Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stillbirth: It happens here too

Our illustrious prime minister hosted a big conference in Toronto this week. The subject?  Maternal and infant health -- not in Canada, but on a global scale.  (Apparently, in PM's definition, "maternal health" does not include family planning or abortion services... but that is not the subject of this particular rant.) 

The PM pledged a further $3.5 billion in funding for an initiative first announced in 2010 at the G-20 & G-8 summits in Toronto & Muskoka. Luminaries such as Melinda Gates and Queen Rania of Jordan appeared at the PM's side in support. The tagline was "Saving every woman, every child."

While the program's goals are noble, and there is certainly an urgent need for better maternal & child health programs in developing countries (please don't get me wrong) -- I just wish someone would at least acknowledge in passing that there are (still) mothers and babies who need saving in our own country.

I have read a number of news articles and seen a number of TV reports about this initiative over the last few days, which detail the sad state of affairs in the developing world and quote global maternal & infant mortality statistics and stillbirths -- but I have not seen ONE mention of the state of maternal and infant health in Canada, and the statistics for child and maternal mortality and stillbirth here.

The other morning, I listened to a radio interview with a doctor involved in one of the program initiatives, talking about the huge numbers of women and babies around the world who die during pregnancy, childbirth or the first months of life. The dr told the story of a complicated delivery here in Canada, which would certainly have ended in tragedy in the mother's home country.  The host brought it up again around the 4:30 mark:  "[In Canada) There could be some complications, it happens, but everybody is healthy & well." (Ummm, EVERYBODY??)

 And then, at the very end (around 5:50) in a tone of surprise:  "Around the world, 2.6 million babies are stillborn every year... and a large majority of those are because the mother wasn't cared for." 

Well, golly gee, babies are stillborn? In this day & age? -- imagine that. :p

During my pregnancy, I was cared for at one of the top hospitals in my city, one of the best in Canada. And my baby still died. 

(And just because we live in Canada doesn't mean that care could not be improved. I heard a few hair-raising stories, as a perinatal loss support group facilitator, that were lawsuit worthy.)(Some of these parents did pursue legal action. Most were unsuccessful.)  

Yes, the numbers of maternal & infant deaths and stillbirths here are, thankfully, much, much lower when compared to developing countries. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen here. It does. I am proof.  And I know I am far from alone.

The hard, cold fact is that sometimes, even in first-world countries like Canada and the United States with the most excellent care, babies (and even some mothers) still die -- some for no apparent reason.

And I think what bothers me the most is that coverage like this, which focuses on the developing world (because things are just great at home and we are SO much more advanced...) just reinforces the illusion held by most people -- those lucky enough not to have experienced perinatal loss in their own families -- that stillbirth, neonatal death and, yes, maternal death during or shortly after childbirth, are things happen elsewhere -- in third world countries. Certainly not in Canada, or the United States. Right?

And commonly held misconceptions like that only increase the feelings of shock and guilt and isolation that parents feel when they DO experience a loss. 

What do you think?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Playing the Mom Card

As I was still trying to shake off the Voldemort Day hangover this morning, I ran across an interesting post on the New York Times’s Motherlode blog. Guest blogger Bettina Elias Siegel was recently named to an online women’s magazine’s list of the “Top 15 Most Important Moms in the Food Industry.”  But when a fellow food-policy advocate – a childless/free woman – responded to her tweet about the award with the comment, “Congrats. Does having a cat count?” it ignited a Twitter debate about the fairness of recognizing “moms” over women without children (or, for that matter, fathers). 
 
Siegel admits the term “mommy blogger” drives her nuts, since it’s often used by critics in a disparaging, minimizing manner.  However, she acknowledges, “sometimes I even quite knowingly play the Mom Card to advance my goals,”  even though her professional credentials alone would more than qualify her to comment on food policy matters.  
 
“Motherhood and activism often go hand-in-hand for a reason,”  Siegel argues.  “From Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Vietnam-era Another Mother for Peace, to the post-Sandy Hook Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, mothers have often been the “accidental activists” who have led our country forward. But for many founders of these and other successful, mom-led campaigns, the personal became the political only when a societal problem affected, or was poised to affect, their own children. 
 
“In my case, the flaws in our food system didn’t truly hit home until my own children came along… Motherhood doesn’t lend me any special moral authority in addressing those issues, but it has driven them home in a uniquely profound way… a child’s primary caregiver (and in our country, that’s still almost always the mom) can share insights that others can never acquire firsthand.”  
 
I would agree that having a personal stake in the issue at hand can be a terrific motivator. When did any of *us* pay much attention to infertility or pregnancy loss (or the marginalization of the childless/free perspective, for that matter) until it happened to us, or at least to someone we were close to?  
 
