Win/Win Kid Birthday Tricks, from a Still-Novice Non-Expert

19 Jun

Conan and I have officially been parents for half of a decade now! In other words, it was Lucia’s 5th birthday this week. Granted, we still don’t have much (any?) parenting wisdom, per se. And yet, we not only survived this birthday, it seems that we totally rocked it, despite the extra chaos on top of our normal mayhem this month. Here are our parenting hacks for birthday time, this time around. They might not work for you, and they might not even work for us again next time, but you’ve got to celebrate your victories.

Trick #1: Be Proactive. Talk them into the party of your dreams, not theirs.

Sure, it sounds mean, but if you ask them what they want to do for their birthday it’s destined to end in disappointment, unless you can actually produce unicorns and rocket-ship trips to space. If you have the means for that sort of thing, you’re reading the wrong list of tips right now. I, however, needed to get proactive.

Remembering a time my dad took me and a friend to Mammoth Cave for my birthday, I tried to talk Lucia into having some kind of adventure with a friend or two instead of a party. That was an instant negative, though, since a cake and a piñata are her number one birthday obsessions. For once, though, I outsmarted my little one and talked her out of a big Mexican-style party where you have to invite everyone you’ve ever met and give out five courses of party favors in addition to the meal, the cake and the multiple piñatas. We just couldn’t do it this year, not economically and not time-wise. So I cleverly talked her into having TWO parties instead this year- two very small parties. But that means TWO PARTIES, people, what’s not to love for a five year old?

I sent a cake to her school on her actual birthday, and then we had a teeny tiny, closest-family-only “party” at home on the weekend- complete with pasta (her favorite food), another cake, and just one piñata. Her papa even splurged on a giant bag of the decent candy for the piñata instead of like 5 pieces of good candy mixed in with the cheap-ass suckers we normally fill it with. It was a win-win situation for everybody.

 

Trick #2: Take advantage of all of your unique available resources.

If you have a cousin who works at Chuck E. Cheese and wants to give you a discount, go for it. If your best friend is a chef and will make an epic birthday cake for your kid, make that your billing point for their birthday gig.

For us it helped immensely that the birthday celebration at her school is awesome. It is a serious ceremony involving crowns and capes and classmate “angels” and a red carpet and everything. The teacher gives a hand-made gift (a really cool, small hand bag, in this case), and the other kids give the birthday kid a drawing each, which they then sew into a little book of sorts. It was so cute and so cool; she was thrilled. And all it required on our part was buying the cake and getting it there.

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Headed to school in a princess dress made by her aunt who’s an awesome seamstress. 

 

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Who wouldn’t be thrilled with this kind of celebration? 

Trick #3: Don’t let Mother Nature ruin your plans. Pray profusely to the universe, and clearly explain to the heavens that your kid will be emotionally destroyed for hours on end if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

In other words, you gotta think on your feet! Our little hiccup that could’ve been a two day tear-fest came when tropical storm number two of this year cancelled classes the day before her birthday. Conan was off work that day and was in charge of getting the cake to school, since it would be impossible for the babysitter to carry the cake along with the two kids on the walk to the bus stop, on the bus, transferring it then to the carpool where there are 6 children flopping around the car. Luckily the weather calmed and we worked things out just fine. Meanwhile, I had a minor panic attack and invented three ridiculously far-fetched schemes and plans to call in favors to make the cake at school happen, tropical storm or not.

Trick #4: Perspective is everything. Use all relevant comparisons from books and videos to sell your options.

I meant to make her a cake or cupcakes for our home party, since I like to bake for their birthdays when I can. But when we talked about what she’d like me to make, she never really decided on what she wanted, and recipe-searching time escaped me this year. (This month is kicking my butt, in case you can’t tell.) So instead we let her have the excitement of going to a bakery and picking out her own cake, just like Daniel Tiger. And then she got to go to another bakery and pick out another cake, just like Daniel Tiger again! It’s a wonderful life for 5 year old Lucia, folks, let me tell you. And for us, even buying 2 cakes, one and a half roasted chickens, two kilos of tortillas, and paper plates for us and our five guests was about eighty thousand times cheaper and easier than last year, when we completely lost our little parent minds and had big birthday parties for both of our children. (Yes, you read that right- we only had five guests to our house for this year’s “party.”) Cheaper, easier, and Lucia was just as pleased about it all.

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Cake #2: Just as thrilling as cake #1

She did have a brief moment of doubt at one point in the planning stages, however, when she had the sudden epiphany that fewer guests would mean fewer presents. “But Mommy, they don’t bring you presents at school. Only the teacher gives you a present.” She informed me with a suspicious tone, her eyes wide and worried. It’s almost a legit concern, too, because we tend to not give a lot of presents, and we rarely buy her stuff she doesn’t need except for birthdays and Christmas. (Don’t worry, though, this child is far from deprived; her numerous grandparents make sure both of these kids have ample toys and clothing.) I assured her, though, that she would end up with several presents anyway, including gifts from multiple grandparents. That appeased her sufficiently.

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Pleased with herself and her new bag

Trick #5: Give them “presents” that you were going to give them anyway. Everything’s amazing when it’s wrapped in pretty paper! 

Yes, I am totally that super mean mom who gives kids socks and underwear as presents. Only this year I talked her Abuela into giving that as a gift! I would put a bow on her morning Cheerios without thinking twice about it. Attitude is everything, after all.

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In this picture we are using the Cheerios box as storage for another present, but I’m not above giving them Cheerios as a present. 

She got plenty of other non-necessary presents, too, so don’t worry. She received a couple of new stuffed animals from aunts, a really cool jewelry-painting set that I bought with money her Nonna sent for her, and the coolest books ever from National Geographic- one about space, one about dinosaurs, and one about animals. Her Gamma sent those, after I asked her to look for a cool dinosaur book, since we hadn’t been able to find anything interesting and age-appropriate at the library here. Books here are not accessible and they’re insanely expensive. These books would have cost thousands of pesos here (according to Conan’s family), if you could even find them somewhere in the first place. I feel so incredibly privileged to have so much access to quality books for me and my children. But I digress, as usual.

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Everyone was impressed by the books.

I also pulled off a double win because I managed to clean out my office and give Lucia perfect presents for free. I had a couple of things sitting around my office for the past almost-three years, resources that an ex-coworker had given me that Lucia was way too young for. One is a phonics game- Zoo ABC Bingo!- and the other a book of poems for kids. So, like the crafty, thrifty mommy that I am, I wrapped it all up and gave it as a birthday gift. (Grown-up Lucia, if you’re reading this someday, just remember that money spent has no correlation to love and thought put into giving.)

