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Monday, June 18, 2012

Freedom of Religion and Children

Does freedom of religion mean the right to enforce your religion on your children?  I know that there are some extremes we will not allow.  You can't use sharia law to justify killing your daughter who had premarital sex, or use Leviticus to justify killing your homosexual son.  We won't allow religious people to hide behind their dogma to beat their children, but it seems to be fine to verbally abuse them using religious texts.  They can certainly use their religious beliefs to dictate their children's diets, education and clothing.  They can force them to to attend their religious rituals and participate in their ceremonies.

I'm not going to use this entire post to bash circumcision, but it is a problem.  Recently in the news, a baby boy died and 10 others were hospitalized because of an ultra-traditional bris.  What was so traditional about it?  Orogenital suction after removal of the foreskin.  Know what that means?  The mohel sucks the blood off the bleeding penis!  How is this legal?  How is this not considered sexual molestation of a child?  Sadistic molestation, at that, since the poor kid is screaming in pain after cosmetic surgery preformed on his genitals without anesthesia while this is going on.  Of course, to any normal or rational person, this sounds like a bad idea, since the human mouth is riddled with bacteria and microorganisms that could possibly harm a newborn baby with an immature immune system.  The mohel in this case had the herpes virus in his mouth.  Herpes is far more dangerous to a baby than it is to an adult, as indicated by the one death and 10 hospitalizations.

I would go so far as to argue that non-religious circumcision (though pointless, painful, mutilating and unnecessarily traumatic) is better for the child than a bris.  At least in a medical environment there is a chance that the child will have some sort of anesthesia, that the environment will be sterile, and the child will be observed for possible complications.

But it is their right to do this to their kids, right?  Freedom of religion.  What about the rights of the children?  No baby boy has the power to say no to his circumcision (or I daresay there would be no circumcised men,) no child has the right to refuse their parents' religious homeschooling and attend public school to better prepare themselves for college, no sick child has the right to access medicine (unless they're on death's doorstep and someone intercedes in time) if their parents believe only in prayer for healing, and no child has the right to refuse religious ceremonies/rituals/teachings that they disagree with until they are 18 or they are emancipated.

Why is this? Why are we so fast to defend the rights of adults to be free to express and practice their religion, but the rights of their children who may disagree with them are so utterly dismissed?  Children have the ability to think, and therefore to decide how they think the universe works.  Why can't they come to their own conclusions and have those conclusions protected?

Enforcement of one's religion on children is child abuse, as far as I'm concerned.  Children can be forced to fast for Ramadan, to attend Catholic catechism, to don skirts and dresses only in the name of "propriety" if they are girls in a fundamentalist family, to attend "counseling" to reject the "gay lifestyle," to sit still for hours listening to sermons that amount to little more than hate speech, and all this is considered normal and protected.

Is this where our modern conservative movement got the idea that it's fine to enforce one's religious beliefs on the rest of the populace?  It makes sense to me that children, who were forced to acquiesce to their parents' beliefs, now think it's fine as adults to force the entire nation to accept their dogma as law. There is no other reason to have a National Day of Prayer, the words "under god" in the pledge of allegiance, a 10 Commandments monument on public property, or the ridiculous new restrictions on abortion.

It is true that most children are not raised in religiously oppressive or harmful homes, but I think it's important to consider the rights of children who are.  Worse than their inability to leave as the abuse is happening, is the 18 years of brainwashing they can legally be subjected to, possibly changing their minds in the end, and allowing the cycle to continue.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Abortion "Safety" Regulations

It's happening again.  There's another round of legislature worded to sound like the intent is to "improve the safety of abortion for women" in the works.  Let's be clear, here.  Abortion is one of the safest procedures you can have done.  The odds of death from surgical abortion are 1 in 160,000.  To contrast this, be aware that the odds of death from general anesthesia are 11-16 in 100,000.  The odds of death from toxic shock syndrome as a complication of having an incomplete medical (pill) abortion are less than 1 in 100,000.  In fact, only 6 of these cases have been reported in the US and Canada combined.   Odds of death from complications of pregnancy and birth are 14.5 per 100,000 births and 12 per 100,000 live births, respectively.

My question is, if these abortions are going off without a hitch, why do we have legislature aimed at making them "safer?"  Why are we not drafting bills to make pregnancy and birth safer?  Oh yeah, because then we're worried about the safety of women, not fetuses.  My mistake!  Fetal and embryonic demise is so "in" this political season as a subject of note.  Women and their rights are just blase.

