Fear, Understanding, and Politics

This Onion article seems to be particularly on-point regarding Trump’s speech, from what I’ve heard and seen of last night. Fear and inaccuracies seemed to play a rather large role.

I’m going to start with a very brief two-paragraph history of my own: I grew up with the network news on in the background daily when my dad would get home from work. Then 9/11 happened when I was a college freshman, living on campus. I stopped watching the news about two weeks later, primarily because of all the fear and hatred being spread around. The network news broadcasts were starting to remind me of the two-minutes hate in 1984, which I had recently re-read at the time. The news was also constantly on wherever there was a television set at my college and it quickly became overwhelming for me.

So I went cold turkey and purposely didn’t watch any news at all for about a decade, aside from clips that were shown during college classes or occasional documentaries I watched. My quality of life improved significantly and immediately upon cutting broadcast news out of my life. I periodically would read news articles – but they were mainly local or relevant to my life in some other way. I heard about significant international events primarily through blogs or personal interactions with friends. Over the last 5 years I’ve slowly added in more written news stories that are of interest to me and carefully avoided much broadcast news, preferring to read the news rather than watch or listen to it anyhow.

Given my news hiatus, it seems obvious to me that, in the past 15 years, things have not gotten better on the spreading fear and hatred to everyone front. Instead they appear to have gotten remarkably worse.

***Now, I want to be very clear that not all fear is unjustified – fear is not a dirty word and it doesn’t imply anything negative in and of itself. Healthy fear can even be life-saving at times.***

However, I would like to encourage all of you, my friends and readers, to look deeply into the things you fear and consider why you fear them and maybe even if you should fear them. It can be difficult to do this at first, it certainly has been for me, but it gets much easier with practice.

These are some of the things that have helped me the most with my own endeavor towards greater understanding of opposing viewpoints and that I think might possibly be of use to others – feel free to take note of any that sound helpful and leave the rest: 

Seek out and listen to numerous perspectives.

Consider staying away from the more dramatic news sources or at least limiting their influence in your life.

Keep at least one or two reasonable friends who don’t hold the same political stances as you do.

Have calm, reasonable discussions with friends who don’t share your political beliefs.

Listen, listen, listen!

Ask for clarifications before assuming what someone meant – especially if they didn’t explicitly say it.

Clarify your own words when asked.

Try to avoid becoming defensive or thinking that someone merely said what you were expecting them to say – especially, again, if they didn’t explicitly say it with their words.

Move beyond pithy, partisan sound-bites and dig more deeply into the issues.

Take frequent (or even long) breaks if you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed. A wise friend of mine once said that the words will still be here when you come back. To a degree, that can sometimes not be true if people decide not to stand by what they said and instead delete comments, but hopefully you’ll be mainly talking to reasonable people who are willing to let their words stand for the sake of the larger discussion even if they’ve since changed their perspective.

Set boundaries for what topics you are not willing to talk about in an online group setting. For example: I have no desire to talk about gun control. I have good friends on both sides and have a good grasp of both sides, I’m somewhere in the middle, and those discussions get nasty very quickly these days. I don’t see any reason for me to either host or participate in those discussions at this point when I can instead save my energy for topics that I still need or want to delve into more thoroughly.

It has been well worth my while to listen open-mindedly to a diverse mix of people and I believe that more people doing so can only benefit our society as a whole – particularly in these fearful and divisive times.

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Lies and the Myth of the Uneducated Midwife

There seems to be a pervasive myth in American society that midwives are uneducated. This is unfortunately perpetuated since the myth is not only that midwives are uneducated, but often even that it’s acceptable for midwives to be uneducated. The very term “lay midwife” insinuates that all midwives who train through the traditional apprenticeship model are uneducated and have little training at all.

lay – adjective [not gradable] (NOT TRAINED)

not trained in or not having a detailed knowledge of a particular subject:
“To a lay audience, the mathematics would be difficult.”

