A Victory for Women’s Health: Why Isn’t Everybody Happy?

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After years of trying to get birth control covered to the same extent that health plans cover Viagra, our country will finally have nearly universal coverage of contraception.

On January 20, 2012, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that most employers will be required to cover contraception in their health plans, along with other preventive services, with no cost-sharing such as co-pays or deductibles.

Being able to prevent unwanted pregnancies (and abortions, by the way) is now going to be an achievable goal for all women who have health insurance. That is, unless your health insurance provider is one that has been excepted because of religious objections to birth control.

What I can’t figure out is why any health insurance provider would allow its policies to be dictated by religion, especially when not providing full coverage for birth control will elevate its costs and eat into its profits. Women who can’t get or afford birth control tend to have more babies, which costs insurance providers much more money than providing birth control would have in the first place.

Apparently, some providers are willing to shoot themselves in the financial foot in order to attract clients who believe that life begins at fertilization. They must believe that the number of clients they can attract outweighs the costs associated with having children. However, the odds are that those clients are going to have more children because of their stance against birth control and abortion. If that just meant the cost of prenatal care and routine labors and deliveries that would be one thing. But what about high-risk pregnancies, premature babies, birth defects and complications that require expensive measures like C-sections and neonatal care?

Naturally there are those who aren’t happy with this decision, most notably the Catholic Church. What they fail to see is that it is the woman’s individual choice to use birth control. No insurance company is going to force a woman to use it. It’s just going to be covered in case she wants to.

The Catholic Church wants to change society to fit its standards, as if all people in our society agree with its stance on birth control. It really has no business telling non-Catholics what they can and cannot do. And that goes for anyone who is anti-birth control. If they have a problem with the use of contraception, I have a simple solution for them: Don’t use it. But don’t try to tell me that I can’t use it.

Organizations that will be able to opt out of providing full coverage for contraception are those whose employees all have the same anti-birth control views as the employers. This means that the Catholic Church can’t claim the exemption, because many of its employees aren’t even Catholics. So either they stop hiring non-Catholics, or they resign themselves to abiding by the HHS ruling.

Of course the decision has set off a firestorm of political posturing. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a bill, named the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012,” to repeal the policy.

“The Obama Administration’s obsession with forcing mandates on the American people has now reached a new low by violating the conscience rights and religious liberties of our people,” Rubio said in a statement.

In an appearance on “CBS This Morning,” Newt Gingrich called it “an attack on Christianity.”

I’m sorry, but where is it written that Christians don’t use birth control? And how is it an attack on religious liberties if no one is being forced to use contraception?

What amazes me is that the movement against abortion has now escalated into a movement against contraception. Doesn’t contraception lessen the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore the number of abortions?

Instead of criticizing the decision, the Catholic Church and others should be applauding the fact that low-income and under-insured women will have better and more affordable health care. But of course they’re not going to do that, because everyone knows that pro-lifers want to force their views on others, no matter what the consciences or religious beliefs of others tell them about contraception.

My conscience and religious beliefs tell me that I am to be responsible about family planning and the use of the earth’s resources. An unstemmed tide of unwanted pregnancies is a recipe for disaster for individual women, their families and their societies. The impact would be global (and already is, in areas where birth control is not available or utilized). If the pro-life constituent had its way, people with beliefs similar to mine would be prevented from acting on them.

Isn’t that a violation of our  conscience rights and religious liberty?

Rethinking Abortion

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A friend of mine recently told me that she used to be strongly pro-choice but now, because of experiences she’s had in her own life and seeing what other women have gone through, she’s decided that she’s pro-life. She said she’s concerned about the psychological damage to women who have abortions. She also feels many women have abortions for selfish reasons and there are very few good reasons for having one.

To tell the truth, I was surprised at how much I agreed with her. I’ve never felt comfortable about women having abortions just because they don’t want to be inconvenienced or stressed out. I’ve even wondered if there’s ever a good reason to abort a baby other than rape, incest, severe birth defects or the health of the mother. I have four children myself and two grandchildren (with one more on the way) and I know how precious a new life is.

The problem is, the abortion debate forces you to pick sides. You’re made to feel that you have to be pro-life OR pro-choice. You can’t be both. But as I listened to my friend, I realized that I am both.

I believe that abortion should be a last resort. No woman should use abortion just because she was too lazy or irresponsible to use birth control. (However, this belief doesn’t address the issue of what to do when a mistake has been made.)

