Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Auntie's Guilt

I never really thought about circumcision growing up, or really until fairly recently. I grew up in a very conventional, modest family so private matters like that weren't discussed, especially not with my sister and I. I didn't know much about it, what was involved, how it affected penile anatomy. I thought a foreskin was a extra layer of skin in a strip down the front of a penis. They never explained it in my middle school Health classes, and I don't think they really mentioned circumcision, either. Maybe they did and I blocked it out. No, wait, they did mention that an intact man had to retract the foreskin to put on a condom, or something. Very vague memories, you know? I didn't want to know or think about it.

The only thing I do remember hearing about circumcision was that infant foreskins could be used in medical applications to help grow new skin for burn victims and healing wounds and the like. Well that was a great thing, right? The foreskins would otherwise be wasted, and I thought, well, if it could help people, then why not? I never, ever considered the consequences to the babies, that it could hurt, that there could be complications that could affect a boy's life or take it, that the foreskin had a biological purpose. There was circumcision in the Bible, so it must be fine. Right? For these reasons, when I was sitting in a recovery room with my sister, our mother, and my brother-in-law, holding my brand-new first nephew while his father filled out paperwork, I responded with "Why not? No reason not to" when he posed the question about having him circumcised. It was an Air Force hospital so it wouldn't cost them extra. So why not?

So I didn't think too much about it when the precious baby complained while having it cleaned. He complained when we cleaned his cord stump, too. It seemed normal. It wasn't a bleeding, festering wound. It was just a clean, "pretty" little penis, even thought his Dad said he cried through the whole thing. His discomfort didn't concern me. It didn't concern his father, who should know how bad a penis could hurt, so I never thought about it beyond patronizing sympathy. "Ohhh, poor baby. It's okay, it's done, you're fine."

It wasn't until I began my doula journey that I was formally introduced to this idea of keeping a boy intact. I'd had an encounter with it a few years before when I sat a friend's intact toddler and changed his diaper. I thought he was deformed because he didn't look like my nephew. It took me years to realize which one of them was deformed. By then all three of my nephews had been born and had been cut. The damage was done, and my ignorance had been the tipping point years before. They might have just left him alone if I hadn't said "Why not?"

I know it's not totally my fault, but I know I spoke up in that room. Now I know I spoke up incorrectly. My oldest nephew shows some signs of a possible deformity that could have been the result of a problem with his circumcision. Luckily the other two don't seem to have any deformities, but I know they've had a piece of their bodies taken away from them without a choice. Ever since embarking on my quest to find out the truth about circumcision--secular, religious, physical, emotional, medical--guilt has begun to gnaw at my insides. I laid the extra grain on the scales.

I want to apologize, but how can I? They're 7, 5, and 2. Are they old enough to understand? If I wait until they're older, will they feel bitter and betrayed? Embarrassed that I'm even bringing it up? I mean how awkward is that, to have your aunt say "I'm sorry I said something that contributed to your genitals being forcibly mutilated."


I belong to a faith where one's personal freedom and agency to choose for oneself are paramount. We offer baptism only at or after the age of eight so that children have years to learn and grow and decide for themselves if that's what they want. Circumcision is expressly mentioned as unnecessary for a sign of covenant in our scripture, another fact I hadn't noticed because I didn't care at the time. Had I been better informed, it should have been glaringly obvious that there was no need, no reason to recommend circumcision, and certainly not on the misguided notion that their living, healthy body parts should/would be harvested for medical profit, regardless of the cause. Their choice was taken away. They could not consent or decline.

When we know better, we do better. I can't judge anyone who chooses to circumcise their baby boy, whatever their reasoning. I can't judge because I am guilty, too. I will always be guilty, no matter what apologies or forgiveness are given or received. I will have always spoken up and changed my nephews forever.

But I sure as crap can educate and I can advocate. I can pray I have a son someday so that I can leave him intact.  We don't have to keep our culture this way, where we disrespect the integrity of a boy's most personal, private body part. We don't have to inflict violence on our babies in the name of no good reason. We can do better.

Start to know better.

Jena Vincent of Abundance Massage

Friday, May 21, 2010

Confessions and Decisions for 2010-2011

Something I have not widely publicized online is the fact that my two-year certification window for DONA is up in July, and I've done next to squat.  I feel a bit of a fraud, attending my local doula support group and meet the doula nights for the past two years and having attended no births.  I have not finish my reading, my resource list, or anything else.  On top of my infant massage certification and pregnancy massage class, it's too much for my tiny brain to handle in the next to months.  I jumped in without planning or allotting the time to do this and I'm paying for it.  Mind you, I think I trained when I was supposed to.  I wouldn't be in the Doula Connection now if I hadn't.  However, my lack of action since then in this field is not to my credit.

