Let’s Question All Versions of the Myth of Perfect Motherhood

I would call it a “pet peeve,” but the stakes are higher: I can’t stand policy arguments based on inaccurate or misrepresented historical facts. My latest peeve-trigger? Claire Howorth’s cover essay in Time magazine, critiquing “The Goddess Myth: How a Vision of Perfect Motherhood Hurts Moms.”

Now, I agree with much of Howorth’s criticism of the unrealistic standards of contemporary motherhood. It’s a main theme of my forthcoming book, Miscarriage and the Quest for the Perfect Pregnancy. But she and I part ways over the role of medicine and public health in our current conundrum…

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Pornography on the Playground

When I was 19, I had a summer job supervising a playground. It was a pretty lame job. It paid $5 an hour, and it was outside in the sticky summer heat. The hours alternated between utter boredom and the kind of excitement I’d rather avoid – breaking up shouting matches, figuring out whether the kid who had sandbox sand thrown in his face needed first aid, running to make sure the child who I hadn’t seen in while was simply taking a long time in the bathroom and had not gone missing.

One day, the excitement that punctuated my day was not so ordinary. It involved pornography. And some feminist theory. I handled it. Yes, I handled it well, I thought at the time. But looking back during last week’s numbingly endless #MeToo stories, I wish I had had the presence of mind to do better…

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Face to Face with Sharrona Pearl

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sharrona Pearl about her new book, Face/On: Transplants and the Ethics of the Other. Below are excerpts from our conversation, which ranged from disability, to artistry, to parenting, to sex transitions, all illuminated by Sharrona’s insights from the history and culture of face transplants…

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Eighth-Grade Innovator Helps Girls Focus on Class Periods, Not Menstrual Periods

“If men could menstruate,” Gloria Steinem observed wryly in an iconic 1978 essay for Ms. magazine, “[s]anitary supplies would be federally funded and free.” Surely, too, tampons and pads would be stocked in every public bathroom just like toilet paper.

Instead here we are, almost 40 years and a powerful women’s movement later, and women and girls still have to pack their supplies into pockets and purses, and figure out how to have them handy at that time of the month…

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The Baby as Scientist and the Parent as Gardener: Alison Gopnik’s Inspiring Views on Childhood

One of my favorite books to recommend to new parents is The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind. In it, cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnik argues that babies approach their world like scientists, hypothesizing about how the world works and testing their ideas to hone their understanding. She describes her and her colleagues’ clever experiments and the adorable ways babies and small children respond. Gopnik takes obvious delight in small children. Unlike so many other books for parents that are about how to make your child smarter-better-stronger, Gopnik’s basic message is, “babies are amazing! Look at all the cool stuff they can figure out!” It’s fun to read, and geeky parents are likely to find it makes parenting more enjoyable. It might be annoying that my toddler keeps throwing his food off the high chair tray, but at least I can appreciate that he’s exploring the properties of gravity.

So when Gopnik published her latest book last year, I was excited to check it out…

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I May Not Heal, But I Will Live Better Thanks to Occupational Therapy

Last year I learned how to chop a carrot with my eyes closed. While being filmed. Sounds like one of those crazy reality cooking shows, like “Cutthroat Kitchen,” doesn’t it?

Actually, I was in the model kitchen at the Lighthouse Guild for the Blind in New York City, and the filmmaker was Joseph Lovett. We were shooting a brief documentary designed to teach ophthalmologists when and how to refer patients for low vision therapy. I was grateful for the care offered to me by the Lighthouse Guild, and I had agreed to be a sample patient for the film…

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That Time of the Month in Victorian America

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine asked me to write a blog post about how women handled menstruation in the nineteenth century, as historical background for an episode of PBS’s Civil War medical drama Mercy Street. Our stereotype of the Victorians is that they were delicate ladies swooning on settees during their periods. As I explain, that was not the reality for most women. Read the post here.