Understand this: the only reason to draft these bills is to restrict access to abortion, make it more cost-prohibitive, and make it more difficult for doctors and their facilities to provide them.  It's the wording that they've chosen that allows them to feign interest in women's health and well-being, and allows others ignorant of the situation to believe them!  Do not allow anyone in your hearing to say that abortion needs to be safer or intimate that any of these bills have women's interests at their roots.  They are anti-choice, pure and simple.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Catholic Church is Evil. Period.

So, now that I've totally railed on the Catholic church on a personal level, I'm going to take some time to tell you why that institution is bad for our nation, and humanity as a whole.

Everyone likes to tell me how wonderful the church is, and how much charity work they do.  That argument is not going to work on me because everything they do can be done better, with a greater percentage of the money going to actually helping people, if it was done by a secular charity.  In recent news,  the Vatican been attempting to prevent nuns from attending to the types of issues we traditionally think of as christian charity work (working in homeless shelters, food kitchens and healthcare facilities) in favor of them furthering the church's political influence.  The gall that they have to so publicly state that their focus is not on helping people anymore, that it's on influencing politics, should appall everyone in this day and age.  All the good Catholicism does in the world is wiped out, and then some, by all the horrors it visits upon it.

I could rehash the priests abusing children argument, but it's old.  We all know it, we know that the church doesn't deny it anymore, and we know that they're still not holding those priests accountable for their actions.  Oh, some are being prosecuted in the US, but on the whole, the church's policy of moving molesters to new parishes, often in other countries, to sweep the issue under the rug is well known.  The fact that the Catholic church, as an organization, was content to just get away with it quietly, for the sake of keeping its name clean, for so long speaks volumes of its character.

This one issue has brought up other problems, as well.  Since homosexuals are not considered inherently sinful in the Catholic church so long as they abstain from "acting on their homosexual urges," and they are therefore encouraged (and often feel like their only real choice in life) is to become a priest.  So, with an inordinately high percentage of the priesthood known to be homosexual or bisexual, and the child molestation issue so prevalent in the news and media, the unwarranted link between homosexuality and pedophilia has become reinforced.

Furthermore, this covered up and drew attention away from the girls who had been abused, as well as the nuns who had been raped.  This is a problem inherent in a Church that vilifies sex, and treats the "sin" of masturbation the same as the sin of rape, pedophilia or murder.  Yep, everything I just listed was a "mortal sin" to be confessed and washed away by a priest's assignment of a few "Hail Mary's."  Sure they're not necessarily truly equal in the "eyes of god," but any priest will tell you that masturbation is a sin that could send you to hell just like the others.

I'm not bringing up the church's specific dogma to argue it.  They can believe whatever crazy shit they want.  The point is that this is the culture they have created.  It is one with an emphasis on guilt over sexuality.  Do what gets you off, but feel really awful about it and confess later.  This is the root of many kinks and perversions.  Kinks are fine.  Enjoy getting off while rubbing a balloon on your balls and singing showtoons on top of the kitchen table.  That does not effect my life one bit, and if it enhances yours and doesn't hurt anyone in the process, you have my blessing and sincere hope that you find someone to share in your kink.  Perversions, such as pedophilia and rape-fantasy, though, are a different story entirely.  The people who have these perversions almost always seem to have some sort of sexual guilt instilled in them early on.  So, this Catholic attitude toward sex is like spinning the wheel of chance and hoping for kink over perversion.  Odds are, most people are going to come out with kinks (or prudish hang-ups,) but it's not fair that the church gets to get away with creating any perverts, few though they are.

So, we all know that the Vatican is rich as well.  I could wax on forever about how those greedy bitches could use some of that over-the-top wealth to actually feed, clothe and educate people, but that argument is also tired.  It's been made, and we all know that the Catholic church is nowhere near that virtuous.  No, they would much rather ask their members for money, and then use that money for things like the miseducation of Africans regarding HIV.  I wonder how many HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths could be directly linked to the Catholic church's campaign to tell people that condoms don't prevent transmission of the disease?  It would be interesting to know.  Of course, killing one person with a lie like that is unconscionable, but somehow I bet the pope sleeps just fine beside his massive, silly hat.  After all, he's the voice of god on earth.

There are real problems with any religion that encourages its members to get its information from a person, rather than to read, explore, and find it themselves.  In fact, depending on which definition you use, this pyramid-style structure of leadership and funding could define the Catholic church as a cult.  The sing-song sermons, which were given in Latin until fairly recently, are designed to be hard to follow.  The wording is such that the meaning isn't always obvious, and it's clear that church members are supposed to have a relationship with the priest in which they ask his opinion directly.  He'll then spout off the pope's policies, and the congregation will just have to accept that the notions of right and wrong coming from a celibate, ancient man living in a house of gold in Italy, are from god himself.