Also in the realm of “attitude is everything,” you can talk up all the advantages of your plan vs anything they’ve had in the past or seen at their friend’s house. Like better quality candy, as I already mentioned.

 

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Serious Birthday Business

We broke the piñata with two of her little cousins and the neighbor kids across the street, so the amount of candy that both of my kids got ahold of wasn’t of epic, diabetes-producing proportions after all. I let them overdose on candy the day of the party and then the next day they took a decent portion of it to Lucia’s neighborhood bestie who’s been sick all week and couldn’t help break the piñata. Another parenting win: sharing and getting more candy out of our house.

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A piñata wouldn’t be a piñata without some help from your friends. 

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So obviously we’ve learned a lot in these five years. Apparently the half-decade mark is a moment in which you finally have more than just the basic survival skills as a parent. It seems that we may have a couple of parenting tricks up our sleeves now, at long last. Now if I could just get the recipe to make my kids go to sleep when I want, or to leave me alone in the bathroom, then I would declare myself a super parent. Maybe by our next half-decade? Or perhaps never. Sigh. You gotta take your victories when and where you can, folks, which might be the most important thing I’ve learned in these five years of parenting.

Blue-Gown Daydreams

4 Jun

There’s nothing like being naked under a half-open blue robe, laid out in a hallway with a bunch of helpless sick and injured folks, to make you feel like the exact opposite of WonderWoman. I kept pondering to myself, “Julia, you’re not sick or injured. Why would you choose to come here?”

Then I forcefully pushed those pesky rational thoughts out of my little head and daydreamed about glorious sex without the risk of making more babies. Oh yeah, that’s why I’m here. Goals and dreams. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Plus I was there on principle. I mean, the insurance company takes money out of every paycheck, so I have every right to this. Just as compellingly, it would have cost more than a month’s pay to get the surgery done privately. When I asked a private doctor whom I trust if I was crazy for going to IMSS, my insurance company, for this surgery, he assured me that I wasn’t. IMSS is the Mexican Institute of Social Security, and it provides health insurance to a large portion of folks who have formal jobs. In many ways, it is much better than in the US because many more people are covered, and aside from whatever monthly cut they take out, there are no other, extra costs. It gave me 12 weeks paid maternity leave, which is 12 weeks more than what I got in the states. The main downside is that it is a giant institution that sees you and treats you as just another number in the system. It is slower than molasses in January, stressful, dehumanizing, often inadequate or just plain wrong.

But still, a free surgery is a free surgery. “The same doctors who work in IMSS also work in the private sector,” my doctor reminded me. “It’s perfectly safe. The only thing that might be bad is how big of a scar they leave you. It’s kind of the luck of the draw, depending on the doctor. He might leave you a tiny scar or he might leave you looking like you had a C-Section.”

“Good thing I wasn’t dreaming of a career in pornography,” I told my husband, because sure enough, the doctor left me a giant scar. It’s longer than my friend’s C-Section scar, as a matter of fact. It kind of looks like a kindergartener who cut their own bangs, except on my pubic region instead of my forehead. Luckily, I’m not concerned about the aesthetic of it. I think scars are just visual reminders of a life lived, a show of how bad ass and interesting someone is. On another level, though, the excessive size of my scar makes me feel expendable and dehumanized. The surgeon couldn’t be bothered to take care with me (or anyone else, I’m sure). My body is so unimportant and inconsequential to him that he cut what must be the maximum possible, for what? Just because he can? To make the surgery part as easy as possible for him?

The gynecologist didn’t even acknowledge me when he came into the room, or at any point before I passed out. I didn’t even realize that I was going to be knocked out for the surgery, since I signed up for local anesthetic. I had to fight to have anything explained to me, and I neglected to realize that I needed that part explained. I just can’t imagine treating people like that, and it makes me sick to my stomach thinking about all the people these doctors and nurses are in charge of who aren’t getting quality and humanized care.

It’s not just this doctor, either; it’s the whole system. I mean, this is the insurance company that thousands (millions, I think) of people are paying into, and the best they can do is beds in the hallway? There are some overcrowded rooms as well, and I suppose I can be grateful that I was the only one in the surgical room while my surgery was happening (as far as I know). But geez.

And heavens forbid you are there without a family member. One poor guy was brought in by his coworkers, who called family members immediately, but no one had arrived yet when a nurse came by with a tray of food for him. “You don’t have family here?” She asked him and everyone else around, incredulously, about 8 times. I wanted to scream at her by the 5th time. She couldn’t figure out what to do with his breakfast. She asked him to sit up, but he couldn’t sit up on his own. Then she tried to get the wheelchair attendant to sit him up, but for some reason they aborted that mission as well. Finally, after being assured yet again that he was all by his lonesome, helpless, vulnerable, defenseless self, she carefully balanced the tray on top of his chest and walked away. He was totally unable to eat anything from the tray at that angle. And it couldn’t have been comfortable. But there you have it. The nurse officially did her job of delivering the breakfast tray to the patient. Eventually the wheelchair attendant took pity on the man and removed the stupid tray from his chest. I closed my eyes some more and continued to daydream about a better universe.

Hopefully you’re also not a child in need of emergency services at my insurance company. A small, tough girl with her chin up walked past me into a room at one point. She must have been about 4 or 5- my daughter’s age. Of course she wasn’t stoked about giving a blood sample or whatever needle-related thing they were doing to her in there. But the nurses had zero tact or style about calming or convincing her. Instead they used various threats and near-impossible deals, none of which helped anybody achieve their goals. They even brought in one of the security guards to scare her into submission. Bless her, it did not pacify her in the slightest. She just cried out more for her mama, who I think was nearby, but who I got the impression wasn’t allowed to be with her or touch her or something? I couldn’t see anything, so it was purely aural clues that painted the painful picture for me. At one point they told her if she was quiet and cooperative that her mommy could come and be with her, but how the hell do you expect her to calm down without her calming person in the first place? It reminded me of the clueless (or purposely mean?) nurse when Lucia had to be hospitalized for an asthma attack; the nurse thought they were going to be able to stick a tube in her arm with me out of the room, leaving her all alone. Yeah, being alone with strangers who seem to want to hurt you is always great for small children. They calm right down and obey. Gosh, even using sarcasm to deal with the situation doesn’t make it less distressing. I know that kids are going to scream and cry over pain and new situations, but it seems like the hospital tactics just escalate the fear and pain for kids. It was pretty disheartening, to say the least. (Also, my dear, dear friends, please don’t threaten your kids that a police officer is going to come and get them for not obeying you. UGH! Have some compassion for these lovely, little human beings, please! Imagine how terrifying that must be!)