Putting aside the question of whether or not this is true in some cases — in my experience, this perception can lead to non-midwife birthworkers, particularly doulas and apprentice midwives who don’t have much knowledge or experience yet, thinking that they know enough to attend births as “lay midwives.” After all, being a midwife is easily assumed, by the very terminology used, to be a largely untrained profession and it’s all too easy for doulas and student midwives to believe the also pervasive (in the natural birth community) myth that all or nearly all birth complications are caused by interventions.

The truth of the matter is that it takes a great deal of time, studying, and experience to become a good midwife. Not all complications are caused by the overuse of interventions. Some complications happen in even the most tranquil and supportive birthing environments and these sometimes require the use of judicious interventions in order to ensure the mother’s and baby’s safety. In my experience, most women who are looking for a midwife are looking for someone who’s experienced enough to understand when to intervene and when to leave well enough alone and these women are not looking for someone to be present for an unassisted birth. Generally speaking, if a woman wants an unassisted birth (a completely different topic), she’s usually not looking for a midwife to hire – hands-off or otherwise.

There’s a saying in the midwifery community about how, for a time during training or their time working with birthing mothers, most apprentice midwives and many doulas know “just enough to be dangerous.” Basically, that means that the student or doula in question has been to some amazing births and read some medical textbooks and thinks that they have a really good handle on this baby-catching thing, when really, they don’t know enough yet to realize how much they don’t know.

The saying, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” is particularly applicable here and the vast majority of apprentices move past the point of knowing “just enough to be dangerous” and go on to learn and gain experience and become amazing midwives. This is a stage of development that’s healthy to move through, but can potentially be very dangerous if someone gets stuck there.

One of the most dangerous things about being stuck in the not knowing how much you don’t know phase is that you don’t realize you’re there until you’re out of it and look back with some horror at how much you used to think you knew. I’ve been to some truly terrifying births with a woman who sincerely believed that she was ready to take on her own clients and attend births as a primary midwife. I look back and realize that she not only lied to her clients and to me about various important things, but – far more dangerous – she lied to herself.

How can potential clients tell whether their midwife is experienced and knowledgeable, given the state of midwifery in many areas of the country? You, as a client, can and should ask questions, get solid references, see if a midwife is a member of her state’s midwifery association, and talk to the other midwives and birthworkers in the area to get an idea of whether your midwife has as much experience as you believe she has.

Watch for red flags, such as being reluctant to tell you their statistics – how many births/prenatals/postpartums they’ve been to – or not letting you know with what midwife they apprenticed and/or school they attended. The information about where your midwife trained, with whom, and for how long really shouldn’t be a secret and, in the absence of state licensure, is one of the best ways to check on and know whether or not your prospective midwife is telling you the truth about her background and experience levels and that you are comfortable with those levels.

Even with state licensure and a professional certification, find out your midwife’s experience and education levels. Be an informed consumer and ask around before choosing a doula or midwife. Don’t just interview one doula or one midwife – interview at least a couple so that you can find someone you feel comfortable with.

If you’re hiring a doula or midwife, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, check what they tell you about their history and experience. With a doula, your birth experience could be at stake; and with a midwife, your birth, your life, and your baby’s life could be on the line. If your prospective doula or midwife is anything other than completely forthcoming about names and phone numbers of references or about how many births she’s been to or about her training or education, check with their state midwifery organization or the doula organization she claims to be certified with and with any midwives she claims to have worked with.

Your birth, your comfort, and your safety is worth the trouble of double-checking and asking questions.

The Taboo Topic

I’m going to start off my first post of this year by talking about a pretty hot-button issue. I feel very strongly about this issue, but it’s really none of my business what other people choose to do about it. So, please, don’t tell me what you did or what you will or won’t do with regards to this issue. I don’t want to know because it’ll probably just make me sad and I don’t want the comments to turn into a debate (assuming enough people will even read this to make it a potential debate).

The issue, you ask? The issue is circumcision – routine infant circumcision, to be specific. This is a very American issue since the rest of the developed world stopped routine circumcision quite a while ago. This is also a human rights issue mixed in with the question of parental rights.

