my eyes I saw a nurse roughly handling my tiny child’s naked body. I was plagued by the thought of them touching him with their cold hands. At work I was terrified every time the phone rang, sure that it was a doctor calling to tell me that my baby had died.  I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to stop crying. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read a sentence, cook a meal, or even have a decent phone conversation.

Luckily, the hospital where I visited my baby every day did a good job of monitoring mothers for postpartum issues. Luckily again,  my partner was attuned to my mental state and made me get the help I needed.  I ended up visiting a psychiatrist and got medication which I’m convinced to this day saved my life.

My son is  almost four, and it’s just this year that the haze has begun to clear. The past four years have been fantastic is so many ways, but  one morning not that long ago I woke up and I finally felt like myself again. It was shocking. As  this article describes, postpartum depression can last along time. It’s not just the baby blues. It’s not just not being able to get out of bed or wanting to hurt your child. It’s not just ennui experienced by bored, white middle class women. Postpartum depression is complex, it manifests itself in many ways, and it affects women around the world.  

Postpartum mental health issues are, I think, among the most hidden and most taboo. There are a few very brave celebrities who have spoken about their experiences (Alannis Morissette, Brooke Shields), but women are still bombarded with the message that they should ease gracefully into their new role.

One thing that initially  stopped me from wanting to get help was a fear that my child would be taken away from me, particularly as a gay woman.  My child was in the hospital, and I was worried that if I exhibited anything less than stellar behavior, the social workers and doctors would decide that he couldn’t ever come home with me. To this day, I rarely tell anyone about the experience.  It’s too scary to admit. It means failure, it means weakness, it means the threat of losing my child.

The scope of reproductive health issues that women face is so large that it can’t possibly fit under the umbrella of family planning. Postpartum depression is one of the most common complications of having a baby, but we don’t see it addressed nearly enough in discussions about reproductive health.

Among the many things that Obama’s Affordable Care Act will put into law is the  H.R. 20 — Melanie Blocker Stokes Mom’s Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression Act.

What does Mitt Romney have planned?

Health News Round-Up

It’s been another great week!

I started a new series, profiling women in health. If you would like to be profiled or have an idea of someone you think I should talk to, please let me know.

I’ve been pitching lots of stories about women’s health to a variety of news outlets and blogs, and will hopefully have some good news to share soon.

And a confession – I didn’t watch the veep debate. I listened to part of it on the radio, but missed the visual antics. Oh well, I’ll be watching on Tuesday as the presidential candidates face off for the last time.

Here’s what caught my eye in health news this week:

  • Injections in the spine never seems like a great idea, but even worse when the medication is full of fungus. Some things definitely need lots of regulatory oversight!
  • Floridians are voting on whether  ban state funding for abortion, in addition to the existing ban on federal funding for abortion, put in place by the Hyde Amendment. Will they also be voting on whether to  increasing state funding for birth control?
  • Scientists have come to a consensus that formaldehyde causes cancer. So why are lobbyists trying to keep this information under wraps?
  • No one wants to go on a job interview when they’re pregnant, and lots of women are nervous to tell their employers that they are pregnant even when they already have the job. Been there.

Thanks for reading! Have a great fall weekend, and see you on Monday.

Call The Midwife

Midwives on wheels

I don’t watch much TV.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not because I don’t love sitting on the couch and passively receiving information from the screen. It’s just that I’m way too cheap to pay for cable, which means we only get PBS, Fox, and Univision. I hate Fox and I don’t speak Spanish, and I’m not a fan of Rick Steves.  So most of the TV I watch is children’s programming on PBS. Otherwise, I rely on Netflix and DVDs from the public library for my evening entertainment.

But last Sunday night, for some reason I turned on the TV, and was pleasantly rewarded with an episode of Call the Midwife.

Have you seen this?

It’s an hour-long drama about midwives in the 1950s in London. And it’s so good! In my wildest dreams I could have never imagined this program would be on television. It’s been airing in the UK for a year, but PBS just picked it up here (is this what makes Mittens want to defund the station??).

Created by writer Heidi Thomas –who wrote a screen adaptation of Middlemarch and is doing a remake of BBC classic Upstairs Downstairs– the program follows four young midwives in East London who work with the nursing nuns at Nonnatus House.  They deliver 80 to 100 babies a month.

In the first episode, we’re introduced to Jenny Lee, a new midwife. She rides a bike. She delivers a preemie. She treats a woman with syphilis. And although she is initially disgusted by the syphilis and overwhelmed the sheer number of pregnancies, by the end of the episode she characterizes the women she serves as heroes who endure tremendous hardship but always keep going.

