Thursday, November 20, 2008

Notes on Life

This is a cross-post from my other blog, "The Whining Puker"....

Just a quick note!

We got our house last week, and my parents have come out to AZ to help us get it livable - so my blogging time is apt to be very little over the next month or so - not to mention the fact that we're probably going back to dial-up after our move, so it may be reduced permanently! I don't know - we'll see. But I wanted to write a quick note to explain that this blog is not dead - it's just going to be on a bit of a sabbatical.

I'm learning a lot working on the house. Growing up, I groused so much about helping with home-improvement projects (which I do not enjoy) that my parents let me off the hook - with the result that until now, I have done nothing more home-improvement-wise than hang a picture! Seriously! This week I have been ridiculously proud of myself for learning to remove doorknobs!! LOL Hopefully a preview of more to come, for I am absurdly ignorant.

Our house is lovely, but it does have some serious issues due to severe neglect. Its previous owners didn't beat it to a pulp, like some other houses we saw, but they neglected it so badly that they might as well have. There are literally masses of cobwebs hanging from the ceiling!! And there are things like water damage from neglected leaks, corrosion from mineral build-up gone mad and not taken care of, appliances that have to be trashed because they weren't cleaned in so long that they're no longer redeemable, etc. But I'm learning a lot! And DS is having a blast having a larger space to roam and a bit yard to play in.

So that's about all! I'll try to check back in periodically. Love to all!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book Review: "Infertility for Dummies"

"Infertility for Dummies"
Sharon Perkins, RN, and Jackie Meyers-Thompson
2007, 362 pages

Before reading this, I should warn you that it is written from my strongly pro-life position. Okay, you've been warned.

I decided to pick up a basic book on infertility simply because so many of my friends are dealing with this. In fact, out of the six young married couples in our church with whom we hang out, four have dealt or are dealing with infertility. I didn't want to leave such a widespread issue out of my reading, so I picked up this book. I'm definitely going to read more books on the subject to develop my understanding further.

I wasn't that crazy about this book, both informationally and ethically. I'll deal with those issues in a minute. First, what I liked:

Like all the dummies books, this book is clear, concise, humorous, well-organized and easily accessible. The language and the explanations were clear, and I learned a lot (though the hormonal interchanges of the fertility cycle are still largely beyond me!). I think that this would be a good reference book (it's really easy to find specific information that you might need at a time) and as a basic primer.

The two things I didn't like: information problems and ethics.

Starting with the book's information:

I can't speak to the later chapters, because I was reading much of this information for the first time. However, though I am not overly conversant with reproductive technologies and the ins and outs of infertility, I am fairly knowledgeable about basic female fertility and especially natural family planning. When I was reading these sections, I kept finding errors - lots of them, some tiny, some not so tiny. But that made me wonder just how accurate the following chapters were. Now, don't get me wrong. Most of these errors were really tiny and wouldn't make a big difference to the reader. But they are errors that wouldn't be written by a truly knowledgeable author and which shouldn't have made it to print. Here are a few examples:

Text: "The cervix... keeps the baby from falling out of the uterus when you're pregnant because it's a tight, muscle-like tissue." (p. 23)
Correction: The cervix is not muscle-like, it IS a muscle (being part of the uterus, which is a muscle).

Text: ""But the most consistent thing about your menstrual cycle should be that ovulation occurs 14 days before your period begins. So if your cycles are 28 days, you ovulate on day 14. But if your cycles are short, say 25 days, you're actually ovulating on day 11..." (p. 29)
Correction: This was a big one. In fact, I can't believe they included this simplistic of an explanation of female fertility, because it is vastly misleading. While the average fertile luteal phase is assumed to be 14, it can range anywhere from 10 to 16 days (some docs say 12 is the lower limit, but many babies have been carried to term with mums who have 10/11 day luteal phases). Thus, timing sex to be just before [average period length - 14 days] is extremely inaccurate and misleading. The authors do acknowledge different luteal phase lengths, but in their directions on "how to get pregnant," they just tell you to subtract 14 from your average cycle length to get your ovulation date.

Text: In reference to charting: "Look for a subtle drop in temperature, followed by a sustained rise in temperature.... at least 0.5 degrees" (p. 70)
Correction: #1 - It's 0.4 degrees, not 0.5 degrees; #2 - They completely ignore the fact that many women "stair-step" with their temperatures - you may see your temperature rise gradually to the high temperature level rather than just one big jump. #3 - They also fail to tell anything of the official natural family planning rules, such as "3 over 6," etc. It's not so much that it's wrong as that it's incomplete. #4 - Not every woman gets the "pre-ovulation dip;" in fact, most don't. Thus to depend on the dip as a predictor of ovulation is not a reliable method.