When I was young I noticed that I was told to pray to this saint or that, to pray to Jesus or the virgin Mary, but I was never really advised to pray to god himself.  My catechism instructor told me often that I wasn't supposed to pray to god directly because we could not really understand him, but that the saints and Jesus, who were once mortal, could carry my messages there better.  This sounded like such a  crock to me.  Even as a child, I thought that dealing with a "middleman" was a waste of time and effort. But it seems important to the Catholics to keep their god "untouchable," and the pope is another way of reinforcing this.

The Catholics have really pissed everyone off lately with their insistence that the women they employ not receive birth control coverage.  It is not a violation of their religious rights and freedom to make sure that all their employees are treated the same as employees everywhere else in the nation.  It is not fair to make women employed by Catholic institutions, such as colleges and hospitals, have to pay out of pocket for contraception that they do not have to pay a penny more for.  It is their way of continuing to subjugate women and treat them as though they are worth less than men.  What makes this all really ridiculous is that the Catholic institutions don't even have to offer the birth control...the insurance company does.  They're obviously doing this willingly since paying for birth control is considerably cheaper than paying for a pregnancy, birth and then a child.  But the church does not want their employees to even have the ability to obtain birth control coverage separate from them.  It's inexcusable misogyny, pure and simple, especially since over 90% of Catholic women themselves have or will use birth control in their lifetimes.

The Catholics are responsible for atrocities across the globe.  How is this tolerated by the people?  How is this possible?  It has to be the vast numbers of "casual, cultural Catholics," whom I will now refer to as CCC's.  The CCC population makes up the majority of Catholics.  They do not agree with all the church's dogma, most of them scoff at the idea that the pope is god's voice on earth, that birth control is "against god's will," that marriages preformed outside the church are invalid, that condoms do not prevent AIDS, or that women are in any way less than men.  Why the hell are they still Catholic, you ask?  Why, because their families are.  It's how they were raised, and the church has done an excellent job of convincing people that their children need a "religious foundation" to grow up to be good, moral citizens.  So, people who may move away from attending mass while they are young adults (but still claim to be Catholic) will drift back in during the pregnancy with the first child, have them baptized, and then attend church on a regular basis to start the cycle all over again.  Their children will then think that they "needed" this moral training, and have memories of baptisms, catechism, weddings, first holy communions and confirmations in the church, pancake breakfasts, bingo nights and various fundraisers put on by the nuns or the youth group.  They'll think again about how they want to be buried in the same (Catholic) cemetery as their family, and how Catholicism, though deeply flawed, is "part of their culture."  It's so deeply ingrained in the Italian, Mexican and Irish cultures in this country that it's nearly assumed that people with these backgrounds are Catholic.  They have their own traditions that intricately involve the church or its stories to make them make sense.  Keep in mind that the Catholic church accomplished this by taking the native traditions and stories and redefining them to be Catholic oriented.  So, for many CCC's (because they don't know any better,) their own culture does not make sense without Catholicism.  They have happy memories they want to pass on to their children, and there is a lot of pressure to stay within the church's ranks from family and friends.

What do CCC's have to do with AIDS in Africa, transferring child molesters across seas or birth control policy?  Well, the church couldn't do any of these things without funding.  Since the majority of Catholics are CCC's, it stand to reason that the majority of their money comes from them.  Furthermore, in this country, we don't even tax them, despite the fact that they run for-profit entities, like hospitals and universities.  The CCC's complacently allow this to happen.  By not withholding money from the church, by lending a voice to the huge number of Catholics, they are distant enablers to the horrors committed by Catholicism today.  The church is able to claim that they should have their policies allowed because x-percentage of the population is Catholic.  It's unacceptable, and most CCC's have no idea that they're even remotely contributing to it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My Personal Catholic History

I am going to launch into why the Catholic church is an abomination that should be destroyed, but before I do that, I think it's only fair to give you my personal history with it.