Also on this grand adventure, I learned that soap and toilet paper are luxuries far beyond what one deserves in this insurance hospital. Not one bathroom of the three that I visited while there was stocked with soap (or toilet paper). I was sharing my outrage and disgust about it with my mother-in-law, Paulina, who matter-of-factly said you have to bring your own soap to a hospital. However, I remain stubbornly indignant about it because a) Nobody tells you that; b) It’s totally impractical to expect you to carry it around the hospital with you. What are you going to do? Tie it to your gown? it’s not like you have your own bathroom to put your soap in; and c) This is BAD public health policy! It’s supposed to be a hospital, a beacon of health and wellbeing, not a hotbed of reckless germ-spreading!

By the time they wheeled me on my hallway hospital bed back towards surgery, I’d had a nap and managed to psyche myself up despite all the circumstances. Eyes on the prize. No more never-ending months of pregnancy (seriously, both times I’ve been pregnant for more like 10 months- and twice is enough for me!). No more diapers as soon as this little one is all the way potty trained. No more painful/tedious/expensive forms of birth control. No potential need for abortion. (Okay 99-point-something sure.) You got this! Let’s do it!

The anesthesiologist seemed like a nice enough person, except she left my butt completely hanging out while she was putting that bizarre stuff into my back. I get it. They’ve seen it all, blah blah blah. But are you not allowed any shred of modesty, any tiny sense of privacy or autonomy over your body? There was no need for my ass to be uncovered. There was a cover for my use that was just being used inadequately. It was unnecessary and inconsiderate, and I felt too vulnerable to say anything about it. (You don’t want to piss off the anesthesiologist, right?)

The last thing I remember before the surgery, after the doctor came in and ignored me, was the anesthesiologist asking me if my legs felt tingly yet. And then I was down for the count. Nobody told me that I was going to be asleep for the surgery, though. I thought that because I was getting an epidural, it would be like getting a C-section. I wouldn’t feel anything below my waist but I could be awake and aware. (Isn’t that how it happens? Something like that?) Nope. Nothing of the sort. The first time I woke up I felt drunk/high and totally giddy. “This is great!” I think I told the nurses. They asked me if I drank wine. “Sometimes,” I said. They must have taken me for a raging wino because they proceeded to ask me how many cups it took to make me feel like this. “A lot?” They asked. If only they knew what a light weight I am! But my mind was too cloudy to explain. I got it together to ask if the surgery was already over. And I demanded to know how in the world anyone could give birth on this epidural business! Nobody would answer me. I went back under.

At some point I woke up again in the hallway right outside of the surgery area to the gynecologist giving me my instructions for care. I mumbled in response, trying to reaffirm and think of relevant questions. “So everything will be like normal in 7 days?” Yes, he assured me. (Umm, that was not true for me, by the way.) He also promised someone would come around with written instructions before I left. He left the very important paper that would be my paycheck for my week off of work in my hands, and I carefully laid it on my belly and passed back out.

When I woke up again, still in the surgery hallway, I could feel the pain in my abdomen and I did not feel giddy. I asked for some water. The nurse told me it would be just a little longer. He’d already let the hallway nurses know I was ready to return to my spot in the hallway, but they were really busy, he explained. I asked several more times for water and received nothing. Finally he said he would send my family member for some food and drink. I was too wiped out to tell him that I didn’t want any food. I just wanted water. I felt like a camel after months in the desert. Finally they brought me some orange juice and yogurt that they’d sent Conan off to buy. Apparently they didn’t ask him to buy water, which was my lone request and hope for life in that moment. I was feeling very nauseous and I asked if I could have anti-vomiting medicine like they’d given me before surgery. He said no; they’d already given that to me before surgery. I drank a little orange juice and almost immediately threw it up.

Then they let Conan come back, because supposedly I was ready to be sent home. Basically, the anesthesia had worn off and my legs were working fine. That makes you ready for home. The nurse realized I wasn’t really okay. I kept throwing up and could barely walk from the nausea. But he didn’t know what to do, because I understood from Conan that they were short on beds. The nurse checked in with the anesthesiologist and assured us that I was sick from the pain meds and not the epidural. They’d given me morphine or something equivalent. I had forgotten to try to negotiate over pain meds, which never, ever sit well with me. “You can stay here and wait for it to wear off,” the nurse explained, “but we’ll have to put the tube back in your arm and change back into the hospital gown.” (I’d already gotten other clothes on to leave, with Conan’s help, in between vomiting.) He told me technically he couldn’t let me leave without eating something. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat for a long time. I ate a couple bites of yogurt and threw it up. Mission accomplished. He then said I could wait out the effects of the meds there or somewhere else; “It doesn’t really make a difference.” So of course I opted to get the hell out of there.

We were in Huatulco, about two and a half hours from home. There was no way I was gonna stomach that journey, though, in the state I was in. I am so, so grateful that we had the money to go get a hotel room. I can’t imagine having stayed longer in that hellhole. Already Conan had been sitting out in the waiting room from 7am to 5pm and had picked up some stomach problems from some dodgy street food meanwhile. (We’d had to arrive at 7, although my surgery hadn’t happened till about noon.) I am also eternally grateful that my mother-in-law was staying with my kids and didn’t mind staying an extra night. I couldn’t even hold down water until sometime in the middle of the night; I can’t imagine how I would have survived a bus ride like that.

Although I’m complaining about this very specific problem with IMSS in Mexico, I realize that many of these things aren’t unique to my insurance company or to Mexico. You can get rude doctors and nurses anywhere. Overcrowded hospitals happen. Planned surgeries, folks have told me, are a big, routine, impersonal business most everywhere. It’s also easy for people to treat children and helpless adults as less-than-human in any setting. It doesn’t make it okay, though. And when the whole system is designed to dehumanize us all, and we’re the ones paying for it? It’s time for an insurance uprising, in my humble opinion. And after the health revolution? There will be soap in every bathroom, dammit! Soap, humane treatment, and health justice for all. Amen.

The Little School-House Built on Loving Learning

22 May

If you had asked my opinion a couple years ago, I would have told you that I suspected that Waldorf schools were just for rich hippies, and therefore had nothing relevant for me or my children. Funny how parenthood changes so many of your ideas about life and parenting, though. Parenting has schooled me hard on humility, made me more open to changing my mind, and forced me to always take circumstances and context into account along with all of my theories and ideals. Now both of my children are in a Waldorf preschool program, and I could not feel luckier or more pleased about it.

My bias, though, first of all, was that I didn’t think that I would send my kids to private school. On principle, I’m against private schools because quality education should be free and available to all, and we should all be fighting to make public schools better. Of course, I also know firsthand that too much of the time the best thing to do is to get the hell out of the system. I did not imagine that I would need that option for my kids’ preschool, however. I didn’t have any expectations for my kids to graduate kindergarten as geniuses. I figured I’d be teaching my kids to read and write myself anyway, and that I just wanted them to go to preschool to get out of the house and play with other kids. Why pay money when your standards are minimal?

