The women are crowded into the dressing room, peeling wet swimsuits from their rounded bellies. An unusual cross-section of women – a technology specialist for the school district, a yoga teacher recently moved back home from life in the tropics, a couple of my high school classmates. One woman, 36 weeks pregnant with her second child, is in the middle of a divorce from her addict husband. “It’s better this way,” we assure her. She is stoic, accepting the way things are.

A set of pregnant sisters has come to swim class tonight. “Are you excited that your sister is pregnant too?” one woman quietly asks the older of the two.

“No,” she shakes her head. “But I’m coming to accept it. I’ve been planning my pregnancy for years – hers wasn’t planned. She always gets all the attention, being the younger sister.”

While pulling on clothes over still damp skin, a woman says her husband’s afraid she’ll turn in Regan from The Exorcist during labor. “Hmm,” I say, from the vantage of my second pregnancy. “Are you planning for a natural birth?”

She says she is, though she’s decided on birthing in the hospital rather than the associated birth center. “I need a big room for all my friends,” she says. “They’re weird so I don’t want them hanging out in the waiting room. Some of them have been to one too many Rainbow Gatherings.” She laughs. “Plus, where would they smoke in the birth center?”

“Hmmm,” I say again. I want to say that her friends certainly won’t be smoking in the hospital’s maternity ward, but I just smile and nod.

My first night in class there was just a small group, 5 of us, and one of us expectant mamas cried as she talked about the C-section that was scheduled a few days away for her breech baby.

“I just don’t want to be cut open,” she said.

But aren’t we all about to be cut open, our hearts exposed, in the process of bringing a new life into the world?

We think we are preparing for the marathon of labor, when really, it’s the parenting that we should be saving all our strength for. It’s parenting, more than giving birth, that’s the test of a lifetime.

Me at 36 weeks pregnant.

Me at 36 weeks pregnant with my second child.

Baby brother's coming soon!

Baby brother’s coming soon!

At 39 weeks pregnant, we’re expecting the arrival of Baby Brother any day now. My freezer is full of dinners I’ve thoughtfully prepared for our family in advance. We’ve spent the last several months cleaning and organizing our apartment. I filed our taxes, and made plans for celebrating my daughter’s April birthday in May.

I’ve been doing prenatal yoga, belly dancing, and water “aerobics” (okay it’s more of a relaxation class) for months. I have midwives and an experienced birth doula, and a free postpartum doula service lined up. I’ve reconfirmed my views on alternative vaccine schedules, decided it’s okay to skip the newborn eye antibiotics since I don’t have gonorrhea, and learned about the benefits of delaying baby’s first bath.

In other words – true to my personality – I’ve carefully controlled the parts of this baby equation that I can control. Ah, control, what an addictive and sweet illusion!

Hahaha.

So I mean, I guess we’re ready.

SONY DSC

I arrive at the middle school at 7:30 a.m., a solid 45 minutes before first period. I need time to find the classroom, make sure it’s unlocked, read the teacher lesson plans, understand the lesson plans, and find any necessary materials. “I’m subbing for 6th grade Language Arts,” I tell the secretary.

She looks at the sub info on her desk. Her expression grows concerned. “No,” she says, “It’s art – can you handle that?”

“Of course,” I say. I have 2 years of experience teaching elementary and middle school, a year of student teaching, and a year of subbing at a high school. “I mean, if she has a lesson plan, I can follow it.”

“Hmmm. I think she uses lesson plans,” the secretary says unconvincingly.

I take my substitute teaching ID and find the classroom. The “lesson plan” is bare bones – in each class students are to use the period to work on finishing up their perspective drawings. The teacher desk is a mess, the floor littered with trash. I wander next door and introduce myself to the shop teacher, a friendly older gentleman who says I can send kids to him if there’s a problem. Even when I had my own private school classroom, I often sent kids to the teacher next door, so this comment doesn’t concern me.

First period comes along, a small group of mostly 8th grade boys. Though they mainly choose to goof off rather than work, this isn’t a concern for me. Some of them are working and some are doing other homework. No one is particularly causing a problem.