I was raised Catholic. I understood that I could be a horrific "sinner" all the time, so long as I went to confession and had my slate cleaned from time to time.  It was also understood that inaction was virtuous. In other words, it was better to just avoid doing anything "wrong" in the eyes of the church, than to go out of your way to do good in the world and commit small "sins" along the way.  Animals were not ever going to heaven, and their suffering was especially ignorable, since they were ours to do with as we pleased.  After all, god put them here for us, and gave us dominion over them.  I understood that my body was a filthy, ugly thing that needed to be covered up, and that anything pleasurable was, well, sinful.  This especially extended to anything sexual.  The purest, best life was one that did not involve sex or masturbation at all.  Another decent choice was to wait until marriage to have sex with one man, with whom I wouldn't use birth control, and pop out kids for god and the church until my exhausted uterus gave out or I died a virtuous woman.  I could also practice "natural family planning," a technique that had turned all the youth group leaders into parents, themselves.  Furthermore, condoms were evil, since having one around meant that I might be planning sex, and they were deceptive tools of the liberal media, since they didn't actually prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.  Only abstinence and fidelity could do that.  Gay people were not inherently sinful, so long as they didn't act on their "urges." (believe it or not, when I heard this, I reasoned for myself that the best thing to do if you were gay was to become a priest or a nun.)  Every baby conceived was wanted by god, and so should be wanted by us, as mortals.  There was no excuse, ever, for an abortion.  A doomed mother who died carrying a baby in her belly was blessed, receiving a special place in heaven as a martyr.  This was our place in life as women, since we were never meant to be in charge of anything, except maybe a nunnery.  Men took their rightful place as leaders, and even the holiest of women, the nuns, were their servants.  In fact, the male leaders were pure and righteous because they didn't sully themselves with women at all.  Most disturbing of all to me, was how I looked at babies.  Babies came into the world with a black mark on their heads, original sin, that was only washed clean after baptism.  At that point, I looked at a baby with envy.  They were so pure and unmarred by the years of sins that my dirty little soul had 10 years of age.

Some of you might be wondering about all the sex-related issues that I knew about at such a young age.  No, the church did not typically address these issues by age 10.  But I had a mother who gave me an extensive "talk" at 10, and I brought up a lot of questions to my catechism instructors.  Most of the time they brushed them aside and tried to avoid them, but if I kept asking they'd take my aside and mumble out the church's doctrine and dogma.   So that's how I came to know how the world was supposed to work, according to the pope, at 10.

I cannot look back at my years of Catholic upbringing without a wave of revulsion for the church.  Everything I listed above was how I viewed the world at 10.  I fought against it, but deep down I'd been conditioned to believe this way.  I wrestled with self-loathing whenever I did something I knew was wrong in the eyes of my catechism instructors (and I was too shy to ever approach a priest, deacon or bishop) but I couldn't help myself.  I knew something was wrong.  Life was laid out so simply before me, but I knew there was more.  So, I went through the weekly ritual of going to church on Sunday, doing my best to occupy myself and try to ignore the sing-song sermon of love-love-GUILT-love-HATE-HATE-GUILT- HATE YOURSELF-love-love. I played with my siblings, which earned me a dirty look, then a smack, then threats.  I tried to fall asleep or zone out.  That garnered the same response.  When it was clear that my desire to no longer listen to this soul poison was not ever going to be honored, I became outright rebellious.  Activating my siblings to the cause wasn't difficult.  I don't know that they were old enough to actually think much about what was being said, but I know they were bored.  So I pretended to fall over, loudly and flat on my face in the middle of the aisle, when we had to kneel.  This was especially embarrassing for my parents because my father liked to sit in the front row.  He started moving us farther back.  My brother and I would play "bloody knuckles" against the pews in front of us when we had to hold hands and sing.  Dad moved us back farther.  I realized that the babies were a better weapon against my parents than my older siblings.  Enticing them to loudly cry, laugh or shriek, wasn't so hard.  It echoed against through the hall, and we had to move back into the "baby room."  I liked that better, but it still wasn't what I wanted.  I wanted to get away from there.  I wanted to sleep in on Sunday and stay up on Saturday night.  The tomboy in me hated the dresses and skirts I had to wear to a place I didn't respect.  Most of all, the burgeoning free-thinker in me couldn't abide the lessons I was being taught.  I ramped up my assaults on Mass, and Dad cracked down on me.  At one point in my childhood, I was grounded for 12 weeks straight.  Bad behavior in church earned me a week of grounding.  I could stop being grounded when I behaved myself in church the next week.

I never did.  Dad finally broke when he realized that my grounding restricted the entire family from going to Disneyland.  I quietly noted my victory, and continued this pattern for years.  My parents slowly stopped making us attend weekly, then it became a monthly thing, and toward the end we just had to go before we could open presents on Christmas.  That one chafed me.  The idea that we had to endure a special, extra-long Mass, when school was out and all we wanted to do was open presents and play just irritated me to no end.  My parents eventually realized that this was an effort in futility, and took us to midnight Mass on Christmas eve to "fulfill our obligation."