Nevertheless, I still have a doula heart and this is something I've wanted to do for almost a decade. And dagnabit, I'm going to do it.  I just have to get myself organized. I have all the books I need, I have my doula bag and some equipment, I know what's expected, I know what I need, I can start compiling my resource list now.  I can do this.  So I'm going to do it, just not by the end of July.

Instead, I'm going to wait.  I'm going to let the 2 years expire and I'm going to take the next training toward the end of the year, maybe next year, depending on how my schedule works out in the next few months.  (I never used to have to worry about what I'd be doing on a given weekend in six months.  What the heck, adulthood?)  I'm going to prepare ahead this time.  I'll probably write a "What I Wish I'd Known/Done" type of post later to help others avoid this if possible.

In conjunction with that decision, I've also decided that as far as actively pursuing other certifications (except DONA), I am done for this year.  I was looking into starting the three-level process for Arvigo Mayan Abdominal Massage this year, but when I realized that I've spent 94% of my gross income so far this month on the business, and the past several months have been similarly financially taxing, I had to take a pause.  As much as I love piling on the knowledge and no matter how fascinated I am by the Mayan modality, I have to think about my own ability to live day-to-day and provide for myself.  My practice has really been taking off this year and I'm grateful for that, and I need to concentrate on keeping that momentum and getting it to build.  I'll save Arvigo for 2011.

I also realized as I was writing this post that for the first time in my adult life, I'm planning in excess of six months in advance on the assumption that I will not be dating, engaged, or married.  In fact I'm basically planning through the end of 2011, possibly even into 2012, depending on the when and where of the classes and how I can work them into my calendar.  When that thought hit me, I confess it was a bit of a shock and it made me sad because marriage and motherhood are what I want most out of life.  Maybe now, though, I can start letting go of my hesitance to build my practice to what it should be, and just work on being the best care provider I can be.  All things will come in the Lord's due time.

Now if I start talking crazy talk about certifying in something else, you all need to tell me to stop and save my money for next year!  I have several thousand dollars I need to start putting away for Arvigo.

Goodness but life is exciting!

Jena Vincent of Abundance Massage

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My review of "Babies"


 The Babies are coming!  The Babies are here!
I attended the first local showing of Babies with my best friend, Kim (also a doula; in fact she just turned in her certification packet, YAY!!!), at the Rialto Cinemas on Summerfield.  It was quite an event with at least two local authors there selling and signing their books, food and drink, raffles, and free drinking vessels afterward, courtesy of Better Beginnings and the California Parenting Institute.  It was wonderful to spend the time with so many members of the birth/baby/motherhood community here in Sonoma County and surrounding areas, and the air was just electric with love and sharing and really community feeling.

Okay I know, on to the movie.

Shortest summary: I loved it.  It was not what I expected, but I loved it.

When I first saw the trailer, I thought surely there would be interviews with the parents and family and discussion of different parenting styles and cultural contexts, talk about the births, etc.  Kim told me as we were on our way there that there was no narration whatsoever, and I'm glad I knew that going in or I might have been more disappointed.  However, the movie really played out more like four photo albums of these babies' first year of life, with moving pictures instead of stationary.  Every little scene told a little story, from the  Namibian baby fighting over a bottle, to the Mogolian family's very tolerant cat (all the animals were very tolerant), to the Japanese baby thrown into (hilarious) fits of exquisite anguish over a toy that's not cooperating, to the American baby silently and intently filling her diaper.  The audience is left completely to its own devices to comprehend and compare each culture to the others.  Virtually all judgment is left up to the mind of the viewer to decide what and where bias lies.

That being said, there were some situations where I really, REALLY wanted more explanation.  (I vote for a "visual companion" book to be compiled for purchase with the DVD, but that's me.)  The meaning of the writing on the Japanese baby's feet, the event in Mongolia with the singing elders, the almost complete lack of screen time for Namibian adult males (we only see one at the very beginning, in silhouette against a darkening sky.)  I guess I really just would have liked to know more about the cultures that aren't my own, a remnant of my first perceptions of the film.

The cinematography is beautiful, but at times I found it distracting.  Much of the filming is from a static perspective--again, as if the shots were really moving pictures--with only occasional adjustment if the baby is about to crawl or walk off.  Because there's not a lot of dynamic movement of the frame or cutting between shots, I found my attention sometimes stretched a little in watching.  (ADD much?)  But each scene was short and charming.  The soundtrack is minimal and fairly unobtrusive.