I also believe that once a fetus is viable (i.e., it can live outside the womb without heroic efforts to keep it alive), it should not be aborted. If you’ve gone eight months with a baby inside you, what’s another month? That child has a right to live; even if you don’t want to be its mother, there is almost always someone who does. Let’s face it: newborn babies are in demand. It’s the older child who is harder to place. So if you don’t think you want to be a mother, don’t “give it a try” for a few years. Make the responsible choice while the baby still has a chance to grow up from birth in a loving home.

When I had my abortion at the age of 19, I was a freshman in college, I didn’t want to marry the father and I was afraid to tell my parents. I was also pretty sure that I couldn’t give the baby up for adoption and I knew my life would be changed irrevocably if I kept him or her. I thought I’d have to drop out of college and depend on my parents even more than I already did (and which I hated). And I didn’t want to have to deal with custody and visitation issues with a man I didn’t want to be with.

Also, this was 1971 and unmarried mothers were not as accepted as they are now.

None of these reasons justified my “killing” my baby, but they added up to a compelling argument at the time. And since the man who’d gotten me pregnant was completely supportive of my getting an abortion, I have to believe that he had similar reasons.

So how did I feel after having the abortion? Was I overwhelmed with guilt and grief? No. I can honestly say that all I felt was relief, especially since I pulled it off without having to tell my parents.

But now that I’m almost 60 and can look back on a long life of mistakes and regrets, I realize that just because something feels right doesn’t mean that it is right. I was a moderately religious person, but I didn’t have a well-developed sense of morals or ethics. I didn’t approach the problem from that perspective at all. I didn’t go to a counselor or a trusted adult. I felt like I got myself into this mess, it was up to me to get myself out.

I have had feelings of guilt and grief over the years, but they’ve never been overwhelming. My main feeling was that the abortion was regrettable, but the right thing for me at the time. But I had some bad moments during each of my subsequent pregnancies, especially once the babies were born. I couldn’t help but think that I would have had another child three years older than my oldest daughter if I hadn’t been so selfish. Who knows what that baby might have been like? Was it the boy I never managed to have later on? He or she would have been forty years old this year. Would I have had other grandchildren? How would he or she have turned out?

Having an abortion puts you in a tricky situation. You can ask God for forgiveness, but you can’t ask your aborted baby to forgive you. Some people get around this by not believing that the fetus was a baby. Technically and medically, the fetus isn’t a baby (that is, it can’t live outside the womb). But is it a life?

One debate surrounding abortion is over whether life begins at fertilization or implantation. Medical science has always favored the latter. You’re not pregnant until implantation occurs and you can’t be carrying a new life until you’re actually pregnant.

People who hold the former view have arbitrarily decided that life begins at fertilization.  Some pro-life advocates are against birth control because they think that the contraception itself causes abortions. But what happens when a fertilized egg passes out of the uterus naturally? Is that an abortion? Carry that a step further: does that mean that even God “murders” babies?

Strong words, I know. But the point I’m trying to make is: Is it ever right to make decisions that only God used to make? If the answer is no, you might as well do away with medical science and research. No more transplants, no more medicines, no more fertility treatments, no more heroic measures. Who are we to decide whether someone should live or die?

The Bible says that God gave man dominion over the earth. You could argue that this doesn’t just mean that he is supposed to tend plants and animals. It could also mean that God gave us jurisdiction over questions of life and death. He gave us the intellect to develop those things that help to extend life. But the flip side is that we’re also allowed to decide when things can or should be prevented from achieving viability, or life.

There are many good reasons for not allowing an embryo to develop into a fetus, or a fetus into a baby. What about when the number of children a family has prevents those children from having a good quality of life? What if the resources and support systems don’t exist to ensure that a child will be raised in a loving environment?

And that’s not even taking into account the health of the pregnant woman. What if she has other children she needs to be there for? Is it right to allow a woman to die just to allow the birth of another motherless child?

There is no consensus about these issues. That means is there is no one position that is more popular than the others. And for that reason, I believe it is against everything this country stands for to allow one group’s opinion to prevail.

Being pro-choice doesn’t mean that women will be forced to have unwanted abortions. But being anti-choice does mean that some women will be forced to have unwanted babies.

Which is right: force or freedom?

For a doctor’s views of when life begins and the abortion debate, go here at “The Moderate Voice.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Public Service Reminder (PSA) That’s Hard to Forget

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If this is what it takes to get you to remember your breast exams, so be it. I have a feeling I’ll be watching this video over and over. Just because I’m a feminist doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the scenery.

Thanks to my husband for sending this to me! He must really love me.

Work for the Miracle

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As many of you know, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the subjects of weight loss and obesity for a few weeks now. (Can you be “a bit” obsessed??)