The entire time this was going on my parents had been sending me to catechism.  The weekly religious classes, which my parents, who could not afford to live on their own, paid for, were a more personal reinforcement of the church's teachings.  I will say that catechism is the place where I finally learned that not all adults are worth respecting.  I had several teachers who were nice, but they were all condescending when I presented them with real questions.  I was a precocious child and an avid reader.  At age 8, I read about reincarnation and decided immediately that this was what I believed in.  When I presented my findings to her, bright-eyed and smiling, I asserted myself.  I didn't say, "This is what I think."  I told her, "This is what I know is the truth."  She stared at me for a moment, shook her head and said, "You don't believe that.  You're Catholic.  Now go sit down."  I figured that she hadn't understood me, and, thinking I was revealing some great, new knowledge, I kept going and insisted on telling other members of the class.  At this point she was annoyed, and grabbed me by the arm.  "I said no, you don't think that because you're Catholic.  You need to sit down now."  She shoved me into my seat, and I don't think I heard a word of what she said for the rest of class.  I was totally consumed by the idea of people telling me what to think and insisting that I could not reason for myself.  It truly was a pivotal moment in my childhood.  At that point I realized that I deserved to make my own conclusions.  Now contrast this with the education I was receiving as a Catholic, and you can see why I became a very rebellious teenager.

I have never had an issue talking about sex.  Even from the beginning, I felt that my questions shouldn't inspire blushing, they should just be answered with frank information.  I knew I could make a lot of prudish people, people I didn't respect anyway, uncomfortable by continually bringing up sex.  So when catechism was over and weekly youth group began, so did the continual sex talk.  I wanted intimate details about the church's stance on anal, oral, and vaginal sex.  I wanted to know all about masturbation.  Was it okay if you used a vibrator?  What about something that wasn't your hand or a vibrator?  What about someone else's hand?  I kept it up until the youth group leader suggested that I would enjoy my hour of time with them better just playing pool in the front room.  So, sometimes I played pool.  Sometimes my dad would drop me off at youth group where I'd make an appearance, and I'd go behind the church and across the street to have sex with my boyfriend at his house.  I'd always show back up a few minutes before dad had to pick me up again, and the youth group leaders never tattled on me.  I used to wonder about that, but now I realize that my power to render their youth group unproductive was enough to keep them out of my business.

I was a nuisance in the church, and I was proud of it.  I was an angry teenager, and the majority of my anger was directed at the church.  They lied to me, misunderstood me, ignored me, and wanted to control me.  I was angry that my cash-strapped parents, the ones who were desperately in debt trying to support 6 kids, including one with spina bifida, gave them money.  And the gall that the church had to ask for that money blew me away.

This upbringing, more than anything, taught me that empathy was not an effective tool for life.  No one made an attempt to empathize with me, and I was never encouraged through the church to empathize with others.  My parents taught me differently, but being sent to catechism and church to be taught the opposite of what they taught me, confused me and made me upset that they believed one way, and let the church try to teach me another.  My parents disagreed with the church on several issues, including birth control and some abortion issues, but they didn't feel that these reasons were strong enough to leave behind the church they'd been raised in.

This "cultural Catholicism" is the root of all the problems caused by the church.  I'll address that in my next post.

I finally broke my parents' will to drag me to church at the age of 16.  Mom was battle-weary from fighting with her children and enduring crying and arguing every time they took us there, and dad gave in to her begging to stop taking us.  My parents also started reading a lot of New Age-type literature at this point.  "Conversations with God" was particularly thought-inspiring to them. My religious torture ended at age 16, but a lot of damage had been done.  It would take over a decade to undo it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Politics of Breastfeeding

I have to admit that I'm shocked that I have to chime in on breastfeeding as an issue today, but with the recent Time magazine article on Attachment Parenting, the New York formula ban in hospitals, and the recent photo of women in uniform nursing their babies, I feel that it's time for me to speak up.

I am a mother of two, an attachment parent, and a women who regularly attends La Leche League meetings.  We now know from recent research that women who were breastfed as babies or who watched their mothers breastfeed are more likely to breastfeed their own babies.  I know I was at a distinct advantage because I had been breastfed, had a family supportive of my breastfeeding efforts, am a college graduate, a non-smoker and I have no real modesty to speak of.

I can still tell you that breastfeeding was not easy in the beginning.  It's not always comfortable, learning to use a breast pump isn't natural, overhauling your wardrobe to make your breasts accessible 24/7 isn't something you necessarily think to do and the first time anyone breastfeeds in public it can feel awkward and strange.  By the way, this is the opinion of someone who will readily state that I had an easy time breastfeeding.

I'd like to state for the record that it is almost never the fault of the mother for not breastfeeding or not breastfeeding as long as she would like.  Despite a lot of legislature protecting women's rights to breastfeed in public, cultural biases and standards loom large in the face of a mother trying to do what is best for her baby.