Little did I know that those minimal expectations are not the objectives of public or private preschools around here. They all seem to want three year olds to be sitting around copying letters and doing homework and other meaningless and useless activities that I just can’t accept. And I’m too tired and too busy and too foreign to take on the education system just yet. Plus my littler one is still only two, a year too young for compulsory education here in Mexico. So if I’m going to pay for his schooling/care anyway, it might as well be a program that’s good for him, and it might as well be with his big sister.

My other bias was that I always wanted my kids to be in Montessori schools like I was. Maria Montessori is one of my life heroes, and I can 100 percent get behind her educational philosophies. Montessori is all about hands-on learning and giving kids lots of options and control over their learning. It meets kids where they are in the educational process, giving them the tools and guidance they need without over-structuring their lives. (Read a brief introduction to Montessori here.) But there is no Montessori option here. And Waldorf actually has some things in common, as well as some separate ideas, that make it very worthwhile. (more extensive info about Waldorf here)

Furthermore, what really sold me on this particular Waldorf program was the person who made it happen. From there I fell in love with the wonderful teachers, too, as did my children. I got to know other parents in the school, who are amazing people. Certainly the school’s inventor and director made a world of difference in my bias, however. Because she’s an unschooler* at heart, like I am- an anti-authoritarian, anti-system, humanistic, respectful person right down to her core. She is engrossed in and passionate about all things related to autonomous education. She values all children and adults for the fully human and unique people that they are. She respects and facilitates the processes of learning for everyone, without pushing anyone. She is constantly learning, with a big full and open heart, and the joy in her mission spreads like wildfire. That is what I want my children to be around. This is the environment I want for my kids, for all kids, as they build the foundation of their little fabulous selves.

The teachers she found and coached and trained are an amazing pair themselves. They are so open to ideas, and so attentive with the kids. One of them is super outgoing and exudes a sense of fun and adventure, while the other one is very tender and maternal and calm. They are both incredibly patient and caring- traits that sometimes we as parents struggle with.

My kids certainly- and from what I can see, it seems like all the kids- feel safe and secure and valued at school. They don’t treat kids like problems there, even when their behavior is problematic. They have firm boundaries for the kids, but don’t put unrealistic or impossible expectations on them. They pay attention and recognize kids’ different needs, and help teach the kids’ to respect their own and other people’s needs. (For example, when the littler ones snatch toys away, the bigger ones often say, “Oh, it’s because she’s so little.”)

Importantly for me, my kids want to go. They have a good time and they learn like the sponges that they are. When my daughter first started there, she even asked to go to school on Saturdays! I’m also eternally grateful to have somewhere “childproof” to send my irrepressibly active two year old. There’s pretty much nothing at school that sets off the string of “NO!”s that unfortunately happens at my house often. The inside and outside areas are set up for kids to explore freely, even for very adventurous two year olds. Of course both of my kids come home with bruises and scrapes sometimes, but that’s so preferable to trying to make them sit down most of the day.

The school is not officially a school, but rather called a “home extension” program, which is so much better than both regular school and day care. The kids start their day with songs and circle and community. The big kids go for a walk around the neighborhood. One day a week they cook their meal together. One day a week they bake bread together. They always sit down together and eat out of glass bowls and plates together, and the kids wash their own dishes afterwards. My kids always devour all their lunch, because they get to work up an appetite beforehand, and aren’t forced to choose between eating their food or more time on the playground.** They have a very set routine with lots of freedom worked into it. They have lots and lots of bodily autonomy and movement. They don’t have workbooks; instead they have lots of story time with real and interesting books. They sing tons of songs, which Lucia loves. They make things. They create, invent, and use the hell out of their wild and beautiful imaginations. They learn to take care of each other, play together, help each other, share, collaborate, and problem-solve together, which are lifelong skills and values that are just as important as literacy. They get literacy skills aplenty as well, it’s just worked into their day naturally, through play and real life experiences.

I still wish this amazing and wondrous house of learning were free for everyone; it’s the only fault I can find with it. But it’s not actually the fault of the school or its creator; I also know that the government would never, ever, ever fund such a thing here. Something that encourages autonomy for children? A space for parents to critically analyze the system, our parenting, and all the things we may have been taught are the right way? Not gonna happen.

Meanwhile, however, the very existence of this “unschool” is planting seeds to change the future of education in Oaxaca and in the world. Because of this school, I end up talking to a lot of parents about the benefits I see from this style of education. I have conversations about educational and parenting alternatives. (Even when I just mention that the kids help cook something on Tuesdays, other parents’ ears perk up.) I imagine that other parents at the school do the same, spreading words and ideas to other parents. Above and beyond that, though, our very same principal is out all the time spreading her wildfire passion for lifelong education. She’s all over the internet with her radical ideas. She has a regular slot on the radio about parenting and education, and the radio is the most accessible forum around here. She doesn’t just want this lovely little program for this little group of kids. She wants to set the world on fire and build a movement of autonomous education for all. And she’s doing it. Changing the world is slow going, but nobody can say our beloved directora isn’t fully committed, body, heart and soul, for the long haul.

So maybe Waldorf schools in some places are schools just for wealthy hippie types, but that sure is not a fair or accurate description in this case. Luckily for me, you’re never too old to unlearn your own biases. I’m so incredibly grateful that this hotbed of learning exists, and that my kiddos, my partner and I get to be a part of it. I couldn’t dream of a better place for our family to belong.

(In case you are wondering, especially those of you in Puerto, the preschool program is called La Casita, and the mind and heart behind it is Rebecka Koritz.)

 

*from those dear folks at wikipedia: “Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, conventional grading methods, and other features of traditional schooling in the education of each unique child.”  I was unschooled through most of high school, and I got the best education I could have dreamed of! Because, you know, there was no Montessori or Waldorf high school.

**Granted, my little ones are total chowhounds. They even nicknamed my littler one Cookie Monster. When I ask him what he did at school today, he always tells me, “uhm”- his noise that means eating. My big one is also a chowhound, but she never ate her lunch at her other school.

Mother’s Day Homage to my Feminist Bad-Ass Hombre

14 May

I’d like to thank my husband, first and foremost, for never, ever giving me Mother’s Day gifts related to cooking and cleaning. No new broom or Tupperware, and heaven forbid it- no iron for me, thanks. Probably he guessed that I would spend my life in jail for murder if he gave me housework-related things as a personal gift. So despite the hundreds of stores and street vendors hawking such appalling things for Mother’s Day each year, he has not once in these 4 years of my motherhood in Mexico fallen prey to such nonsense.