Enough on that.... I will just say that these little errors made me slightly distrustful of the book's reliability.

Onto ethics...

This is a hard subject, because it really depends on your beliefs. I am dissatisfied with the book's ethics because of my pro-life and Christian beliefs, but you, gentle reader, may not be. So read on, and make of it what you will.

Basically, my position: I believe that a new life begins at the moment of conception. In other words, Sperm + Egg = Baby. This is regardless of whether the embryo is one cell or ten or a hundred or a hundred million - I believe that it is a unique individual, created by God. Thus, to "discard embryos" is, to me, the same thing as an abortion. This is not a popular view, but it is my honest belief.

IVF (in-vitro fertilization), thus, is rife with ethical dilemmas for those of us who believe this way, because "extra embryos" are generally part of the process. Many couples try to transfer all of their embryos, but usually this is impossible, as the number of embryos is usually far greater than the average woman's ability to bear children. Some couples purposely try to ensure that a small number of embryos is created so that they will have the ability to transfer all of them. A very small number put their extra embryos up for adoption (or, in a less formal process them, "donate" them - since the state regards embryos as property rather than persons, the legal adoption process is optional and therefore generally used only by parents who want to respect the personhood of their babies). However, most extra embryos are eventually discarded. As I believe that embryos are babies, and not "genetic material for making babies," the practice of embryo disposal is ethically unacceptable.

There is also the issue of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, in which embryos are tested for gender and genetic conditions - those with characteristics the parents want are kept, those with unfavorable or unwanted characteristics (wrong gender, genetic conditions) are discarded. Ethically, this is the same thing as an aborting a baby with health defects. (Not to mention that embryos are often injured in the process of testing them, with some data showing that these babies have a higher incidence of birth defects, possibly resulting from the testing itself.)

Thus, for me, there are many deep, deep problems with the reproductive technologies industry. However, this book is completely dismissive of these issues. Besides stating that "there are ethical issues under debate with such-and-such procedure" or "some people have problems with this," they are somewhat contemptuously dismissive of all ethical considerations. The book is filled with statements such as the following: "Many people with frozen embryos would like to see something positive done with embryos that they donate for research, and would rather have them used for stem cell development than just be destroyed." (p. 324) Furthermore, in referring to embryos, the authors refuse to call them more than "potential life," which is an easy way to dismiss the personhood of embryos.

Lastly, here is one corker that made me really angry, and also made me wonder if the authors have the emotional maturity to be even writing a book, let alone one on infertility. In the chapter on adoption, there is one teensy-weensy section on adopting special-needs kiddos, and the main jist of the section is to discourage adoptive parents from doing so. Let's hear this choice morsel from the authors:

"Sometimes, people are tempted to adopt special-needs children because they're more easily available. Other couples are drawn by a picture of a child... Sharon (one of the authors) remembers thinking seriously about adopting a child with handicaps while her family was waiting for their referral... every one of the pictures appealed to her. However, she realized that her family wasn't really emotionally prepared to handle a child with serious problems. Although it's easy to be caught up emotionally in the idea of raising a special-needs child, look realistically at your lifestyle and personalities before making a decision." (pp. 312-313)

In other words, "Stop and get ahold of yourself before you do something stupd."


Do I recommend this book? It gets a "whatever" kind of rating. The information is okay, the ethics are (in my opinion) absolutely deplorable. Next time, I'm going to look for a book with a conscience.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Review: "The Natural Pregnancy Book" by Aviva Jill Romm

"The Natural Pregnancy Book"
Aviva Jill Romm
2003, 318 pages

This is going to be another short book review, because I loved this book and have nothing to criticize! This book easily goes down as one of my all-time favorites and merits a place on my "buy soon" list.

I have read several other Romm books and loved them all, so I was expecting great things from this book - and I was right! This is truly an excellent book.

Part II of the book, "Common Concerns during Pregnancy," is an alphabetical compendium of the various complications and concerns that occur during pregnancy (morning sickness, heartburn, etc.), with Romm's recommendations and comments on each. This section is excellent. She gives general/dietary recommendations and also herbal recommendations (complete with dosage instructions and lots of herbal formulas), and they look absolutely fabulous in terms of usefulness and thoroughness. I wouldn't want to go through another pregnancy without this book.

