Monday, July 3, 2017

In the desert

Life starts with a heartbeat. On an ultrasound it always makes me think of a tiny flame flickering in the wind. Beating to stay alive, beating against the chaos of the universe. Hundreds of thousands of cells, splitting and multiplying and growing despite the odds. Life is sacred, life is a rebellion, life is a resistance against death. Death is the natural state of all matter, the end of all things. An end that cannot be escaped. I will die, you will die, all will die.

Children are our immortality.

But only if they live.

In my mind I can see a picture of a still heart. A heart no longer beating, no bigger than the glistening jewel of a pomegranate seed. Rendered in fuzzy black and white. The end of a story that had hardly begun. The end of a future I visualized only in my head. A baby boy who would come to me a few weeks before Thanksgiving. A perfect human just like ones I bore before. To experience lends to imagination. I know the feel of soft skin and a tiny body held in my arms. The sweet breath of a sleeping infant. The feeling of falling my chest, the hormonal love and swelling joy of a real living baby. I know perfectly the extent of my loss. That dizzying happiness has slipped away silently, leaving me with something worse than nothing, it's left me with a dead fetus encased in my womb. A burden like stone to be carried until it can be released with great pain and confusion. Doctors, a hospital, a surgery with anesthesia so when I wake up I remember nothing. The sweet relief of a process of healing after death. Now an uphill journey back to normal life can begin.

My body is in chaos. I was pregnant, now I'm not. The shock of the hormone drop is like hitting a wall, like falling from a tall building. A sickening plummet and a hard impact. I am physically sick. I am unwell. I can barely stand it. Grief wraps around my throat and strangles my every breath. But I walk, I talk, I smile. I get up and make breakfast for my family. I hold the hands of my children. I go to work. I pay the bills and walk the dog. I am like the living dead. In shock I feel nothing but can sense a tidal wave of emotion waiting to break over and drench everything with sorrow, fear and loathing. I was going to be a mother to a son that will never be born. The knowledge is a sliver that pierces my heart, hot and searing, a new reality that I must wrestle into submission. This is my life now.

I am ruthlessly determined. I am a problem solver, a goal orientated, relentless pursuer of achievement. In this desert of grief there are no enemies to vanquish. No monsters to subjugate. No problems to overcome. There is no there there. Everything is normal. My test results yield nothing. There are no answers to give, so nothing is given. No plans of action besides hope for the best. Insidious, to hope against the terrible odds. To expect different results, a deviation from a path worn deep. In my utter helplessness to change my course a deep rage blooms and grows. Bright and big, like a poisonous flower. My anger is impotent. It is directionless, turning this way and that, seeking a target. I am careful that I don't explode and send shrapnel in every direction.

I have no power. Six miscarriages in a row and I lack the ability to protect my unborn children from the nameless thief that steals their lives. I cannot wrench a new soul into the world with the force of my will. My prayers to a faceless god are unanswered. There is nothing to do and nowhere to turn. I hate, a great lake of bitterness that wells up from my heart and floods my chest. This desert is dark and cold. I am the bestial creature eating my own heart.

There, encased in my own darkness like a chrysalis, I can make a choice. I can chose to be free, to be happy. I can chose laughter. My life is still a good life, a life worth living. I have more than I lost. I can take care of myself. I can release my grief in the wind and breath easy. Now I know a secret, that grief like death is inescapable. You cannot live life without loss and within this natural order is still joy. An overwhelming joy to be alive, to be sacred. I can cry, I can light my candles and embrace my sadness but I'm still fiercely happy and ever so thankful that I have the power to turn my hatred inside out. To shake it off like an old skin.

I love and because I love I cannot lose a life without pain. The stronger my love, the more powerful my grief. And this love is a beautiful thing which I give to all of my children, both living and dead. I love you and you are worth it. So with this I can go in peace. I am invincible in love, powerful in love. My love is a gift and I give it freely.

The choice gives me back my agency. I chose to love and to never give up.

But this is only the shock. I can feel the darkness behind me, it's coming but it's not here yet. And when it comes, no will can keep me from being lost. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The naked, bestial creature

I have a picture of my face that I really like. It's the picture I use for my work email, my official online presence, my public profiles. I like this picture because I look truly, truly happy. I am joyful and glowing and five weeks pregnant. This picture was taken a couple days before miscarriage number four. Which wasn't even a proper miscarriage and doesn't 'count' medically because I only had a positive pregnancy test and not an ultrasound confirmation of pregnancy. Chemical pregnancies are very early miscarriages which happen in the first four to five weeks of pregnancy and are very common. My unprofessional Google research tells me that as many as half of pregnancies can end before the first week. 