Your right to breastfeed in any private or public place is protected in 45 states.  Breastfeeding is exempted from public indecency laws in 28 states (we need to work on increasing that number,) and 24 states have laws regarding breastfeeding and the workplace (again, that is a number we need to work on.)  Only 12 states and Puerto Rico will exempt women from jury duty if she is breastfeeding, and a pitiful 5 states and Puerto Rico have a breastfeeding awareness and education campaign.

It seems really simple on paper.  Breastmilk is best for your baby.  It has compounds in it that we cannot even begin to replicate in a lab, much less in commercially prepared formula.  It supplements the baby's immune system.  It's better for the baby's brain.  It's nutritionally balanced, helps prevent diarrhea and ear infections, is better for babies with reflux, lowers incidence of obesity and diabetes later in life.  It is considered a clear fluid and is therefore the only way to provide a vomiting baby with complete nutrition.  At every turn, research is finding more interesting and amazing components in human milk. It's liquid gold.  Best of all, it's free.  Who wouldn't want to give this to their baby?

Well, fighting our puritan-based society's ridiculous sexualization of our breasts is battle #1.  This problem alone is probably to blame for most women quitting or not even initiating breastfeeding.  It makes everything about breastfeeding awkward and uncomfortable.  Teens (read: the undereducated) are among the least likely to breastfeed and many of them cite how "weird" and "gross" allowing their babies to suck on a nipple is.  I would argue that it's a much less physical than the act that put the baby inside them in the first place, but that's beside the point.  They think like this because they're immature, and it is that immaturity in our society as a whole that has lead us to have any problem whatsoever with breastfeeding, no matter how much breast, nipple or areola is exposed.

I've been told it "just makes good sense" and it's "only polite" to cover up while nursing my baby in public.  Both those people got a big middle finger in the face in the form of my prompt, uncovered nursing right in front of them while I insisted on carrying on a conversation with them.  I simply refuse to use a "nursing cover," because I find them preposterous.  I won't eat with a blanket over my head, so I won't ask my baby to.  I also think it takes away the bonding aspect of nursing.  Yet women seek these covers and pay good money for them in the name of modesty and "respect."  Public breastfeeding is crucial in promoting breastfeeding because it desensitizes the public to it.  If we see it everywhere, it becomes normal and natural.  Furthermore, women who were reluctant to feed their babies in public become encouraged to do it when they see other women doing it and everyone around them perceiving it (correctly!) as "no big deal."

Modesty is the useless virtue.  It benefits no one, hinders and harms many, and has allowed this puritan "bodily shame" to continue unchecked for generations.  It's time to stop claiming that modesty has any benefits.

That brings us to the controversy over breastfeeding images in the media and politics.  This is not a sensationalist image:

This one is:

See the difference?  A mother breastfeeding her babies, staring into their faces and smiling is not a bid for attention despite the fact that she's wearing her Air Force uniform.  A sexy, young mother staring boldly into the camera while nursing her standing preschooler is definitely trying to stir up controversy and attention, and it doesn't matter that you can't actually see her boob.

I listened to the two women in the Air Force uniform on their interview for NPR, as well as a woman publicly criticizing them for doing this photo shoot.  First of all, the viral photo I posted above was one of only two shots of the women in uniform from an entire photo shoot in the park that day.  It was never intended to be exclusively about women in uniform breastfeeding.  The women also did not anticipate the uproar these photos caused.

They were informed that it was inappropriate to use their uniforms to "promote a product" such as breastfeeding.  What?  I think the military might have had a case for this argument if she had been using a Boppy nursing pillow with the logo showing, but they were just feeding their babies.  In fact, by this logic, no woman should ever be allowed to be seen bottle feeding in uniform.  That's direct promotion of the formula and bottle companies!  Except no one has ever made this argument.  Bottle feeding would be fine, but breastfeeding, an act of bonding that provides unarguably superior nutrition is under fire?  Inconceivable!

Another argument that was put forward was that this was an inappropriate action because the woman nursing twins was not being discreet enough.  Furthermore, it's been said that these women need to understand that, as military mothers, some things must be sacrificed for the sake of appearances, and breastfeeding is one of those things.

What?!  Are we so all-consumed with our Victorian need for propriety that a baby's need for proper nutrition is secondary?  The idea that someone could have the gall to make such a statement in all seriousness this day in age just floors me.  It is a baby having a meal.  Anywhere a baby needs to eat is a place where a baby should be allowed to nurse.  Period.  There are no caveats to that.

The idea that the woman is nursing multiples also doesn't seem to come into the argument for her to cover up, and I think it's because so few people have ever tried to nurse two children at once.  It's hard enough to keep any visible skin covered while feeding one baby (so I don't even bother to try,) why would anyone expect this to be an accomplishable task while nursing two?