I’ve been reading books and blog posts by women who have won the battle (either to lose weight or to learn to love themselves the way they are). One thing they have all have in common is that there is no easy fix, no magic formula for becoming slim. (How I love—and hate—that word “slim.” Like “svelte,” it conjures up an image of a woman gracefully gliding through life, which is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do, no matter how “slim” I become.)

On the contrary, losing weight requires discipline and sacrifice, no matter how you do it. And even after losing the weight, like an alcoholic you have to be ever vigilant against falling into the bad habits that caused you to gain weight the first time (or second or third or fourth—you get the picture).

Today I’m happy to present Marilyn Polson, author of the daily weight loss blog, Wait for the Miracle. Marilyn inspires me to keep going and work harder to attain my goal. Marilyn has lost over 50 pounds since May of this year and she accomplished this mainly through diet and exercise. (She still has approximately 30-50 pounds to go.) It may seem like she’s discovered a quick fix, but believe me, she has worked hard to get this far.

Marilyn has given me permission to share her “fat” story. Maybe you’ll see some parallels to your own life. At the very least, I think it will help you to understand the mindset of a person who struggles with her weight. Although everyone is different, there are some things that all fat people can relate to.

Here, in her own words, is Marilyn’s story:

I grew up in the Twiggy era, where stick thin was in. I was not stick thin nor was I ever going to be. I wasn’t fat; I had curves and a rear end larger than it should have been, but I was still able to wear my bikini and hold my own. I wore a size 10 most of the time until my 20s. I was normal; I didn’t stick out in one way or the other.

Food however, was an issue for as long as I can remember. I felt like our dinner table was a battlefield. I was a very picky eater and my father had no tolerance for that. What Mom cooked we ate. There were no special meals prepared and you sat there until you finished your meal. Usually Mom cooked two vegetables and you had to eat one. As long as there were peas, carrots or corn I was fine. When those were not an option, I knew it was going to be a long meal. I made a vow that when I had my own home I would eat what I wanted and when.

When I married at 19 that is exactly what I did. My mom had never taught me and my sisters how to cook, but luckily my husband’s mother was a woman before her time and she taught all her kids how to cook. From day one my husband took on that chore. Even though he was a good cook, most of the time we ate junk. Mac and cheese was a constant because it was cheap. We ate a lot of casseroles because they were also cheap and easy. KFC was a steady pick; we both loved fried chicken and neither one of us ever learned to make it right. I loved my chips, Cheetos, ice cream and chocolate. One thing I could do was bake so there were always cookies, pies and cakes to enjoy. I was happy.

I always used to hide my M&M’s; even then I didn’t like to share. My nieces would come over and think it was a game to find where they were hidden. If they found the M&M’s they could have them but I didn’t help in the search, secretly hoping that my stash wouldn’t be found.

My husband joined the Army and off we went to Oklahoma. We didn’t have much then so food became an even greater issue. Some weeks mac and cheese was all we had because it was all we could afford.

I battled with problem pregnancies. Whenever I started to bleed heavily, I was not permitted to eat for 24 hours, sometimes longer, in case I had to have surgery. Mentally I would eat all I could when I could because I never knew when the fast would begin. That was the start of binging behavior. By the time I was 24, I had had four miscarriages and was told that I shouldn’t get pregnant again. I did manage to lose enough weight to be “normal” again; my average size was a 12. That wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, but I still felt fat.

My husband was a very jealous man and Army life made matters worse. He was never violent toward me but if a man was talking to me he would punch first and ask questions later. It was humiliating. I consciously decided to gain weight because I thought I would then become invisible. Men would no longer talk to me and that issue would resolve itself. Only it didn’t work. I have a personality that people find easy to approach and the problem persisted.

By the time I was 30, we were living in Texas. I was an apartment manager and we had a problem at the family pool with a drunk who had unacceptable behavior. I went out to ask him to leave the pool area and he said to me, “I bet you were a fox when you were young.” I was crushed. I was already not taking turning 30 well. Now I felt old and fat. So I ate more. It got so bad, the girls in my office started emptying my desk drawers and throwing away the food. I just went to the store and bought more.

My husband was now a full-fledged alcoholic and life was getting too big to handle. Food was now my best and only friend. He worked late, I ate. He came home, I ate. The cycle was non-stop. The more he drank the more I ate. Even then I was a size 16 and at 5’4” I was certainly overweight but felt that it was still still manageable.

In 1990, my husband left the military. Life was hard but at least I was home again. I joined a diet program and lost most of the weight. I was 140 pounds and back to a size 12. I even became a group leader part time. We needed the money and I enjoyed the meetings.