But I don't think that moms or parents have a monopoly on (or even a great inclination toward) this kind of insight & motivation & activism. Many activists & influential public figures don't have children -- some as a deliberate choice, in order to fully devote themselves to their chosen cause(s). (Gloria Steinem, Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey and Ashley Judd spring to mind, off the top of my head. Heck, even Anna Jarvis -- the founder of Mother's Day -- did not have any children of her own.) 
 
As one early commenter noted, “Where I think the "Mom Card" label probably chafes some people is when it's used as a "trump card"-- as in, I'm a mother so my opinion counts more.” 
 
Read the whole column -- what do you think? When (if ever) are moms justified in playing the “Mom Card”?  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Voldemort Day 2014

(Voldemort Day = The Day Which Shall Not Be Named)(lol)

What sucked:
  • Being reminded (over & over again) that I'm not a mom.
  • Seeing the umpteen photos of happy moms & their kids on Facebook.  
  • Feeling like the odd woman out (not for the first time in my life, and not just for this reason). 
  • Thinking about my stillborn baby girl, and how happy I was the Mother's Day that I was expecting her. 
  • Thinking about the mother-in-law who died at the far-too-young age of 53 (same age I am now) before I was ever able to meet her.
  • Feeling sad/guilty that I don't live closer to my own mom. 
  • Listening to the stupid neighbourhood dogs barking nonstop all day long. :p
  • No movies playing that I really wanted to see (my usual choice of Voldemort Day avoidance activity).
  • Going to Tim Hortons for breakfast sandwiches in lieu of brunch at a nice restaurant (didn't want to endure the lineups nor the hordes of happy families) -- the one thing I ASKED to do today and was looking forward to -- and not only was the steeped tea machine broken (?!) we were told we had to wait 10 minutes to get hash browns with our combos. AFTER we had already paid for the combos. We finished our sandwiches, waited a few more minutes (well more than 10) & left without ever getting the hash browns. :p  (Most Timmys are pretty good/reliable, but this one has been particularly slow every time we've been there.)
  • Knowing that it's back to work tomorrow. :p 
What didn't suck:
  • Getting cyberhugs from special online friends.
  • Having a cousin send me a unexpected special message via Facebook. (Her brother & sister-in-law lost their first baby too.)
  • Seeing photos of my friends with their own moms, some of them vintage.
  • Despite the lack of steeped tea & hash browns, the breakfast sandwich at Timmy's WAS good (& hot). :)
  • Going to the mall for awhile after Timmy's and indulging in a little retail therapy. ;) 
  • Enjoying the smaller-than-usual crowds... except (lol)...
  • Giggling at the long lineup of desperate last-minute shoppers outside the Pandora store.
  • Gorgeous weather (about time...!!).
  • Having the windows open, with fresh air & sunshine filling the house (something I don't get to enjoy as much on weekdays when I'm at work).
  • Wearing capris & sandals for the first time this season. :)
  • A favourite pork chop & rice casserole for dinner.
  • Dessert:  salted caramel Haagen Dasz ice cream bar. :)
  • Spending a lazy afternoon on the couch with my laptop and the Sunday New York Times.
  • Looking forward to a four-day work week and an extra long weekend coming up. :) 
Voldemort Day 2013
Post-Voldemort Day ramblings 2012
You-Know-What Day (2011)
Mother's Day 2010
Pre-MDay 2009
Mother's Day 2009 (Baptism)
Mother's Day 2008
Pre-MDay 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Twin Sisters"

Dh & I stayed up last night to watch a fascinating, award-winning documentary on CBC News Network.  "Twin Sisters" is about two couples -- one from Sacramento, California, and one from a remote, tiny village in Norway -- who both travelled to China at the same time in 2004 to adopt babies from the same orphanage -- and through sheer coincidence, met, and eventually learned the baby girls they had adopted were in fact identical twin sisters.

The girls are being raised by their respective families in California and Norway -- but despite the geographic and language barriers, the families have maintained contact over the years and have travelled to visit each other. The documentary follows the California family on a visit to Norway -- just the second time the girls have met since they were adopted in China. It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking to watch. 

I keep wondering what bright bureaucrat in China made the decision to separate the girls (they probably though nobody would ever be the wiser), and how amazed their birth parents would be to find out what has happened to them. I sympathize with both sets of parents, who desperately wanted a baby, tackled the complex (and expensive) solution of international adoption -- and then found themselves facing yet another huge complication and dilemma. The Norwegian mother admits she hesitated to make contact initially, fearing the American parents would try to get custody of both twins.