Part I of the book covers many of the usual pregnancy topics (prenatal care, nutrition, baby's development, exercise, physical changes, preparing for birth, etc.), but with a twist - not only is Romm in favor of natural birth and midwifery care, but she also has incredible respect for women's bodies, women's birthing rights, women's spirituality, the sacredness of birth, and women's wisdom. Rather than saying, "Do whatever the doctor says," (as oh-so-many pregnancy books do), Romm says, "Educate yourself. Listen to your body. Listen to your baby. Your body knows how to do this, so trust yourself." In today's fear-mongering birth world, where pregnant mothers are treated like time bombs waiting to go off, this book is extremely refreshing. Romm works consistently to bolster and build a mother's confidence in herself and her abilities, and that is a great asset of this book.

Romm also has a great understanding of the understanding of the birth experience as a pivotal event in a woman's life - the fact that birth is truly a rite of passage for a woman. Most pregnancy books, and Western culture in general, dismiss the importance of the birth experience to women. Most view birth as "something really unpleasant that you endure in order to get a baby." After the birth, culture will dote on the baby but give little to no attention to the woman who has experienced a unique and earth-shattering transformation in her rite of passage to motherhood, and who also deserves honor and attention. (Although I believe that motherhood begins with conception, there is something especially transformative about birth in terms of the "becoming" process.)

I experienced this above-mentioned phenomenon very much with my birth experience. After my birth I wanted to shout from the rooftops how proud I was of myself and my abilities, and how I had experienced this amazing transformation, and I could have told my birth story to every passerby who came within ear's reach. However, I found that in general, all eyes were on the baby. (In fact, one of the times I was asked about my birth, I had to go into the back room to nurse the baby and came out just in time to hear my husband finishing up telling my birth story! What a bummer!!!)

Romm really focuses on the importance of the birth experience and gives great examples of how to honor your experience - and for others, how to honor the mother and make her birth the acknowledged rite of passage that it should be.

I love how Romm describes communicating with unborn children as something that can and should be done, and as something that is possible. As a Westerner, I tended to think of my baby as someone who was unreachable, on another planet, etc. - i.e. "I know you're there, and we'll talk when you get here." She emphasizes the importance of prenatal communication and giving love to pre-birth babies, and I really love that.

I also love how life-affirming Romm is. Something that can absolutely drive me up a wall is a pregnancy book that refers to the baby as a "fetus." While "fetus" does literally mean "unborn child," it is used (consciously or unconsciously) to dehumanize the infant, to make it seem less than human (this is especially true when talking of abortion, when the baby is dehumanized further into "fetal tissue" or "products of conception"). Romm consistently refers to the unborn child as a "baby," something that I try to do as well, and I love that. Here's a quote from her:

"From the onset, this was my child, not an embryo or a fetus with potential defects or a pregnancy with potential complications, but my child. I truly believe that it is partially this attitude that has nurtured health in each child. But had one of my babies not been perfectly healthy, that baby would still have felt loved and accepted from the beginning.

"Later in this book you will find a discussion of the various prenatal diagnostic tests that are commonly offered to pregnant women. There are times when these tests are medically warranted; however, routine use of such testing can prevent a woman from developing and trusting her connection with her baby. The real connection between a mother and her baby exists before the connection that is fostered by seeing the baby on a screen, knowing whether the baby is a boy or a girl, or hearing the baby's hearbeat by electronic amplification."

(Romm, 2003:20)

I love that.

This book has a great emphasis on natural health, herbal treatments and non-invasive methods for handling pregnancy concerns. It is a great compendium of wisdom and knowledge.

I highly recommend this book to all new mothers. If I get pregnant before I manage to get my hands on a copy, my fingers will be marching straight to Amazon to order it! Highly, highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review: "Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth"

"Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth"
Boston Women's Health Book Collective
2008, 370 pages

I'm on a roll! That stack of to-be-reviewed pregnancy/birth books on my dresser WILL decrease, if I have to review one book a day!!!

Having gotten the notice from my library that I can't renew my loan of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" for the fifth time (I don't know why!!!), this book has now moved to the forefront, as it has to be back at the library today.

I have found, rather surprisingly, that the best books get the shortest reviews from me. Why? Well, what's there to say? "I loved it - I loved it - I loved it!" Bad books get longer reviews because of all the anger I need to vent after reading them (See "From Here to Maternity" book review, for example).

With that in mind, I don't have an overwhelming amount to say about this book other than - I LOVED IT!!! It gets the highest review from me. It is a book of almost unequaled excellence, absolutely thorough in its coverage of pregnancy/birth issues, and utterly and completely evidence-based. Basically, if you are pregnant or interested in pregnancy/birth, this book is a must-have. It's definitely going on my "want" list.

Looking through the book, I remember again why I loved this book - it's just SO thorough! Anything and everything to do with pregnancy, birth, baby and postpartum is covered.