He also doesn’t mind that I insist on celebrating twice a year- both on May 10, the official day in Mexico, and again on the second Sunday of May. I mean, we’re a bicultural family, right, and this is what it’s all about. Double holidays for everyone!*

What I most love about my coparenting partner, though, is that he’s a total radical around these parts. Not only does he see my point on all of my culturally distinct ideas on gender and parenting, but he’s also right there with me and has my back about it. I suspect he actually cares even less than I do about what people say about us, our parenting, our family gender roles, and our children. Which means he has not one single turd of caca to give on the matter.

From the get go, he shrugged off people’s shock about baby Lucia not getting her ears pierced upon birth. “But it’ll hurt her later!” They said, as if the baby doesn’t feel it when she gets her ears pierced, and with the assumption that she’ll want to get her ears pierced later. “But people think she’s a boy! She doesn’t even have hair!” Folks complained, and he not only shrugged but started calling her Pablo on the days she wore “boy clothes.”

Then we did some big-time role switching. I went back to “El Norte” to work and save up some money, and he stayed down here to get our house built. That switch was more of a funny cultural thing, since it’s much more typical to have a young Mexican family in which the man goes off to the states to work and save money to improve the situation for the family and the woman stays home. So okay, I took our kid with us, but it still sounded funny compared to the normal narrative here.

It wasn’t quite as funny, though, when I got a full-time job here and Conan became an official stay-at-home dad. He was the only stay-at-home dad along the entire coast of Oaxaca, if not the entire state. You can read all about the peer pressure and shaming that he put up with for that brave endeavor, right up till last November (read about it here a bit). It was a situation that was really practical and beneficial for our family, especially for our children, and yet even other moms acted like he was being lazy, despite knowing how much work it is to raise a family, what it takes to stay home and care for small children. Through all the criticism and gossip, he just kept on doing the best he could for his family.

While some people thought his whole Lucia-as-Pablo joke was pretty cute, folks are much less forgiving about boys breaking out of gender roles. So I was nervous about what Conan would think when our little boy wanted to wear a dress on a family outing one day. Do you know what he said? The same thing he says on the days Khalil picks out shorts and a t-shirt. Nothing. I momentarily underestimated Conan’s rebel streak. I forgot that he is just as fierce as I am about living life outside of boxes (although he might be less belligerent about it than I am).

There are countless other examples of why Conan is a badass feminist partner and father. Every week there are new things that I realize about him, or things I see as the norm in other people that make me realize how distinctly cool my husband is. Just this week, a female coworker of Conan’s gave him a hard time the other day about the staple he keeps putting in his shirt to make up for the missing button. His coworker says to him, “Conan, your shirt is sad! We can see who’s the boss at your house.” Obviously, if he had a good wife, she would fix his shirt. (No, his coworker didn’t say that part out loud.)

When Conan repeated this to me I turned red- not from embarrassment, because I do not feel the slightest bit bad about not being an on-call button-sewer. I am already fulfilling my inordinate amount family responsibilities to the best of all my abilities, and I furthermore have full confidence in Conan’s ability to problem solve and figure out his own remedy to a missing button. Nope, I turned red from fury. Why? Why do other women buy into the patriarchy so much? Do they so desperately need validation that they think you need to put me down as a woman and further imply that my husband isn’t a real (aka bossy) man because he doesn’t force me to follow my assigned gender role thoroughly enough? Barf. “What did you say?” I asked him, appalled. “I didn’t say anything,” he replied- as usual, ignoring his way around ignorant and annoying people.

Not only does he not expect me to sew on his buttons, but he also believes that I am a full-fledged human being, deserving of personal time and even occasional social time that doesn’t include him. I wish that I didn’t even have to include this as part of what’s awesome about my partner, but compared to so many other people’s relationships, this belief system of ours as equals is akin to something like folks trying to build an igloo right on the beach.

Being the unconventional family that we are, what could be more perfect than appreciating my children’s father on Mother’s Day? I wouldn’t be the same mom that I am without his revolutionary beliefs and back-up. So thanks, Conan, and thanks to all the radical men and dads, to all the trans and gender-nonconforming folks and parents, everywhere. Let’s keep making this world a better place, and backing each other up, and, in honor of Conan, giving zero fucks about what other people have to say about it.

Happy Mother’s Day- to us, and you, too!

*I would like to point out that I think it’s sexist and crappy that Father’s Day here is always on a Sunday, just like it is in the US, and yet Mother’s Day falls any old day of the week, presumably because moms are not in the labor force, which is less and less the case all the time.

Two Little Arrows out in the Wide World: Musings on Children

1 May

I send our little boy out into the world with a pink and blue tutu, heedless of the consequences. I’m not concerned, although I suspect the babysitter is. Our son has very firm ideas about what he wants already, plus he loves to copy his big sister, and many of his life’s joys are the same as hers. This includes a passion for shoes and tutus, as well as an extraordinary ability to prolong bedtime by bringing more and more books to the bed with a pleading look in his eyes.

Mostly when he wears his tutu or his dress (things he has borrowed from Lucia and made all his own) strangers just assume that he’s a girl. Obviously, folks who know him know that he’s a boy, and reactions have been mixed. First folks are kind of taken aback. Some folks have a strong reaction of “WTF,” while others have a milder sort of head-shaking tsk-tsk version of it. LIke, “Why would they put a skirt on this poor boy? These strange people!” When people ask about it and I tell them he’s matching with his big sister, they seem to be a bit more understanding about it. I kind of resent having to give an explanation for my two year old’s style, but at least that keeps most people from freaking out that boys can’t wear that- at least in the presence of my children. I don’t want too many people contradicting our family values that all people can wear whatever they want.

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Protesting nap time, with Lucia’s shoes on, on the wrong feet, of course. 

People thought it was weird when we dressed Lucia in hand-me-down “boy clothes” when she was little, too. People were not ever shocked and appalled, however, in the same way that some people are about Khalil wearing a tutu. I could talk my feminist theory talk about why I think Khalil is more distressing for them, but that’s not my purpose today.

Partly, I’ve just been thinking about how easy it is for me to let my children be themselves- sometimes, and in some respects. And how hard it is to let my children be themselves in other ways.

Take, for instance, Lucia’s invented new hairstyle. I’m not the slightest bit worried about the other parents out there judging me or her because her hair is like a 4 year old version of some punk-rock hair cut (it kind of looks like someone was drunk while braiding her hair). I couldn’t care less about anyone reporting her to the fashion police for her favorite outfit, which involves pants, a tutu, and a shirt/skirt one-piece all at once. (YES! Wear all your favorite things at once! Yes!)

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Here you can kind of see one version of Lucia’s favorite outfit, as well as her badass hairstyle. 