Instead, both families have opened their hearts and homes to ensure their daughters grow up knowing each other. The girls speak frankly about missing each other when they're apart, and watching the American family's departure at the Norwegian airport had me reaching for the Kleenex box. 

It would be interesting to do a sequel in another 10 years or so and find out what has happened, whether the families have continued to remain close, how the girls feel about their unusual upbringing. I think the families have made the best of a very complicated and difficult situation.

The documentary is available online for a limited time to viewers in Canada, here. You can also find clips on YouTube (albeit some appear to be in Norwegian!!). 

I was reminded of a book I read several years ago by and about Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein -- identical twin sisters who were adopted separately and then learned of each other's existence and reunited as adults. It's called Identical Strangers.  Well worth a read.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

I saw her standing there

I saw my first-year university roommate this week, for the first time in a very long time.  I was walking through the underground PATH (which connects Toronto's downtown office towers) at lunchtime, and she was standing off to the side, out of the flow of foot traffic, pecking away at her cellphone.
 
I walked past her. And I kept on walking. :(  
 
I don't think she saw me. I felt huge, enormous sadness. 

If I see her another time, I may act differently -- but I just didn't have it in me to be a bigger person just then. 

It will be 35 years (!!!) this coming fall since we were assigned to live together by the powers that be at our university residence. I wasn't sure what to expect -- and while we came from very different backgrounds and had somewhat different personalities, we had a lot of fun together. We remained close as we completed our degrees there over the next few years, and then after she returned to Ontario to continue her studies there. We actually got married on the same day (she to her second husband -- a guy I introduced her to), and the two of us, separately and together with our husbands, saw each other quite frequently those first few years after I moved to Toronto. 

She was, and remains, one of the few people hereabouts who knew me in a pre-dh life, and who I felt comfortable confiding in.  Even after dh & I moved to the suburbs, and she and her husband split up, she and I have always worked near each other downtown, and we continued to have lunch together every month or so, for many, many years, even as her high-powered career took off and her schedule became increasingly hectic. On my birthdays, she would treat me to lunch at her swanky private club and present me with a thoughtfully chosen and beautifully wrapped gift. (I would return the gesture on her birthday, albeit at a slightly less expensive and exclusive restaurant.)  When I confided in her that I was trying to get pregnant, she loaned me a book she said had helped her conceive her son. When I got pregnant, she was thrilled for me;  when I lost Katie, she sent a huge bouquet of beautiful white flowers. I was having lunch with her the day I had my first anxiety attack in June 2001, just after my final failed IUI;  she loaned me her cellphone to call my RE & then dh, stayed with me until he arrived, and called me later in the day to check on me and how I was doing. 

I never got the sense that my infertility, loss or childlessness had created a barrier between us. That said, she was a very busy women with problems of her own that she was dealing with, and over the last 5-10 years, our lunches started becoming less and less frequent.

How many times do you call or email someone, how many unreturned voice mails do you leave, before you decide to leave the ball in their court?  It took me a long time -- but eventually this was the decision I made.  I had not seen nor heard from her in at least two years. And then I saw her father's obituary in the newspaper in the fall of 2010. I couldn't NOT acknowledge her loss -- so I emailed her (I didn't even have a home address for her any more). She emailed me back to thank me and a few weeks later, she called to set up lunch. We had a long, long talk about the twists and turns our lives had taken in recent years. She apologized for not being in touch, thanked me for being a good friend, for not being judgmental (as she felt some of her friends had become). She promised we'd get together again soon.

We exchanged a (very) few emails after that, far and few between. I messaged her in the spring of 2012 to wish her a happy birthday -- after debating if I should do so -- she responded, I responded, and that's the last time I heard from her. I debated if I should email her last year on her birthday -- & decided not to. She has not acknowledged my birthday in years. Her birthday is coming around again soon, and I'm again struggling with the question of whether I should try to get in touch.  There is a large part of me that continues to feel that I've reached out again and again, and the ball should now remain firmly in her court. But you don't just lightly shrug off 35 years of friendship. :(   
 
I'm not mad at her.  Just very, incredibly, enormously sad that, somehow, inexplicably, we have drifted so far apart. :(

Living childfree without regret

"Living Childfree Without Regret" was one of the sessons at a recent Fertility Planit conference in California, hosted by Tracey Cleantis of La Belette Rouge, with Lisa Manterfield of Life Without Baby and  Lynn Newman Zavaro.

Sadly, I was not able to be there -- but happily, Lisa has posted a video from the session on her blog, here, in which the trio tell their stories;  discuss topics such as "fertility prenups," knowing when you are done, reframing the beliefs we carry about ourselves, grieving and letting go, and dealing with family & friends; and answer questions from the audience. Well worth watching!