I didn't feel that any one way was presented as better or worse in raising a child.  Rather I felt the film was a visual feast of food for thought.  Do we need to worry SO much about broad socialization when a small collection of families on the steppes appears perfectly well adjusted and there isn't another soul for miles in any direction?  Do we have to worry so much about keeping everything sanitary and neat when Namibian babies spend literally all day getting caked with dirt and chewing on discarded bones?  Granted, their rural lives are very different from our urban or suburban ones, but maybe some of the things we've decided are vitally important for health and well-being are in part making up for the things we've lost as we've moved away from the close, intimate connectedness our (even not-so-ancient) ancestors enjoyed.

As a side note, I fell in love with the Namibian mother.  Strong, beautiful, nurturing, loving, confident, graceful, goddess-like... she seemed to represent to me the essence of great motherhood and womanliness.  I felt like I wanted to sit in her circle and walk by her side and try to soak in some of her spirit.  She didn't have a care in the world that she looked nothing like a model or an actress or anyone else.  Her body was well used in the work of bringing up her children and you could tell she took much joy in it.

Ultimately, Babies lived up to its title; it was a film about the lives of the four babies featured.  Not their family or their culture or the politics of this or that.  Just the babies.  It's not the movie for everyone.  If you are not ga-ga over the adorable cuteness of babies and would not be content to spend 90 minutes of your life watching them without interruption, you might want to opt for another film.  (Even baby-geek that I am, I got a little impatient about the midway point.)  If you want a deep, political, explicit education on parenting or cultures around the world, you won't find it here.  What you will find is a gentle, charming film about loving families who all do things differently, squee-worthy baby antics, and a reminder that there are beautiful things in the world as long as we have babies.

Jena Vincent of Abundance Massage

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Link List: May 17

I skipped last week because I had little to show for it, bhaving been busy elsewhere. But here's this week's entry, and a shout and a wave to my new followers.  I am very excited to have you here! Enjoy.

  • Vaccine Ingredient from Informed Choice - I admit, vaccines haven't been very high on my research priority list just yet.  But, here's a table of the ingredients of the common infant/childhood cocktail of vaccines for your perusal.
  • "C-section rate highest in China, reasons mixed" from Xinhuanet.com - "Mixed" but dominated by money.  In my mind, this goes hand-in-hand with the One Child policy to form a devastating anti-woman, anti-child conspiracy on the part of the "establishment" in China. What a loss for a population of families that will largely never have a chance to know anything else.
  • "Breast-fed babies know when to say when" from WomensHealth.com - Americans possibly learning to overconsume from birth?  Shocking concept! /sarcasm Yes, I'm as guilty of the gluttony as anyone.  Just saying, maybe we can do better for future generations by rethinking the bottle.
  • "World War II is responsible for the decline in breastfeeding in the U.S." - at If Breastfeeding Offends You.. - Being the Good Eats geek I am, I enjoy learning the history of food. Our country changed so much after WWI and WWII both, but especially the latter.  I hadn't considered this as one of the direct effects before.
Child development
  • "Sleeping through the Night" by Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph. D. - Breastfeeding and infant sleep patterns as they're physiologically meant to be, and how ignoring them can contribute to SIDS.
  • "US low score on world motherhood rankings" from Yahoo! News -  Yay.  We're twenty-eighth.  Go us.  We rock.  However, regardless of our low-compared-to-other-wealthy-nations status, this really highlights how bad things are in less developed nations, for mothers and children, and ultimately how blessed we still are.  Women and children are so much worse off elsewhere, which leads me to...
  • Save the Children - They've been getting a lot of press and exposure lately (including the above article) so I looked them up. They get an "A" rating from CharityWatch.org and I sure can't argue with the idea of saving 4 million newborns (and more) every year.  I'll be exploring further and I hope you will, too.
  • "Should You Use Sunscreen" from Food Renegade -  Another topic I'm split on, personally.  Growing up, I rarely used sunscreen unless it was forced on me, and I'd ed up with tan lines clear to December.  As a teen, I'd spend the majority of my summer hanging out at  stable, in and out of the sun all day.  I'd burn badly once, maybe twice per year, but I'm not sure I'd credit my diet, a base tan, or dumb luck.  An intriguing concept though, and worth the read. All told, Vitamin D3 = good. 
  • "Generally Relative" from Order of the Stick - And to end this post, we have this little gem of geekery.  "Wow! You have pretty cool armor for a midwife!" It still makes me burst into giggles!  Only very tangentially related to (harhar) my normal topics, but, well, have a GREAT week, and remember to smile!
Jena Vincent of 
Abundance Massage

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Anti-antiperspirant Experiment, pt 2

Welcome back! The adventure continues...