Sometimes I am confused when I speak with doctors. Have I had three miscarriages or five? What about the miscarriage at six weeks? Too late and painful to be considered a chemical pregnancy, too early to matter much at all medically. To me, the chemical pregnancies count. All of my pregnancies count. The two miscarriages I had at 7 and 11 weeks respectively count more because I saw an ultrasound of the embryo. The last one counts the most because it could have killed me. I saw the heartbeat, a tiny flickering like a little flame, beating cells that legitimatized my state of being and provided a solid medical diagnosis. Sometimes I remember that frantic little beat, trying to stay alive against the odds. My last discharge papers from the hospital read: You have had a miscarriage. Diagnosis: embryonic demise. Translation: 'There is no heartbeat'.

In the last 12 months I have been pregnant as many weeks as I was not. But my quest for a baby has certainly left me without a child. Each loss is different. I have found that a simple and common human affliction can strip me of dignity, leave me confused and disoriented, and push my resources beyond the threshold with which I can effectively cope. I am no longer myself, I am a version of myself in a state of repeated pregnancy loss. The symptoms have been referred pain, headaches, nausea, and emotional unpredictability. I did not cry at the hospital. I did not cry when I got home from the hospital or in the days that followed. But things which make me happy, like spending time with my two beautiful nieces, can days later leave me awash with sadness and rage in the most inappropriate venue at the worst time.

I expected the fifth would be like the first, a huge crushing wave of tears but that flood never comes. I stopped crying after the second. Because I got tougher. I am now a new, shiny hard surface which does not crack or break. All the excess weight has fallen off my body. I'm still soft, but I'm almost a stranger to myself. Whose thinner arms are these? Certainly I am a little bit dissociated from myself. Being destroyed has made me nearly indestructible. This new perspective on life has left me a vast capacity for empathy and a greater understand of the human condition. But I cannot talk about my fifth miscarriage without also talking about the abortion which followed number five (having seen two of the three embryos I lost, I can't think of them as true babies, they were at most strange tiny little spheres of potential human beings that I counted one by one). 

My abortion was the worst part of my fifth miscarriage, and wrapped up in it is the state of healthcare and women's rights in my country. When I left the hospital with my miscarriage diagnosis I was in the process of losing a pregnancy. Sometimes, if one is lucky, like I was lucky with number two, a miscarriage happens all at once. If one is unlucky, as I was unlucky with number five, a miscarriage may drag on for weeks or months while a body tries to rid itself of an nonviable pregnancy. I found out that the pregnancy tissue can continue to grow even after the embryo is gone, even when the body is fighting to rid itself of this dangerous condition which can lead to infection and without proper medical treatment, even death.

Because I didn't have health insurance and wasn't willing to pay over $20,000 for a D&C in the hospital, I ended up in a desperate search for an alternative provider for women's healthcare. The ultrasound at the hospital, performed after I left work in the middle of the day and drove in a daze to the ER, cost $1,066. Over a week later, an appointment made a month prior for my 12 week checkup ended up becoming my followup appointment for my miscarriage. The doctor drew blood and strongly cautioned me against trying to wait it out. My pregnancy hormone levels were still too high, indicating a serious complication. I was already anemic and now threatened with the exorbitant costs of blood transfusions and emergency surgery if I didn't agree to a D&C that would leave me in more debt than all my student loans.

The next day, after a terse and terrible conversation with the hospital billing department I called Planned Parenthood. I've only had a few moments in my life where I felt as desperate as I did then. It was my lunch break at work and I could barely speak because my throat was so tight. Thankfully the person I spoke to was absolutely wonderful. They called the clinic and spoke with the doctor to see if they could perform a D&E in place of a D&C, they made an appointment the next day at the nearest clinic, they explained the cost ($475) and even offered me financial aid which I declined.