It’s easy enough right now for us to plant and water these seeds in our kids’ heads- that they can wear whatever they want, that boys and girls can do anything, that girls can have boyfriends or girlfriends, and boys can have girlfriends or boyfriends. Since Lucia already has a “boyfriend” at her preschool, the who-can-be-your-partner conversation has already happened. I had to give her examples of friends of ours that are “novios con novios” or “novias con novias” so that she would believe that I wasn’t making it all up. I felt totally rewarded in the parenting department one day when one of her friends was over and I overheard her talking about how so-and-so at school could go with so-and-so, because you CAN have girlfriend with girlfriend, because her Mommy said so. Of course I worry a tiny bit about what will happen when her peers’ opinions hold more weight than mine, but I realize that all I get to do is plant and water seeds and see how they grow.

That part is easy for me. Based on my background, and my values, I have possibly too much confidence about being able to sow healthy and open ideas in my kids’ heads about many things. But I realized that there are certain other things about my kids that I just keep fighting against, and that it’s time to evaluate that.

Like the sleep thing. Lucia has had major sleep problems since she was pretty itty-bitty. She has a hard time falling asleep (my genes) and a hard time staying asleep (Conan’s genes). One night when I was putting her to bed late but happily, she told me, ever so wistfully, “I can’t wait for it to be morning.” And I thought, “Why do I begrudge her this so much?” This bright little heart never wants to go to sleep, so deeply and intrinsically, that even when she is to-the-bone-exhausted she still has an inherent resistance to sleep; she  just won’t give up on the waking world. There is too much excitement, too much to be lived. None of us should be sleeping! And that’s precisely how I used to feel- and how I still feel, sometimes. Having children taught me a new level of exhausted, one that gifted me the capacity to fall asleep nearly instantly as my head finally hits the pillow each night. And yet. Slithering my way out of depression, I find that more and more I resist sleep again. It’s like being 15 again, where I just want to stay up and smoke cigarettes and write poetry, or sneak out and drink coffee and have philosophical discussions at the all-night shitty diner at 2 in the morning. I want to discover myself, and discover the whole world, too! I want to love everything, to be enchanted and jaded at the same time, to hand out flowers to lonely-looking strangers on Valentines Day and get involved with a youth-run activist zine all over again! Except I don’t smoke anymore and no one is calling to sneak me out of the house. (I sit at the computer and smuggle myself a beer after the kids are in bed instead.) But I digress. Feeling her sleep resistance as a kindred spirit instead of as an inconvenience or a failure or something I’m supposed to fix, it finally clicked for me that my kids are going to be however they are.

Duh, right? It’s sounds so simple. Of course I’m going to keep influencing them, and doing the best parenting job I can. But that’s all I get to do. So what’s the point in fighting with them about other things? I don’t mean not setting boundaries or letting them run amok in all ways, but I do mean recognizing when they’re just not capable of meeting certain expectations, because they get to be unique human beings, too. I’ve been thinking about this extra because I’ve been reading this book about working with your kids to resolve problems, which also talks a lot about working with your child’s personality and strengths. So when Lucia told me how she couldn’t wait for the next day to happen, oh-so-longingly, pining for more moments of life, and I recognized little-girl-me in her, it finally hit me that no amount of bedtime routing is going to “cure” this child of her sleep issues. And there are going to be lots more things that I view as problems that maybe could be viewed from a different lens, for everyone’s benefit.

Like I’ve finally accepted that I don’t need to stress abut my kids’ eating habits. Yes, I still need to bust my butt to make sure there’s healthy food available for them to eat everyday. But I don’t need to stress if Lucia wants to eat just pasta for lunch, vehemently rejecting any vegetables involved. She’ll eat her vegetables for dinner. My kids are great eaters. This is not a real problem. Just because they don’t eat exactly like I do does not mean they are not healthy eaters. Khalil is not yet capable of resisting the urge to drink the bathwater when he’s pretending to have a tea party. Lucia is not capable of getting a good night’s sleep in a bed by herself. Some things I’d like for them, they’ll be capable of in the future. Some things they might never be able to do because that’s just how they are. And that’s okay, too.

It doesn’t mean I have infinite patience, either. It still makes me lose my mind when I’m running late and Khalil insists on buckling his own seat belt, which he can’t effectively do yet. It still ups my anxiety when Lucia has major panic attacks over non-emergencies. But I can deal with it all a lot better when I am compassionate about all of us being separate human beings, and doing the best that we can, being who we are. When I am kind and generous with them, and with myself, too.

I can be at my parenting best when I can keep the wise words of Kahlil Gibran in my heart. (And yes, my son is named for him! And yes, I am having a beer with myself and my writing as we speak, and delighting in every minute of it.) I’ll leave you with his words, since it’s way better than anything I could say.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

The Discipline Dilemma

23 Apr

I’ve always said that I don’t teach small children because I am a horrendous disciplinarian. Put me with one kid, or two, or even three, and I do wonderfully; I actually really like children, after all. But as soon as I walk into a room with a large group of children, and I’m supposed to be the one in charge, they immediately sense my weakness. Before I know it they are circling me like hungry sharks at the scent of blood. If you leave me alone and in charge for long enough, your children will all have become total savages, a la Lord of the Flies, and you won’t even recognize them sufficiently to take them home to dinner. I am not a credible authority figure.

 

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Thank you, clip art from Google, for showing me as a small-child teacher

I am, however, a good fit for adult education. Sure, adults can get distracted or talk over other people or mention inappropriate material or take us totally off topic. But they don’t usually throw themselves on the floor while wailing and thrashing around. They don’t randomly start cutting their classmate’s hair with the scissors someone else didn’t put away. They’re not typically found trying to staple anyone’s hand to the desk. They don’t normally start dancing on tables and throwing blocks at people’s heads while you’re busy putting a band-aid on someone’s invisible ouchie (that they insist is extremely painful). They don’t tend to conspire to and carry out a successful prison-level-nothing-to-lose riot while you’re dealing with someone else’s poop. In fact, there is NO poop involved in adult education, which is absolutely one of the reasons I signed up for it.

Unfortunately, however, many of my current students are borderline children, as in 18 year olds who are still living the child role. Many of them come straight from high school to college, and sadly, this college isn’t really different from high school. They are still treated like children. Attendance is mandatory and all-day-long. Their classes are assigned to them and they don’t have any options about when or what, or even who their professor will be. There’s nowhere for them to congregate or get together, and they get shooed away when they hang out together on the library steps or anywhere else outside of a classroom. So perhaps it should be surprising that I don’t have serious toddler-level uprisings in more of my classes.