As I see it, these two women are promoting the military as a family-friendly environment, and one that supports a woman's right to raise her child the healthiest way possible.  What could possibly be wrong with that?

That brings me to my next point: our miserable breastfeeding rates.  Are they better than they have been since the "formula boom" of the 1950's?  Yes, they absolutely are.  But we're still nowhere near where we should be.  About 75% of all women start out breastfeeding their newborns.  By 4 months it drops to just over 50%, with only about a quarter of women breastfeeding exclusively, as is recommended until at least 6 months of age.  By 6 months about 44% are breastfeeding at all, and a measly 14% are still breastfeeding exclusively.  At a year, only about 24% are still breastfeeding.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least a year of breastfeeding (6 months exclusively,) and the World Health Organization recommends 2 years.  There is no upper limit to the benefits of breastfeeding, and it should continue as long as the mother and the child are happy with it.  See what I mean when I say we still have a long way to go?

So we should be doing everything possible to boost our breastfeeding rates, right?  I mean, 85% of moms want to breastfeed exclusively for 3 months or more.  So why do just under a third of women meet that goal?

As I said before, there are lots of factors that get in the way of a mothers breastfeeding goals.  Hospital and formula sabotage are high among those.  Mothers who have had a cesarean section (a practice that is grossly abused by hospitals and doctors trying to speed the birth process along) are less likely to breastfeed immediately, and women who are unable to breastfeed within an hour of birth are less likely to breastfeed on a longer timeline.  Babies given bottles of formula and pacifiers were more likely to have problems nursing, as well.  These routine practices need to end to promote breastfeeding as a whole.

On this episode of "The View," the women discuss a proposed ban in New York, wherein formulas companies would be prohibited from giving out free formula to new mothers.  Sounds crazy, right?  I mean, I'm a huge proponent of women's rights to all choices in their lives.  Formula feeding is a valid parenting choice.  Wouldn't any good feminist be against this?

Actually, no.  An educated feminist would be applauding this ban.

Since 85% of women want to breastfeed, and free formula samples sabotage that, they should not be offered.  I am not saying that they should not be available on a request-only basis, but a policy that allows formula companies to freely use hospitals to pass out their products when women are at their most tired, vulnerable and open to any suggestion that will stop a frustrated newborn from crying, is not a feminist policy.  Furthermore, nurses need to be trained to help and encourage mothers to breastfeed, rather than bring in a bottle of formula and tell her it's okay to give "just one bottle."  "Just one bottle" helps sabotage milk production, especially in the beginning.  It helps get the baby used to a rubber nipple, and makes it more painful when they latch onto a human one.  It makes the mother feel like a failure when they see their baby gulping down inferior formula after they've struggled for an hour to get a newborn to latch on properly.

None of this is okay.  It is not okay for formula companies to offer tons of free samples in the beginning, helping to make sure that the mother's milk supply is compromised, the baby is used to the shape and fast flow of a bottle nipple, and making the mother think formula is a decent alternative.  Then they turn around and charge at least $120 a month for a supply after the free samples (and mom's breastmilk) are all dried up.  It's a cruel practice that should not be permitted, especially in a hospital that is supposed to be promoting health, not commercial gain.

One of the biggest problems I have with this clip is Whoopi Goldberg's insistence that not all women can breastfeed.  It's true that women who have had mastectomies, some who have had breast augmentations or reductions, women with extremely rare breast deformities, and some women on daily medication that isn't safe for breastfeeding are unable to.  It is estimated that 2-5% of women fall into this "unable to breastfeed" category.  I do not in any way mean to minimize the struggles of these poor women, but that is a very small percent of the population.  It's certainly far less than is believed to be unable to breastfeed by the media and the public in general!  

Not only that, most of the problems that women believe are issues that would keep them from breastfeeding exclusively can be addressed and remedied.  Low milk supply is more of a myth than a reality, but it's fixable in the rare cases where it is a problem.  Babies are never "allergic to their mother's milk," but they may be allergic to something their mother is eating.  She can simply find out what's causing the allergy through an elimination diet and stop eating the allergy culprit.  Babies with a poor latch can be coached to latch on correctly, and nipple shields can help with this problem as well as inverted nipples.  Lactation consultants, as well as a local La Leche League branch, are more than happy to help women with any of their breastfeeding issues.  

Breastfeeding benefits us all.  It lowers a woman's risk for certain cancers and other health issues, it makes babies healthier, it promotes healthy bonding, and it saves us all money! Yes, it's estimated that the United States could save $13 billion in medical bills if mothers would exclusively breastfeed to 6 months.  It also saves individual families when they breastfeed for a year at least $1400 in the first year of life because formula is no longer necessary.  