At 40 I was healthy and at a good weight but then I decided to quit smoking. I started to gain weight. The doctor told me to do something I couldn’t do if I smoked so I started running. I worked up to two miles a day but I didn’t stop eating. I ran right up until I got too fat to do it anymore! My metabolism was shattered.

I started every kind of diet you can imagine and nothing worked. I was injected with urine from pregnant women; I took diet pills, drank protein shakes, and ate odd combinations of food that were supposed to complement each other (as long as there were no vegetables involved!). Adkins worked for a short time but I couldn’t stick with it. I moved from diet to diet getting more and more frustrated.

I was divorced in 2001 and all my friends told me to lose weight or I would never attract another man. I told them all I didn’t need any man who didn’t want me as I was. I was self-sufficient and I was going to enjoy my life. After all, I went from my daddy’s home to my husband’s home; I had never lived on my own. It was about time I learned to please myself. This was actually a great excuse to binge even more. I hid my pain in food. Still not a cook, I had take-out on the nights my mom didn’t cook for me. Snacks were staples; that sweet and salt cycle. I ate until the pain went away.

I found myself hovering around 200 pounds and was mortified. I started another diet program in 2003 and lost 35 pounds and felt good again. I started going dancing for the exercise and socialization. I needed to learn to be around men; I hadn’t dated since 1974! Dancing was great; I could get used to being close and not have to deal with any other issues. And then I met John.

John liked me just the way I was. He was kind to me and affectionate. I didn’t know how much I craved that until I received it. He was constant motion and another alcoholic. (I never learn the first time!) We had a ball; we went dancing and bar hopping all the time. I rarely drank so I was the DD (designated driver). We both found what we needed. And then binging reared its ugly head again. We ate out almost every night: wings, pizza, steaks, junk, junk and more junk. We married in 2005 and the cycle continued. When I tried to diet it was useless. Our lifestyle did not support any kind of moderation.

In 2007, John had a spiritual awakening and stopped drinking cold turkey. What I prayed for became a reality. Our life slowly started to make sense and change; except I was not able to stop binging. I joined other programs and learned about eating addictions. I ate for the very reason alcoholics drank. I learned that binging was a behavior, not an emotion. That helped me to gain some control. I also learned that most diets had built-in binge food. Once I figured that out I was able to view dieting differently. I didn’t lose weight but my attitude started to change. I was not ready for the total surrender yet.

In May of 2011 my physician told me that if I did not lose weight I was headed for diabetes. That scared me silly. My dad had food-related diabetes and while it didn’t lead to his death, it certainly didn’t help. I did not want to become a diabetic. I was ready. I was also 241 pounds and miserable.

I decided to Google all the diets in Central Florida and one by one eliminated the programs that I knew I would not work. I read and I made phone calls. Once I found the program that I felt was right for me I made the appointment and got started. June 1st, 2011 was the beginning of a new life.

I follow this new program even when I think I cannot. I also added all the things that every diet I ever used told me to do. I use small plates and silverware, I corralled a support system, I exercise, I journal (blog), anything I can think of I do. Now it is working. I feel better than I have felt in years. There are no more excuses; I must lose the weight.

I don’t have a goal or target weight yet. My doctor and I will decide that when the time comes. Right now I am just going to focus on day to day and not worry about the long term. I set small goals for myself and give non-food rewards when they are met. I pray constantly to my God for support and strength. I believe this is important. I never allowed God to be a part of the process before. Now I can tell when I am leading the way and when I surrender. It is amazing. I don’t know how long this will take but I am willing to keep moving forward and live my life. I am doing this for me. I want a life worth living today.

Marilyn in June, 2011
8-31-2011
8-31-2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read my own “fat” story here: “My Big Fat Story.” It has a lot of similarities to Marilyn’s except that at the time I wrote it, I hadn’t started to lose weight. If you have a story of your own you’d like to share, just go to “Contact” and drop me a line.

 

 

 

 

 

What Do You Think of “Maggie Goes On a Diet”?

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Maggie Goes On a Diet hasn’t even come out yet and it’s already sparked world-wide controversy. There’s even a “Say No to Maggie Goes On a Diet by Paul M. Kramer” page on Facebook, for instance. Experts, educators and parents are weighing in (no pun intended) on the issue of whether this is an appropriate book for 8 to 12 year-olds. (Amazon cites it as being for 4-8 year-olds, which makes it even more controversial.) Critics worry that it will lead to eating disorders at worst and hurt feelings at best.

This video shows parts of the book and includes an interview with the author (who, ironically, is very overweight himself, a fact no one mentions in the interview).