Luckily, though, it’s just one class I have problems in on a daily basis. But still. It stinks almost as badly as if I were dealing with poop. I turn my back to write on the board and people are flicking each other and smacking each other on the head. A few of the students are constantly hiding this one kid’s backpack when he’s not looking. That’s just a sample. And the talking about anything but English is unabating. “Let’s listen!” I say. “Shhh!” I glare at them. “Let’s respect other people and not talk while they’re talking.” I attempt to reason with them. “Remember? You guys invented our class rules yourselves.” “Guys, we’re in English class,” I try to remind them. “Concentrate. We’re reading right now.” And of course, amidst the ubiquitous play fighting I’m constantly saying, “No violence!” I tell all my students that when they’re messing around with another student. But in this class, between my “no violence” retort and the shushing and concentrating business I’m like the background music on an elevator: ongoing and more common than any other conversation or noise.

“I am not a good authoritarian, guys. Please don’t make me be one.” I tried to level with my class in a last-ditch effort to solve the problem. I gave a speech imploring them to give me other ideas to resolve the problem. “I don’t want to be a strict teacher. I don’t want a silent, obedient class. I want us to have discussions and have fun in class.” The problem, I explained, is that some of the students in this class goof off so much and distract me and everyone else so much that this class is consistently behind my other level 1 class. Which means we do fewer activities. They are less exposed to English, have less practice than my other class. Which isn’t fair to the students who want to learn. It’s not fair to the ones who finish really fast and need extra challenges, and it’s not fair to the ones who are struggling and need extra help from me but who are willing to work hard. I want to keep having lots of group work. I don’t mind their boisterousness at all, as long as they can complete the tasks. But that’s not where they are as a class right now.

It all came to a head two days before my big speech. We were reading aloud, taking turns as a whole class to read and comprehend an article. Suddenly, several students were making comments and rude whistling noises and I don’t even know what other rudeness at the student who was reading, and bam! I started seeing red. “EXCUSE ME?” I asked, belligerently, my eyes bulging out of my head. “Excuse me? Are you making fun of him? Are you serious?” I might have even started pointing my finger all around the room. I was in the teacher version of being that little girl in The Exorcist. “Does anybody in this room speak perfect English? Raise your hand. Anybody?” Some smarty pants said, “You, teacher,” and I was like, “Wrong! I’ve been speaking English my entire life and I can still make mistakes. All of us make mistakes. It’s not only normal, it’s an important part of the process. You all know how I feel about mistakes. They are a vital part of learning. AND you guys all agreed that not making fun of each other is part of what we need to have a good learning environment. Furthermore,” I continued, eyebrows in permnent-raised-mode, “if you’re purpose is to see me mad, this is the way to do it. Disrespect each other some more. If you want me to get mad and get mean and start throwing people out of class, keep up this act. Do you want to make fun of someone else? Make fun of somebody some more? Go ahead and get out of my class right now.” I gestured toward the door.

Nobody moved. It was the first time in my class that everyone was silent for an entire 20 seconds or so. I was still red in the face and sweating. It was not my finest moment in teaching. But people were much nicer through the rest of class.

So I asked them the next day, and explained in a much calmer manner, that some things have to change and that I need their help to do so. That I don’t want to just start imposing new rules and being strict and grumpy all the time. That I want them to tell me how to fix things for everybody. “I get that some of you don’t love English class. I didn’t make this rule about attending, much less about passing English. If you really can’t stand this class, don’t come- but I take no responsibility if you fail.” I talked a little more clearly about the situation as I see it, and what my goals are: to spend less time on discipline and more time on learning. I asked what comments and ideas, and goals of their own they had to share. Nobody spoke. “Okay,” I said, refusing defeat. “Do you need a day to think about it?” Several people nodded. “But do think about it! I’m honestly open to your ideas,” I tried to emphasize.

Sadly, upon follow-up, I got only a couple of ideas, none of which I am stoked about employing. Things like assigned seats. And kicking people out of class for acting up. Those were among the only suggestions. Sigh.

We’ll see what Monday brings. Perhaps some of them, or maybe I, will have had a stroke of genius about how to fix things. Hopefully them. Maybe one of you reading this will shed your brilliant wisdom upon the matter. How do you deal with “discipline?” What do you do when modeling respect is not sufficient, when you lose your cool? All suggestions are welcome and appreciated! Keep teaching, keep learning!

xoxox

Routine and Obscene: Birthing in Oaxaca Part II

12 Apr

Life is messy, and birth is super messy. No matter how you birth, C-section or vaginal, in a pool while listening to jazz or screaming like a banshee at that dumb-ass doctor, it is full of messy body fluids and messy emotions. There is no sterile birth. The whole messy shebang- pregnancy, birth, and the never-ending afterwards is a wild medley of joy and misery for most people. Your body is totally hijacked by this creature and just about everything in life therefore becomes about this creature, which is maddening some of the time even if you had to work hard to get that creature in there. But here’s the thing: it’s still your body, and everybody, every body, every baby, and every body carrying a baby, deserves respect. Period. You deserve respect. You deserve information and you deserve care. No ifs, ands, or buts.

So this is about to be messy, y’all. This is approximately my 18th attempt to finish and publish a blog post about this topic, but I am over-the-top-determined, fired-up and mad and impassioned all over again. So brace yourselves. I am bringing the mess.

Now, let me be clear. I’m about to get very detailed and slightly rabid over doctors, nurses, education, and health care in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico (especially the coast, since that’s where I live.) But that does not mean that this does not apply to you, too, my darling USA. Do not- I repeat, Do Not- go around patting yourself on the back that you’re doing better than Mexico, or that you don’t need to worry about it because you’re safe up there in the North. Do not fool yourself. Mexico learned a lot of these tactics from the US in the first place. The problem is, Mexico ends up scoring higher on the charts at all the wrong things. Soda consumption? Mexico wins! Type 2 Diabetes? Another goal for Mexico. Cesarean births? Mexico is kicking the US’s butt again!

So there are the fews stats I have: “…(T)he maternal mortality rate in Oaxaca is approximately 62 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, double the national rate,” according to Child Family Health International. The US has about a third of its births via C-section, when the World Health Organization suggests that a C-section is medically necessary about 10-15% of the time. Around here in Oaxaca, it’s hard to get solid statistics*, but it’s estimated that 50% of births terminate in a Cesarean, and that the rate of C-sections is even higher in private clinics, with some estimates at high as 80%. Such a high C-section rate brings much higher risks and worse birth outcomes for both mother and child. And that’s only part of the story of what’s wrong with birthing in Oaxaca.

References: WHO C-Section Statementmortality ratein Spanish, more information about the state of giving birth in Mexicomore info in Spanish, more info on estimated rates  (I am not very familiar with the publisher of the information in Spanish, so I can’t vouch for how definite it is, but it is just about the only information I can find.)