On the day I walked into Planned Parenthood I was physically unwell and emotionally removed. I had lost a fair amount of blood in the two weeks since a nurse practitioner had steeled herself and told me that there was no more hope. I could tell it took a toll for her to deliver that news. 'You'll be ok, you're tough. You've been through this before.' she told me. I couldn't tell if she said it for my benefit or hers or just because there was nothing else to say. My body was caught in a hellish limbo of pregnant but not pregnant. I almost cried when we drove past the protestors holding up a three foot sign with a picture of a 10 week embryo. It was a graphic depiction of everything I had lost, so many times. As I walked for the door a woman across the street yelled at me to stop and save my baby. A part of me wanted to tell her she had no empathy, no understanding and no imagination for the suffering of others. A bigger part of me couldn't even articulate the parts of rage when I looked at her. My driver tried to comfort me by telling me my 'baby' was already dead. 'That's not why I'm angry.' I said.

Inside planned parenthood I had to fill out a number of forms requesting an abortion. I had to go through counseling and education on birth control, preventing pregnancy and domestic violence. My counselor told me I was the only person to sit in her office who was actively trying to get pregnant. I was mortified when I suddenly started to cry and could not stop. During my ultrasound the young technician exclaimed 'Oh my god!' and told me I really, really needed a D&C immediately. She turned the screen towards me so I could see the gestational sac, still growing and now measuring at 12 weeks, some days. It was another affirmation that this was really happening and every step I had taken had been absolutely necessary. Without Planned Parenthood I would have been saddled with a huge debt for a procedure I could not forego or postpone. For another hour I sat with six other women in a tiny inner waiting room. Some of them were crying in the quiet way that women cry when they are trying to hide their sadness. The irony of the situation was so overwhelming I wanted it to be funny but I cried along with them instead. I couldn't stop picturing in my mind what a real newborn would have looked like, held in my arms.  

I do not judge those women, I do not think what they did was wrong. I still believe that no one should be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy. My desire for a child has nothing to do with the decisions others make for themselves. I know firsthand how taxing and dangerous pregnancy can be. We all have desperate times, desperate situations. The last thing I said for the sake of the recorder in the operating room before the anesthesia kicked in was answering the doctor's question, 'For the record, this was a pregnancy you desired, correct?' My answer was, 'yes, very much'. The next thing I knew, two hours had passed and I was waking up in recovery. 

A friend asked me if I get excited anymore when I get pregnant and the answer is 'yes, but'. My excitement is tempered with caution. For me a positive pregnancy test means next to nothing. An ultrasound guarantees nothing. I could not have predicted that a sixty day gap in ten solid years of health insurance would have resulted as it did. I thought that pregnancy was the one. I thought that because I saw that tiny beating heart we were going to make it. Only one of us did. My perseverance, my optimism, my faith and my hope have slowly become insidious. I thought I was a force of nature that could take on anything the world brought my way. It turned out I hadn't actually considered what the worst was. This wasn't even close to the worst thing that could have happened. 

Possibly the absolutely most important thing that I can tell anyone who actually this whole story is that I am one of the lucky ones. I wake up every day thankful. To be bitter would be to take for granted the things I do have. My experience was horrific, but I am educated, employed, married, and financially stable. I have a large support network. I have good credit. I'm in my thirties, not twenties or teens. I could have afforded a D&C if I had no other choice. I was able to cover my hospital bills out of pocket. I can seek support when I need it. In less than a week I will have health insurance and I plan to never ever be without it again.

I can imagine that this situation, or any situation like it, might have been a thousand times worse if I didn't have the resources and advantages I had. I don't know why those others women were at Planned Parenthood that day, but I do know that we make the best decisions of the options available to us. I can't impress on people enough the absolute necessity for women's healthcare providers like Planned Parenthood. They save lives.

And I will leave you with that.

In the Desert 
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

-Stephen Crane

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Research paticipants needed

Hey internet.

I'm writing my big bad mater thesis right now, while also taking a full load of classes.  Now I'm starting to understand why most of my peers take a gap semester, internship or go abroad before they write their thesis. I'm only in Germany until October, so I have no choice but to finish ASAP.

And we're planning an international move.

And applying for my husband's green card/immigrant visa.

While just being a normal human/mom/pre diabetic/dealing with secondary infertility/RPL.

Oh the joys, I tell you.

Actually I can't complain too much. At least life isn't boring and things are changing. I'm the kind of person who dies a little when things stagnate so it's nice that everything is happening, even it happens all at once.