To me, the show functions partly as a public service announcement for the health benefits of contraception and safe, legal abortion. The woman who gives birth to the preemie has 24(!!!) other children. The patient with syphyllis miscarries her 13th. These unending pregnancies ravage women’s bodies, age them before their time, and add to seemingly insurmountable poverty.

But what was a woman to do?

At the time, there was no accessible birth control, no family planning clinics, no way to really limit pregnancies in a safe and effective way.  It makes me wonder what those Republicans who want to restrict contraception have in mind for the future. Would they see this ceaseless procreation as a type of utopia? It’s hard to imagine anyone actually advocating to make contraception less accessible.

Opposition to family planning technologies cannot possibly have any public health benefit. That means that opposition to birth control can only mean one thing: opposition to gender equality. For women, having control over our fertility is the baseline for equality. Without control over your fertility, you have no hope of  social equality. Period.

That doesn’t mean that I’m jumping up and down with joy because Bayer has decided to make contraceptive implants more affordable for women in poor countries, or that I’m an unapologetic supporter of DepoProvera, or that I think that the contraceptive patch is the best thing since sliced bread. It doesn’t mean that I don’t see issues with many family planning interventions. But although I have plenty of reservations about hormonal birth control, and sometimes question the zealousness with which international development organizations approach family planning initiatives in other countries, I am 100 percent certain of one thing. Female-controlled birth control is a fundamental right.

I don’t watch much television, but for the next several weeks, I’ll be glued to my set on Sunday nights.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you watch the show? Do you like it?

Maternal health — which issues matter?

Last week, Jessica Valenti, feminist blogger and author, expressed her frustration that a major news organization proposed she dish about her experience with “shedding the baby weight.”  After she pitched a serious story examining the rhetoric of motherhood paraded at this month’s political conventions, the editors responded:

 We’re doing a lot of coverage around Jessica Simpson’s efforts to lose the baby pounds, and we’d love to hear from  Jessica  Valenti about what it was like for her to shed the weight.

It’s a suggestion that is clearly an  insult to a professional writer who analyzes issues of reproduction, motherhood and sexuality. But from a public health perspective, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the mainstream discourse about maternal child health.

Proposing that Valenti write about losing weight becomes even more insulting considering  that she had preeclampsia which led to an emergency C-section and meant she  gave birth three months early to a child who weighed only two pounds.

I was hospitalized after a routine exam showed I had dangerously high blood pressure Andrew and I assumed it was all an overreaction because I didn’t feel sick.   Even though the doctors were telling us I wouldn’t leave the hospital until I gave birth and that I might need to deliver in days, we didn’t really buy it.   We even pooh-poohed the neonatologist who spoke with us about what we should expect having such a premature baby.   We planned as if I would carry Layla to term, bringing DVDs and books to the hospital and starting to create a schedule of visits from family and friends.

I can relate.

Like Valenti, I gave birth three months early.  My water broke at 26 weeks due to preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). I too was told I wouldn’t leave the hospital until I gave birth, but my partner and I  didn’t really buy it  either. We’d planned to give birth at home.


My son in the hospital, born at 28 weeks.


I hadn’t read much in the news about prematurity, and to be honest, I tended to avoid reading health stories pertaining to pregnancy. Reporting about pregnancy and health can be frustrating. Is dieting during pregnancy safe?  Does having a fever during pregnancyincrease your risk of giving birth to a child with autism? How can you work with your pregnancy cravings for nachos and ice cream instead of against them?

On the other hand, maternal health issues concerns like preeclampsia, or even debilitating morning sickness are real, serious and important but often lie outside the public discourse about pregnancy. Even during routine prenatal care, discussions about prematurity or even postpartum depression and anxiety  are often lacking.

We have much to be thankful for in this country, of course. Few women in the US die in labor. Major issues like vesico-vaginal fistula have largely been eradicated, and availability of blood transfusions, sterile conditions, and trained providers mean that giving birth in the US is safer than it is in many parts of the world. And despite our flawed medical system, most pregnant women are even eligible for state-subsidized health insurance.

Still, the US does have an unforgivably  high infant mortality rate, and a 2010 Amnesty International Report claims that two women a die die giving birth in the country. One in every eight babies born in the US will be born before term, which costs the health system millions of dollars. Worldwide, 13 million babies are born too soon.

Yes, shedding the baby weight is a concern for many women after giving birth. But there are so many other important health concerns for pregnant women that barely even get a mention.

Wouldn’t you like to see more quality  reporting about prematurity, preeclampsia, and other issues related to pregnancy? What do you think about reporting on pregnancy and birth in the US? Have you seen reporting about maternal health in other countries that is better (or worse!) than it is in the United States? Is there anything maternal health organizations could do to encourage more reporting on important health issues pertaining to pregnancy and birth?

Let me know your thoughts and insights!