Now, I studied sociology and everything in me is against relying on anecdotal evidence as fact, but in the absence of well-researched statistics, I think anecdotal evidence is worth a mention. This is a big part of what has had me crying and wringing my hands and pumping my fists alternately in these nearly 5 years of living down here- the birth stories that I hear. This is what is going to be my long-term mission to join with others in the community to change, if I end up living here forever: humanizing pregnancy and birth.

It’s ugly in the public sector and it’s ugly in the private sector, but your treatment is drastically worse the poorer you are. In the news there are loads of stories about women who were forced to give birth in the parking lot, on the lawn, in the bathroom, in the waiting room, etc., because there wasn’t enough space for them in the hospital/clinic when they came in. The women that this happens to are always indigenous, but luckily there is no racism here (yes, this is sarcasm). I suppose that’s the worst end of the spectrum, although I’m not sure the care that people receive when you’re admitted qualifies as desirable, either. Yes, it is better than giving birth outside with nothing, but is that really what we’re willing to accept?

What always strikes me as the worst acceptable, routine thing, is that women are giving birth alone. Labor and delivery is one of the hardest and most beautiful and wildest and messiest things you can do in life, and that’s cool if you choose to do it alone. Anytime you give birth in the public sector, though, you have to be alone. All by yourself, with just a bunch of other women around who are also in labor, with not enough doctors and nurses or even, sometimes, enough beds. ALONE! With no one to advocate for you, for your health and wellbeing, for the baby’s health and wellbeing. With no one to hold your hand, to rub your back, to get that hair out of your face, to tell you that you’re doing great and it’ll all be over eventually. Alone! For your entire labor and delivery. Already that, in and of itself, is completely and utterly inhumane to me. I can. not. fathom. it. And it pisses me off extra here in Oaxaca because if you go to the hospital for ANY other reason, they force someone to accompany you. If you have to be recovering from something in the hospital for 3 months, you have to have someone there, just about 24 hours a day, because there aren’t enough resources for the hospital to take good care of you. So why the hell would you send people in to give birth totally on their own?! Heartless bastards! I suspect it’s partially because they don’t want anyone there to defend you and help take care of you.
Let me tell you what kinds of things happen there, while you’re there, contracting and alone. You don’t get any water. I know, many places in the US like to do this too, which is equally senseless and unnecessary, but it’s even more cruel here, where it’s 85 degrees and more humid than Hades. One friend told me that they STILL wouldn’t give her water or food for hours after her birth. Finally she begged a doctor for water and he told her it was at her own risk- as if water was going to do her harm after giving birth!

Furthermore, more than one person has told me that nurses berated them for making too much noise. You’re often in a big room with a ton of beds filled with other laboring women, receiving little attention. One woman just told me that during her birth, they decided that she wasn’t progressing fast enough (normal), but there were no gynecologists in at the time. Therefore she had to wait another 12 hours for the gynecologist to come on call, and then they could only give her a C-section because they decided it was too late to try to speed up her labor any other way (which is a pretty common story in the public sector, due to lack of gynecologists).

Then there are all the excuses they give you to have an unnecessary C-section, especially in the private sector. The cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. The baby is too big. You’re a couple days past forty weeks. Your hips are too small. You already had one C-section. Ad infinitum.

All of this is similar to stuff they might tell you in the US, but the difference here is that there is no such thing as pregnancy and birth education. There are no child birthing classes. There is no education about what to expect while pregnant even. If you have a doctor like the one I had at the insurance company, they don’t even tell you basic information like when to suspect there is a problem. Culturally, there is no questioning authority. So if the doctor says your baby is too big for you to give birth to, you don’t ask how he or she knows that. You either accept it and get the C-section like they want or you reject the system entirely and go to a midwife, which could or could not be a good option. (More about midwives in another post, I promise- it’s too broad a subject to broach). Many people don’t have the option of midwives, or of anything beyond the very limited bit their health insurance provides.

If you do have the money or borrow the money to give birth elsewhere, it ends up being a similar scenario. The private sector thrives on your ignorance and the total lack of available options, on the fact that almost all the doctors are out to screw you over equally. For example, one prominent gynecologist here told me beforehand that if I didn’t want an automatic episiotomy, that I would have to sign a bunch of consent forms beforehand, and that, you know, it was all at my own risk, because that made it very dangerous! It felt to me like they just make stuff up to sell you more services you desperately “need”- and if it turns out you need a C-section, (which you probably will), then even better, because it’s more convenient and way more money for them. (Multiple people have sworn to me that doctor friends have even admitted this is how they operate.)

On top of treating women like animals in labor, often doctors take the opportunity to abuse their power and your reproductive health and rights while you’re there. The straw that broke the camel’s back in forcing me to finally publish this messy, disorganized blog post about this was hearing ANOTHER story of forced birth control. This story came directly from a doctor who had no reason to make it up. We were talking about IUDs, and how sometimes the strings hang down too short, and he was telling me that he just had a case where a woman had been trying to get pregnant with her second child for years, She had had all kinds of testing done and everything, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, it turned out that she had an IUD in place, that had been put there when she had her first child via C-section, without her consent or knowledge. Apparently this is a common thing- giving women an IUD, either without their knowledge at all, or forcibly without their consent. Another second hand story came to me about a woman getting a forced IUD and the doctor telling her, “I don’t want to see you in here pregnant again for the next few years!” Which I can totally imagine, because that is how doctors talk to people here, especially to women.

Of course they do the same thing with sterilizing women. They pressure you into it if they decide you have enough children. Just this weekend I was chatting about this with someone who experienced it. They tried to force her to get a tubal ligation when she gave birth to her fourth child. “How many children do you have? Don’t you think four is enough?” The doctor tried to shame her. This woman is a total heroin, though- she is the same woman my nurse friend told me about who REFUSED to let the doctor put his hand in her uterus to “clean her out” after birth (another routine, unnecessary, and very painful procedure). She was like, “I came to deliver my baby, not to get surgery, thank you.” She said the doctor wouldn’t leave her alone about it until another doctor who is her neighbor came in and defended her right to decide. Your rights mean nothing. She got to decide because a man in power intervened on her behalf.

I could rattle on and on about more abhorrent stories and accounts, more abuse and lack of rights, but here’s the end game for me: We need more education in the community, AND a total shift in the system. Let’s stop reading about another indigenous woman giving birth on the lawn of IMSS and acting like it doesn’t affect us. Let’s stop listening to each others’ horror stories. It does affect us. It means that we are accepting this as the care that we deserve.  Giving birth is messy but it shouldn’t be dehumanizing. Being routine does not make something acceptable.