My worry is about how this book gets in the hands of a grade-school girl. If the book is given to her personally the message she’s going to get is, “They think I’m fat.” Even if it’s true that a child needs to lose weight, there are more sensitive ways of approaching the issue. A fat person knows he or she is fat, especially in this society with all the images of skinny people on TV and in movies and commercials. Not only that, but he or she has been sent the message that fat people are marginal in our society. Maggie herself achieves “fame and popularity” as a soccer player, but not until she becomes thin. Admittedly, part of the book’s message is that Maggie is not only fat, but she’s also not physically fit and supposedly the author’s intent was to show kids a model of how to become more healthy. But the truth is, you don’t have to be skinny to be physically fit, yet you wouldn’t know that from this book.

There are other things I take issue with, like the part where the author writes that Maggie got fat from eating bread and cheese. No one food makes someone fat and in fact bread and cheese are sensible parts of any diet. I also wonder why the author doesn’t criticize the kids who tease and bully Maggie for being fat. He acts as if this is a given—fat people are going to be treated badly—and seems to view it as a motivator for a fat person to lose weight. When in reality we should be teaching our children that it’s not right to be mean to people who are different, even if that difference is that that they’re fat.

I also question the title. Wouldn’t it have been better, and more sensitive, to have called it, “Maggie Makes Her Dreams Come True” or even “Maggie Gets Fit”? The author says that the word “diet” has many meanings and not all of them are negative. This just shows his insensitivity. Telling someone that they need to go on a diet does carry a negative connotation. It’s code for, “You’re fat.”

If a little girl finds this book in the library or book store and expresses interest in it, it might be a sign that she is ready to do something about her weight problem. But if she doesn’t have a weight problem, that should be a red flag that you need to have a conversation about body image and eating disorders.

But perhaps the biggest problem I have with the book is that it targets girls. If the author had come out with editions for boys and girls, I would have felt better about it. Girls are already bombarded with the message that they must be thin. Boys, not so much. What made the author think that his best audience would be female? Perhaps because he knows that they’re more likely to be concerned about their weight? The facts are that boys are more likely to be obese than girls. [Source.]

What do you think about this book or others like them? Do you think they’re helpful or hurtful? Are you comfortable with the target of grade school girls?

 

 

 

“Fat” Books: Two Reviews

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I’ve been on a fat spree lately. I don’t mean that I’ve been eating fat or making fat (at least no more than usual), but that I’ve been reading about it. Specifically, I’ve been reading books by women at different stages of “fathood.”

The first book, Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help by Abby Ellin may sound like it’s only about kids, but in reality it’s about what we do to our kids to make them obsessed about their weight. Some of the kids whose stories are in the book are genuinely obese, but many of them are not even fat, or are only a little overweight. And yet they still have the same anxieties as the children who are struggling with being grossly overweight.

The author herself was probably never more than “chubby,” but that was enough for her grandmother to refuse to allow her to visit her when Ellin failed to lose the weight her grandmother thought she should lose. Ellin went to “fat” camps several summers in a row, in latter years as a counselor. She takes those experiences and adds to them from interviews she’s had with other “fatties” to flesh out a complete picture of what it’s like to be fat and fail to lose weight in this society. It’s not a pretty picture.

Ellin doesn’t end up making recommendations for how to combat childhood obesity other than that each fat person has to do it for herself. But there’s a lot of food for thought in this book and I recommend it even if you aren’t a parent with an obese child. We all need to look in the mirror when we start looking for someone to blame for the obesity crisis we have in this country.

The second book I read was by a woman who has come to terms with the fact that she’s fat. In fact, she celebrates it. In Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large, Kim Brittingham shares her philosophies about how people get fat, why they stay fat and why it shouldn’t matter. I loved her description of what it’s like to have a full belly:

When my belly is that full, it feels like I’m being hugged—from the inside … like someone or something else is “with” me … And being that full makes me feel anchored and substantial … Every occasion of overstuffing myself has been a subconscious tug-of-war between wanting to feel that full and dreading it.

What I like about Brittingham’s book is that it is not a book with the happy ending we’re expecting. The author doesn’t lose weight in the end. And yet it is still a success story. I don’t know if I could ever feel as comfortable about being fat as Brittingham does, but she makes a good case for accepting yourself at any weight and body-type.

I have several more “fat memoirs” on hold at the library, plus books about Overeater’s Anonymous, how French people don’t get fat and the Mayo Clinic Weight Loss Diet. Obviously I’m a little obsessed right now (can you be a “little” obsessed?). So I’m going to start a series of posts on the “fat” problem, including my own (look for the next post). Please comment from your own experiences, either as a person who also has a “fat” problem, or as someone who cares about those who do.