The 7th grade class is a different story. A large group of 35 or so, they are a mass of barely contained energy, spinning rulers around their pencils and throwing paper across the table at each other. One table catches my eye and I quickly identify the ringleader. His behavior is not the easygoing goofing off of the 8th grade class. I’ve visited several prisons and chatted with inmates, but never before seen the cold, casually hate-filled look that was in his eyes. I certainly wouldn’t expect it in a 13-year-old child. Great, I’ve entered the plot of Dangerous Minds. Here we go.

I remind this table a few times to get on task. I take away the rulers they won’t stop spinning in the air. I hear the ringleader speaking in a threatening way to another boy at his table. “Is there a problem?”

“No,” he says and smiles. “No problem here.”

As this table continues to show no pretense of doing the assignment despite my reminders, I take the ringleader aside and ask him to go work in the shop class next door. “Fuck that,” he says. “I’ll go to the SRC.” I hand him a referral slip, which he throws on the floor as he walks out.

The table continues not to work. This is surprising – I would expect some attempt at following instructions after this. A few minutes later I ask another boy to leave the class, this time escorting him to the shop class next door. Who do I find in the shop class? Ringleader. “You’re not supposed to be here,” I say.

“Bitch, you told me to come here.”

I do not respond, just walk to the shop teacher and ask him to give Ringleader a behavior referral and send him to SRC. When I get back to the classroom, a girl from The Table – a girl who also has cold, empty eyes – has wandered off to the other side of the room and is doing a cartwheel. At this point I no longer care about this class. I look at the clock. There are 20 minutes left and then I will have a lunch break. If I can make it through the day without quitting, I will have earned $150. I look back at the girl. The other students are looking at her and whispering, giggling. Clearly she wants to get sent out of the classroom, too, like her friends. Not going to happen. Now she’s doing something with scissors. That makes me nervous. Sharp scissors and disaffected, possibly gang-affiliated teenagers are not a good mix.

The 20 minutes pass with little incident. Students file out. I assess the area that Gang Girl had been in – damage left is a puddle of paint on the floor. It’s lunchtime now, and in a few hours I’ll be gone. I don’t have to come back to this school, or to any middle school ever if I don’t want to.

I’m sorry for these teachers, sure. But I’m more sorry for the kids.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

photo credit: Paint Job 2 via photopin (license)

Hello reader. It’s been awhile since I’ve updated. Tonight I’m tempted to write a rant about flame retardants, which are carcinogenic, linked to neurological disorders, and can be found in such items as children’s pajamas, changing pads, car seats, and strollers. You know, because babies often fall asleep while smoking in their strollers. Oh, and since we’ve all been exposed to them in mattresses and sofas since the 1970s, they’re stored in our body tissues and can even be found in our breastmilk. Ugh. (Still, and I think the medical community would back me up here, breastmilk is much preferable to formula if you’re able to breastfeed!).

But, I will take a tip from my preschooler – I will take a deep breath and count to four. There is not much point in getting too upset about things I can’t control – which covers pretty much everything in life. Whew! I’ve learned at this point that I can only control my own choices. I cannot control your choices, or my daughter’s choices, or the choices of those who put toxic chemicals in our furniture (and food, and air, and water).

Actually there is good news regarding flame retardants. As of 2014, they were no longer required to be in furniture in the state of California (the only place where they were ever actually required), and as a result flame-retardant-free furniture is becoming more widely available. Although my husband and I are certainly not in a position to discard all of our old furniture and buy all new furniture, we can and will phase it out over time, as it becomes more available and affordable. Also, flame-retardant-free crib mattresses are and have been widely available, and are not too expensive. We got ours at Target. And there are lots of kids jammies that don’t contain them – just check the label.

So when I get upset about this and other issues, I will remember to take a deep breath and count to four. Because I’m pretty sure that stress is carcinogenic, too.

Today I present to you my very own editorial endorsement for Oregon’s upcoming election. This measure is being fiercely battled, and with quite a lopsided amount of money (the No campaign is bringing in double the donations), so I thought I’d throw in my two cents. This measure is also important to me as a mom — as I’ll explain.

