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.

Referendum on a Life in the Woods

For three decades, my dad’s brothers framed houses. The three of them had a small construction business in rural Connecticut. The eldest sometimes led projects as a general contractor, and other times they worked as subcontractors.

With their skills and their self-made business, they also built cozy, modest houses for themselves. That part of Connecticut isn’t wealthy. They and their neighbors worked hard to pull together comfortable homes out of a limited rural job market, relatively inexpensive real estate, and a frugal lifestyle…

Like many small businesses, my uncles’ construction firm didn’t have health insurance…What would Obamacare have meant to them, and to their lives?…

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Nurse-Midwives are With Women, Walking a Middle Path to a Safe and Rewarding Birth

In childbirth politics as in all politics, extreme viewpoints make the news, and sensible centrists are ignored. A couple of years ago, Ricki Lake provoked a firestorm of debate about home birth with her film, The Business of Being Born, which showcased gloriously crunchy New York City home births, and made the case for the home birth option. Obstetricians responded with censorious anger, shouting at Lake via condescending statements from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Recently, obstetrician and blogger Amy Tuteur published Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting, in which she made fun of women stupid enough to believe that they might have a better birth experience without an epidural, and excoriated anyone who would refuse any of the bells and whistles of modern obstetrics. Her title was a response to journalist Jennifer Block’s, Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, an exposé of callous obstetricians who damaged women and their babies with the thoughtless overuse of standard obstetric interventions such as the induction agent cytotec and the drastic overuse of major abdominal surgery (cesarean section).

All this shouting. Is it getting us anywhere? Mightn’t there be some middle path for women who see the appeal of “natural” birth, or who at least would like to minimize their chances of cesarean section, but who are not confident about giving birth without immediate medical back-up?1 Could there possibly be a way to combine the emergency backstop of modern medicine with the caring values of home-birth midwifery?…

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Is Your Doctor Experimenting On You?

My friend’s father is in the hospital, and it’s been rough. His cancer treatment did not go as expected. “He’s suffering so much!” my friend sighed. “And the doctors, they’re just experimenting on him. It’s horrible.” When I heard this, I was confused. Was her father in some sort of experimental treatment? “No. But the doctors told us that once he had this treatment, he’d have another five good years, at least. The chemo was awful, but it was supposed to be worth it. It turns out he’s still sick with cancer, and I feel terrible that we put him through that torture. The doctors said they didn’t know why it didn’t work. It’s like they’re just experimenting.”

When I heard my friend’s story, I had a powerful feeling of déjà vu. Her narrative sounded just like letters I had found from the 1960s in Harvard Medical School’s archives…

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Are We Free to Be President Yet? The Legacy of Pat Schroeder and 1970s Feminism

I was born into 1970s feminism. I came into the world in 1972, the year Free to Be You and Me came out. It must have made a big impression on my elementary school teachers, because I saw the filmstrip version of it in school at least three times. I loved it at least as much as my teachers did. I loved the skit in which two babies, played by Marlo Thomas and Mel Brooks, try to figure out which of them is the boy and which is the girl. After much deliberation, they decide that the brave, impatient one who wants to be a firefighter must be the boy. (Of course they’re wrong.) I can still sing along with Rosey Grier’s rendition of “It’s Alright to Cry” in my head…

1972 was also the year that Pat Schroeder, a young lawyer from Denver, first ran for Congress…

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Diversity Works, but Only if We Can Forgive One Another

“We are a divided nation,” Donald Trump repeats again and again.  And then he makes plans to divide us still further: registration of Muslims.  Stop and frisk policing.  Massive racialized screening and deportation.  Trump leans on the support of white nationalists who would like to make us “undivided” by eliminating anyone who isn’t white and Christian.  Even many of his less extreme supporters seem to feel like the only reliable way for us all to get along is for us to be more alike, not just in our basic political commitment to constitutional democracy, but in the specifics of our cultural habits, religious practice, and lifeways.

I am convinced that we do not have to be alike to get along, and to be friends and community for one another.  I share the liberal optimism that our cultural diversity is a major strength of our nation.

And yet, when I look at my Facebook feed full of smart and generally justified cultural criticism, demonstrating the myriad ways in which well-meaning liberals don’t fully “get” sexism, racism, disability issues, etc., I worry a bit.  I don’t disagree with it; heck, I’ve written some of it.  I am just concerned that those of us who are optimistic about a multicultural society are not doing the best job modeling how we can all get along.

Today is the Day of Atonement in the Jewish calendar.  As a Catholic, I admire the Jewish tradition of atonement and repentance.  I confess my sins privately to God at the beginning of mass.  That can feel like the easy way out compared to apologizing directly to the people I’ve hurt.

If we’re going to have a successful multicultural and integrated society, though, we are going to need to be good at both atonement and forgiveness.

I would like to observe this Day of Atonement by recalling and apologizing for the times that I cluelessly and thoughtlessly offended my friends’ religious practices, racial and cultural identities, and parenting choices.  I have many friends who are quite differently than me, so I have a lot of opportunities to mess up and make stupid assumptions.  I am often not sure how to take it back, or make it better.  I hope those I have hurt will forgive me, and give me a chance to learn from my mistakes.

I also would like to apologize for the times that I have been impatient, snarky, or sarcastic toward people who had good intentions, and said something I found annoying or hurtful simply because they did not understand my experience or my perspective.  I care about creating community, and I can do better with patience and good will.

I really believe in a liberal society, and my life is richer and wiser for the stories and perspectives and friendship of my diverse community.  In these politically and cultural divisive times, I hope we can find in ourselves shared values of atonement, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  This is how we will show a way forward that genuinely makes room in our nation for everyone.