The book is supportive of natural birth while remaining balanced - it is not fanatically anti-hospital or anti-homebirth. I'd say that it would be a good book for anyone, regardless of whether one is planning a hospital or home birth.

I have two complaints about this book:

#1 - This book is supportive of all women's choices, which in my opinion is great as far as birthing options go. But as a Christian and thus someone who affirms the sanctity of human life, I am NOT okay with a mother's decision to have her in-utero baby killed because it is not perfectly healthy. This book is supportive of that decision, and I found the chapter covering that to be heart-rending. Basically, the book's attitude is "Decide to keep your non-perfect baby? Great! Decide to kill your non-perfect baby? Great!" I believe that this is irresponsible and unethical. After skipping ahead to read that chapter (which I usually do with all books, to catch the moral and ethical tone of the book), I was so sickened and saddened by the book's support for the killing of non-perfect babies that I almost didn't finish the book. I'm glad I did, because the book on the whole is excellent. But the authors need to seriously rethink their ethics on the issue of abortion. What does it say about a society which gladly sanctions the killing of all less-than-healthy babies?

#2 - After addressing the issue of the multiple social issues facing pregnant and postpartum mothers (the birth situation, single parent epidemic, etc.), the authors present their idea of what should be done to remedy the situation. I found myself disagreeing sharply with most of this chapter. Their ideas, which are mostly political in nature, involve massive governmental programs and welfare assistance, and seem to be somewhat socialist in nature. I think that we could do women a big favor not by focusing on increased governmental control and involvement in family life, but by focusing on moral reform. Having a society in which men marry women before making babies and stay married to them for life will do a lot more for women and children than funneling governmental funding into social programs to try to fix the irreparable harm done to mothers, children and families by fatherless homes or dysfunctional families.

I don't mean to get off too much on politics, but the final chapter was fairly irritating. I'll stop now, though, before I turn this into a political blog.

Barring the above two issues, I loved this book and recommend it strongly to all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Review: "Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year"

"Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year"
Susan S. Weed
1985, 196 pages

I have been reading madly lately, trying to get through all of my books that I've injudiciously over-borrowed, while at the same time procrastinating on writing book reviews, with the end result that many of the books I've borrowed have been returned long-since, while the reviews have remained unwritten. I am going to try, over the next few weeks, to catch up with book reviews so that I can move on to more books and other writings. I want to focus on Arizona birth resources for Arizona mothers soon, and I can't get to any of that until I get these reviews done!

"Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year" is one book which had to be returned to the library almost a month ago, but it is still sitting in front of me. Why? Because it was one of those books which are so excellent that possession of them becomes an immediate and obsessive need! So when hubby said, "Hon, I need a book to put on this Amazon order to get to the free shipping amount," I knew which book to order!

This book is a keeper. It is so much of a keeper that I can't even tell you how much I liked it! Suffice it to say that I will recommend it unreservedly to all and sundry I meet. It is truly excellent.

I have been getting into amateur herbalism lately, and finding reliable information about herbs in pregnancy literature can be downright frustrating. For example, a pregnancy book (even a naturally-minded one!) might say, "For morning sickness, take dandelion." Well, great. Do you mean fresh herb, dried herb, tea, infusion, decoction, fresh herb tincture, dried herb tincture, oil, salve, or compress? How often should I take it? What strength? How should I take it? How much at a time? This book is one of the few books that explicitly gives dosage directions. For example, "Ten to twenty drops of Witch Hazel tincture under the tongue can be used repeatedly to control bleeding until the placenta is delivered." (p. 71) It's terrific!!

The book is arranged in chapters by time period (pre-conception, pregnancy, labor/birth, postpartum, baby), with a great chapter on making your own herbal products and several helpful appendices. Within the chapter, various complaints and conditions (hemorrhage, cramps, etc.) are listed alphabetically for easy access.

Another thing I love about this book is that for each condition, there is a section on "prevention" as well as a section on "what to do if you have this condition." That is just terrific! I love to be proactive. For example, with my delivery I had horrendous after-pains, something which is supposed to be negligible or non-existent for primips. Since they generally increase in intensity with each pregnancy, I know that I can expect them with any future pregnancies, and now I have the preventative advice of this book to help me prevent afterpains with pre-birth herbs. Hurray!!

There is one chapter in this book which I found very disappointing, but I won't elaborate further. On the whole, this book receives my complete applause and approval.

When I told my midwife that I was reading this book, she told me that she keeps multiple copies both at her home and at her office because it is so vital to her practice.

This book is indispensable, and I love it! Highly recommended.