Yes on Measure 92, GMO Labeling. It’s hard to believe that this is such a battle. Why wouldn’t we want the right to know what’s in our food? However, with millions of dollars coming in from Monsanto for the No on 92 campaign, it’s become a David vs. Goliath situation. Money buys elections. In case you’re unfamiliar with Monsanto, it is a multi-billion dollar chemical company.  (Here’s an interesting article about them). They’re bent out of shape because if this measure passes then Oregon will be the first state in the U.S. to require GMO labeling. Some pertinent info about this ballet measure, pulled from the Yes on 92 website:

Who else labels? 64 countries around the world require labeling of all GMO food, including all of the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and China.

Will labeling raise the cost of food? Labeling will cost about $2.30 per consumer per year.

Why do I care if GMOs are in my food? Most GMO food is designed to be resistant to pesticides. Some even manufacture their own pesticides — in which case, no amount of washing your produce can remove that pesticide residue. We also don’t know the long-term health effects of eating genetically modified foods — we are the guinea pigs to discover if they cause cancer or other health problems.

As a mom, I want to avoid feeding my child GMO food as much as possible, because I’m wary of the long-term health repercussions. I don’t trust food that was made in a chemistry lab. And even if it is safe — we still have the right to know what’s in our food.

The wife of Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, didn't have many career options.

The wife of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, didn’t have many career options. Photo credit: Alice Evans

 

It seems that people in my generation, commonly known as Millennials, have some confusion over this issue of finding their “calling.” And really, can you blame us? We’ve grown up in an era of unprecedented opportunities. We’ve all been told since we were little that we could be anything we wanted when we grew up — if we just believed in ourselves and worked hard enough. Here, have some fairy dust to go along with that thought.

So, do you want to be a politician, a scientist, an artist, a lawyer, or a surgeon? An astronaut, a marine biologist, or a kindergarten teacher? The problem with too many choices is that it’s overwhelming. Our limited brains can’t handle an unlimited number of options. It can be hard enough to choose whether to make spaghetti or tacos for dinner.

It’s also unrealistic to say that we have unlimited career options. Professional athlete is out reach for most of us, I think. Yet many people are lucky enough to have a variety of options. My dad had a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and later decided to get his master’s in Computer Science and became a computer programmer. My friend Holly had a degree in Romance Languages and 6 years later is in the midst of physical therapy school. Her husband was a landscape architect and is now a middle school teacher. So we do have options, and we can even change career paths if we choose.

I’ve done a lot of praying, reading and general soul-searching about my calling over the years. I want to live a meaningful life — I believe there are specific reasons I’m alive and I don’t want to miss out on those reasons.  Here’s what I’ve come to believe about the topic of finding your calling.

Your calling is about more than paid work. Some important aspects of your life-calling involve your relationship to others. If you’re married, being a loving and supportive spouse is a significant part of your calling. Likewise, if you’re a parent, you’re called to be a great one. And we’re all called to be loving and supportive friends to different people at different times.

You have more than one right choice. If life were a test, it would be an essay test, and not a multiple choice one. I believe if you genuinely desire to do something meaningful with your life — then you will. It’s not really as complicated as we make it out to be.

Work is still work. Even if you are lucky enough to make a living pursuing your calling, it’s still work. There will still be moments when you won’t want to do it. You will still have to interact with difficult people, and complete boring tasks.

Examine your talents, passions, and opportunities. We all have specific talents and passions and I believe God wants us to use them to help others. My husband is a talented landscape designer, and he knew he wanted to pursue landscape architecture since he was a little boy. He hasn’t been able to work in the design field for the last 6 years because of the recession, but it’s my belief that he will get back to it — when the opportunity becomes available.

My soul-searching has led me to discover that  — as unfeminist as this sounds — being a great mother and wife is a huge part of my calling. Perhaps the most important part. But I also know that it’s not my entire calling, because I have a passion to do more. I know that writing is part of my calling because I just can’t stop writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5-years-old. I’ve loved all my freelance writing and editing jobs even when I had to write about horribly boring topics.

Will writing turn out to be the bulk of my paid work, or more of a creative outlet? Or will I go back to being a classroom teacher? There are lots of things about teaching that I love, and some things that are challenging. We’ll have to wait and see what opportunities arise…

Have you found your calling? What is it?