As a nation, we need to do everything we can to promote and aid in a mother's breastfeeding efforts.  It is not enough to provide a room where women can pump milk.  Breastfeeding is highest among mothers who can stay home with their children, so 6 months of paid maternity leave is something this country needs to work towards.  Large companies that provide in-house childcare go the extra mile to facilitate breastfeeding, as well as allowing parents the comfort of knowing that their children are just down the hall if they become sick or just need a little extra attention.  More education for doctors regarding breastfeeding is a must, since so few of them truly know how vital it is to health and well-being.  More education and promotion of breastfeeding for the general public might help the poor and minorities, whose breastfeeding rates are even lower than those of educated, white mothers over 30.

Much can be done to help our situation, and good political policy changes are a necessary component.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The First Amendment, Religion and "small government"

A dear, rather conservative friend of mine posed a question to me a few days ago.  He asked how far should First Amendment freedoms stretch?  He asked this question in the context of California's Prop 8, since many Mormons backed this hate-bill to keep their adoption and other programs from being dismantled because they need the ability to discriminate against gay people.  That's their "freedom of speech," by the way.  I'm a firm advocate of First Amendment rights, to be sure, but I think in this country today we are blurring the line between speech and action.

I believe it is a bigot's right to think he is superior (for whatever convoluted reason) to women, blacks, Latinos and homosexuals.  He can have a website, a private clubhouse and even an organization to promote and air his stupidity.  I do not believe he has the right to start up a "whites only" adoption agency and use his First Amendment rights as a shield against any criticism for doing so.  He can't have a "whites only" school or hospital, either.  He certainly does not have the right to use his convictions as a reason to be shielded from disciplinary action if he chooses to enact violence on someone he believes he is superior to.  These things are not "free speech."

My view of the First Amendment extends to religious organizations, as well.  I do not believe that Catholic hospitals should have the right to deny a woman an abortion that would save her life.  I do not believe that the Mormon church should be allowed to run an adoption agency that will never consider adopting children out to a healthy, committed gay couple with the means to give those children a good and fulfilling life.  I do not believe that churches should be able to use tax dollars to fund "therapists" that will tell your gay son how wrong he is to be gay or tell an abused woman how important it is to submit fully to her husband.

Everything I listed above is unacceptable.  I think you should be allowed to say whatever you want,  but do not expect to access federal or local tax dollars to fund it.  I also have come to realize that there are some basic agencies and services that religion should not be allowed to have a hand in.  There should be NO religious adoption agencies.  If the birth mother wants the child raised in a certain religion, it is her right to choose a couple from that religion to raise her baby.  But no adoption services should be operated solely from a church.  That service begs for governmental oversight.  The same with hospitals, pharmacies, and other basic human services.

In other words, you can have your religion and be proud of it.  Go to your religious services, take religious classes, practice your religion in your home and teach it to your children.  Use your OWN money to send your kids to a religious school.  But do not expect to have those beliefs enforced on anyone outside your church and especially don't expect special treatment or government money because of those beliefs.  Enjoy them on your own time and dime.

In the past few days, as I thought over my view on First Amendment rights, I also began to really think about the concept of "small government," as well.  I've realized that my own beliefs on this front have evolved over my lifetime, and I can now say I do NOT believe in small government.  I am not afraid of government programs designed to help the less fortunate or in paying higher taxes to fund those programs.  The power of "big government" does not scare me in the least.  In fact, every time someone tells me that "big government" is a bad thing, and I bring up the fact that the poor need help feeding their children or finding a warm place to sleep, they state that they can get help from their local church.

No!  A religious answer to a secular problem is wrong.  So an atheist who is down on his luck has to choke down his pride and sacrifice his beliefs to get a hot meal?  A secular humanist mother needs to go to a church that will help provide her children with daycare so she can get a job, but she just has to accept the indoctrination of her children that comes with that "free" help?  Unacceptable!

No, the power of "big church" scares the shit out of me.  When churches have taken our tax dollars to fund their hate speech, to further their agenda, and to wield enough power to have their demands written into law, that scares me.  It scares me a whole hell of a lot more than the idea of funding a welfare program that gives women the opportunity to stay home with their babies until they're old enough to go to school.  It makes the idea of someone fearing Universal Healthcare laughable.  It makes me believe that small government is not what we need to be focusing on; "small religion" should be our goal!

We need to take back our country from the churches!  Religion is slowly choking out our country's ability to be great by allowing its fundamentalists to infiltrate the government.  No faith-based program should be allowed to access federal dollars.  Period.  If you want to feed the homeless or provide an after-school program for inner city kids, I applaud you.  But either fund it from your church's coffers, or keep your religion out of it.