Category Archives: family

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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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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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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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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