Are doctors the best advocates for our wellbeing?

Are doctors always the best advocates for our wellbeing?

I’ve found that doctors generally don’t like to be questioned. And it would be easier if I could just unquestioningly follow their advice, but over the years I’ve discovered that I am the best advocate for my health and my child’s health. For example, a doctor once tried to prescribe me an anti-malaria medication that included psychosis as a potential side effect — and then belittled me when I asked him to instead prescribe me a different medication that had only minor side effects. Or, when I told my ob/gyn that I didn’t want to be induced (unless absolutely necessary) because Pitocin is known to cause more painful contractions — he blatantly lied to me and said that wasn’t true.

That being said, I would have gone ahead and vaccinated my daughter on the regular schedule, but my husband and I took a newborn care class where some parents were raising questions about vaccinations. For example, why is the Hep B vaccine given to all newborns? Babies need it if mom is Hep B positive, and it’s a good idea if any other close family is Hep B positive, but it’s a fairly rare, bloodborne disease. Our newborn care teacher recommended The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears for more information on vaccines.

I ended up following Dr. Sears suggested alternative vaccine schedule, with a few variations. I felt more comfortable with this than the recommended schedule because it spaces out the vaccines, so my daughter didn’t have to get as many shots at once. I was concerned that giving her so many shots at one time might be hard on her immune system. The official CDC schedule gives a 2-month-old 6 vaccines in one visit.

Here are the first few months of the Dr. Sears Alternative Schedule:

2 months (well-child visit)  DTaP, Rotavirus
3 months (shot-only visit)  Pc, HIB
4 months (well-child)  DTaP, Rotavirus
5 months (shot-only) Pc, HIB
6 months (well) DTaP, Rotavirus
7 months (shot) Pc, HIB

Some challenges I found with the alternative vaccination schedule are that:

It’s confusing. You will have to tell the pediatrician which shots you want at each visit. You have to know the schedule you are following and advocate for it. If you’re not paying close attention, your child may end up missing some vaccines for longer than you’d planned.

It’s time-consuming. Breaking the vaccine schedule up means more visits to the doctor. I took my daughter to the pediatrician once a month for shots for her first 7 months.

Some doctors really don’t like it. I chose a pediatrician who was comfortable with an alternative schedule, and he even suggested delaying MMR further until my daughter’s immune system was more mature. However some pediatricians are unwilling to deter from the official vaccine schedule.

So, will I follow an alternative vaccine schedule with our next child? Probably. Here’s why:

It feels safer to me.* I do realize that most children follow the official schedule without ramifications. I also think that if I were a doctor or public health official I would advocate for people to follow the official schedule. It’s in the best interest of public health for vaccination rates to be as high as possible — and the easiest way for that to happen is for people to follow the official vaccine schedule. But I don’t want to take risks with my child. So for me that means making sure she gets all the required vaccines, yet spacing them out. One of my reasons for being extra cautious is that I have a lot of allergies, some of them life-threatening, which means my daughter has a higher chance of developing allergies. She might be at a higher risk of having an allergic reaction to a vaccine, or perhaps too many vaccines at once might mess with her immune system and increase her risk of allergies. Who knows? I think the immune system is pretty complicated and we don’t understand it very well.

I also know that the vaccine-autism link is basically considered an urban legend by many. But after reading the Dr. Sears book, he says there have been court cases where families received settlements after evidence was found that a vaccination did trigger autism in their child. The catch? They were not allowed to use the word “autism.” I also have a close friend whose brother has autism — and the family has always been convinced that it was triggered by a vaccine.

If you want more information on alternative vaccine schedules, I recommend reading The Vaccine Book and talking with your child’s pediatrician. We did make some changes to Dr. Sears Alternative Schedule, such as delaying MMR further and giving Hep A much sooner.

*Please don’t sue me, this is just my opinion. The CDC and most pediatricians will tell you that the official vaccine schedule is perfectly safe.

Have you followed an alternative vaccine schedule with your child? Would you do the same again?

Photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 179 other followers