I'm doing research again, this time on gender roles! Oh it's fun. I thought I'd be collecting data for months but it appears as in the less than two weeks I almost have 500 respondents. I am so close, like 30 people away from the magic number. The sooner my data collection is finished, the sooner I can move on to data analysis and all that.

So if you have 15 minutes please take my survey. And if you know any men/guys/dudes please ask them to take it too. As always, I have way more female respondents than males and I need a balanced sample this time.

Thanks so much,

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Blame allocation in morally ambiguous situations survey

Hey guys! If you are reading this it's probably because you took our survey, 'blame allocation in morally ambiguous situations'. First of all, I want to thank everyone who participated.  Distributing surveys online isn't an easy task and thanks to our participants we exceeded our goal of a 93% confidence interval and made it to a 95% confidence interval. We have 550+ completed surveys and our original goal was 300. This largely due to the contribution of several Facebook groups in the last week who let us post our survey and our group members who kept asking and working to get the survey out there. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Since we reached our goal and people were starting to discuss the survey online, on the advice of our professor we decided to close early. Online research is tricky, we want people to participate and we love it when our topic creates dialog but we also don't want dialog to create bias that could affect our results. In the next few weeks we will start the painstaking task of importing, cleaning, and analyzing our collected data. It's too early to know anything but I'd like to give everyone who is interested an explanation of the research and why we think it's important.

This research project was conducted through FU Berlin's research placement program for MA students. Our MA is focused on data analysis. Our particular placement is in the 'experimental research program'. That means you all participated in a sociological experiment! Fun, right?

Previous research has shown that when women break social norms such as having a dirty house, many sexual partners or being obese they are judged more harshly than men who exhibit the same behavior. Other research has shown that in the case of violent crime men are given longer prison sentences than women. However there is little to no research on how men and women are judged in situations where there is no clear social norm or where social norms may vary greatly due to different worldviews.

Our research idea was simple.

We conducted a vignette study attempting to assess how blame is attributed according to attitudes concerning gender. This means we asked people to judge the same situations, but in 50% of the cases the gender was male and in 50% the gender was female. This study attempted to gauge attitudes, not actions, regarding gender. Respondents were asked to read several vignettes and then make judgments on the allocation of blame. These judgments should in theory reflect their attitudes towards men and women in different roles according to life rolls: single young adult, student, employee, romantic partner, parent, and spouse. These roles were combined with morally ambiguous real life situations such as: an assault on an intoxicated individual, possible discrimination in the workforce against foreigners, domestic violence, loss of a child, distribution of private personal photos and possible wrongful termination of employment.  The experiment was conducted as a survey, with 50% the male control group and 50% the female treatment group. Surveys were online via social media. The age, nationality and gender of respondents was controlled for. 

According to researchers (Christine Barter and Emma Renold) vignettes may be used for three main purposes in social research: to allow actions in context to be explored; to clarify people’s judgments; and to provide a less personal and therefore less threatening way of exploring sensitive topics. In qualitative research, vignettes enable participants to define the situation in their own terms. 

Hypothesis: - In some rolls women or men will be judged differently, for example they may be judged differently in the role of parents than the roll of students. 

Our theoretical background is extensive, ranging from theories such as victim blaming, internalized gender stereotypes, the motherhood mandate and intersectionality. 

Why is this research important?

We believe our research is important because individual views on gender and blame allocation create the greater social environment in which people are judged both in the legal system and by their peers. It is indeed often said that the macro is made up of the micro. This Daily Beast article (which conveniently popped up in my Facebook news feed this morning) gives a good example of social problems that can result from blame allocation. The article describes a situation where a mother whoes child died of SIDS is charged and convicted of negligent homicide for the sole reason that she let her child sleep on its stomach. As students of sociological research we ask the question, in the same situation would a father also have been charged with a crime? And what does society gain by charging a parent who lost their child with a crime?

In addition, I know some people expressed distress at the inclusion of a murder child in our research. I want to explain that this was included because as a parent I was deeply upset when a child went missing over the summer very near to where I live. I only know this child was missing because the police put up posters around our neighborhood, it was not reported in the national news. I felt more affected than I would have in the USA where child abductions are more frequently covered by the media. I was also interested to hear people express the view that the mother of the child was to blame. If you are interested in this case there is a link. Indeed, all our research situations were cases that our group felt impacted us in a personal manner.

Thanks again for your participation, I hope this answers most of the questions people had about our research.