With this issue, there are many questions to ponder:

Why did the rest of the developed world stop this practice?
Where do parental rights end and the child’s right to his or her body begin?
What about religious beliefs?
How culturally important is it for a child to have a surgery simply because the parent of the same gender had that same surgery as a child?
What is lost to circumcision?

However, my main goal with this post is to encourage parents to really research circumcision before they decide either way. Please, look at what is lost to circumcision, which could also be called “foreskin amputation.” The foreskin is not just a useless flap of skin. Please, understand what you are taking away from your son before you decide to take it away.

There are all sorts of resources about the benefits of circumcision and I think it’s of extreme importance to get the other perspective – to seek it out before making a final decision.

Educate yourself so that if your son comes to you when he’s older and asks, “Mom/Dad, why did you circumcise me?” you can give him a good answer. “Because everyone else was doing it.” is not a good answer. The odds are good that your son will be happy with whatever he has, but as more boys in the US remain intact (the rate of babies being circumcised in hospitals during 2009 was a mere 32.5%), the likelihood of him realizing that he’s missing something and questioning your motives will probably increase.

Educate yourself so that you won’t learn something new in 1, 2, 5, or 20 years that makes you regret your decision. The more research you do, the more confident you will be in your decision.

I cannot even tell you how many mothers I’ve met who wish someone had encouraged them to look deeper into the issue of circumcision before they had their first-born sons. I’ve met countless women who circumcised their oldest and then, after learning more about what the surgery actually entails, left subsequent sons intact. Many of these women state that circumcising their son(s) is their biggest parenting regret.

Please be certain, before you send your son in for irreversible surgery on the most private and personal part of his body, that you are making the best decision for him. Not the best decision for you or for your family or for your friends, but for your son who will have to live with your decision for the rest of his life.

I encourage you to check out cirp.org and read the studies located there. The site has a definite pro-intact (not circumcised) bias, but the relevant studies are all represented and you can certainly ignore the commentary from the owners of the site if you wish to be more balanced about the issue.

You may also wish to take a look at Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) if you’d like to hear the case against circumcision from the medical perspective. You’re almost guaranteed to learn something new about the foreskin which is, truly, an amazing part of the body!

Speaking of the case against circumcision, Dr. Paul Fleiss wrote an article many years ago called just that! Dr. Fleiss is a pediatrician and I believe he’s also a member of DOC.

If you’d never consider cutting your daughter’s genitals, but consider male circumcision to be beneficial for your son, I suggest that you look at this handy comparison chart, compiled by Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, an author and activist who has written some of the most groundbreaking books about the topic of Female Genital Mutilation. Of course female and male circumcision are different, but probably not as different as you may think.

What about the question of religious beliefs? I’m a Christian and can only really speak to the Christian aspect of religious circumcision. There are plenty of resources out there for Jews who want to look more into this issue. I don’t know enough about the Muslim faith to speak to the topic. However, it is very clear to me that, in reading the New Testament, circumcision is not something that is necessary for Christians.

In fact, Paul is very clear in Galatians that circumcision is not worth anything to followers of Christ Jesus. In fact, he states that if a man lets himself be circumcised, Christ is of no value to that man. Search the scriptures yourself – be very certain that it is truly a religious requirement before you circumcise only for that reason. Many Christians believe that they must circumcise, and that is clearly not the case.

Finally, I would like to encourage all the circumcised fathers out there – particularly those who want their sons to “match” them – to take a trip down memory lane and remember how many times they really compared penises with their father and if their family was open about nudity, was their father’s circumcision status really the first thing they noticed? Or did they notice first that there was a size difference and all that hair too?

This decision is one of the most important decisions you will ever make as a parent. Your son will live with the consequences of this decision for the rest of his life. I entreat you to not take this decision lightly. Circumcision is a surgical procedure, it is not a “little snip” and not everyone is having it done to their sons any longer.

~B.

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