Day 4
I took the whole weekend off the experiment because Saturday I worked with the public (bad time for a "Do I still smell?" test, you know?) and Sunday I didn't leave the house due to a lovely hacking cough I started cultivating Friday night.  Joy.  Anyway, Monday I worked at the bead store all day and also did a massage in the evening, and I was back on the experiment.  I took my baggie o' goop to work with me and reapplied once during a lull mid-afternoon, and I was fine.  No stink, and that's with this bug giving me a very odd odor, as I discovered on Sunday.  I'm impressed so far by the odor protection, if not dampness.

Day 5
Still sick, didn't leave the house again.  Challenging day; our well pump died sometime recently and our storage tank was completely empty last night.  We have no running water.  It makes hygiene a challenge, but I didn't notice any odor until late afternoon from yesterday's application. (Yes, being sick, I forgot to apply in the morning.  Sue me.)  I'm beginning to think that the small amount of orange blossom water may have a genuine deodorizing effect.  Intrigued.

Day 6
Same as yesterday.  Starch mixture kept me from being insanely stinky until I finally got a shower after the pump was repaired, though not entirely.  Still, good results under circumstance.

Day 7
Spent the day out with a friend.  Some odor after a couple hours, and definitely damp.

And it went on for another week, and I just now remembered about this post... odor seems to get taken care of pretty well with this mixture, but wetness is a continued challenge.  Hmm. 

All in all, it was a worthwhile experiment for me.  The corn starch did almost zilch to really control wetness, which was the whole point.  Then again, maybe mixing it with a water-based gel for application created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy event.  I don't know.  However, for such a low-tech mixture, especially once I included the orange blossom water, it had overall surprisingly good odor control properties.  I think this idea bears further experimentation.  My next plan is the try unscented lotion or cream with the corn starch and essential oils.  I'll let you know the results whenever that happens.  Science is done with the day.

Jena Vincent of Abundance Massage

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Monday Link List, a day late: May 3

It's that time again, just a little later than usual.  Also... Happy International Doula Month! Woo hoo!

  • "Living dead girl: Surviving HG" from Woman, Uncensored. - Hyperemesis Gravidarum literally means "excessive vomiting during pregnancy" and it is a scary-as-crap condition that makes morning sickness look like a slight case of indigestion.  I've had nightmares about being completely helpless that don't compare to this.  It's a rare (0.3-2% incidence) pregnancy complication so you're not likely to encounter it, but it's worth having heard of in case you do.  (In fact, I learned that one woman I grew up with has it.)
  • "Test leads to needless c-sections" from The Philadelphia Inquirer - It's not news to me, but it probably is news to most mainstream Americans how ineffective electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) really can be in detecting and/or preventing complications.
  • "Dads and Doulas: Five Reasons Dads Should Demand a Doula" from About.com -Excellent pass-along article for those uncertain about the reasons for having another person /stranger "intruding" on their birth experience.
  • Formula Fed America - A documentary about many of the current issues surrounding breastfeeding vs. formula feeding in America.  I have high hopes that this film with gives lots of information that is easily accessed by the public and can be used as a good teaching/conversation tool.  Site has a "Demand it!" button to request it show in your area, so spread the word!
  • "Overheard Hospital Roommate Discussion on Formula vs. Breastfeeding" at StorkStories - Nice example of the merits of discussion vs. debate, and parents helping parents.
  • "Shame on PBS Frontline, "The Vaccine War"" by Jay Gordon MD FAAP
  • Their Fertile Words - A brand new site that combines MyOBsaidWHAT?!? with GivesMeHope, "a place to find stories and quotes of kind, nurturing words of support, advice, humor, and experience given to women from menarche to menopause, from TTC to postpartum, in victory or loss, and always with love."
  • "How 'Bout We All Just Help Each Other Out?" from The Feminist Breeder -  Good question.  It says something sad about our culture that we're so afraid of offering and accepting help, but I think we all know that.
  • "Baby Mamas (Put A Sling On It)" - I originally linked to this on Facebook from Denver Doula but here it is on YouTube.  Three babywearing mamas parody Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)", and a good time was had by all.

Jena Vincent of Abundance Massage