Today, my mother-in-law arrives.
My husband’s mother visits every four to five months. Her soft blouses predictably sport cheerful, butterfly designs. She enjoys drinking a cold Stella beer and walking barefoot in the backyard of our south Florida home. Her beautiful, white hair shines in the sun. She loves to read to our two-year-old boy Taber. He calls her “Nana.”
Nana is an important part of Taber’s world. Should I forget to include her in our prayers before meals, he reminds me to bless her. As he begins the journey of toilet learning, he asks, “Nana, pee-pee, too?” In between visits, Taber loves our weekly Skype dates with Nana. Occasionally, he’ll play heartfelt songs for her on his blue ukulele. It’s beautiful to witness my son embrace his paternal grandmother -- his Nana -- so tenderly. I’m grateful she arrives today.
In her new “career memoir,” rabbi and hospice chaplain Karen B. Kaplan shares vivid descriptions of her day-to-day experiences of serving the dying and the grieving. Drawing upon a remarkable capacity for listening, a deep appreciation for the human story, and a penchant for “comedy that flirts with sacrilege,” Kaplan navigates the waters of meaning and emotion as she supports those standing at “the edge of the beyond.” The result is a moving and beautiful account of what it means to listen, love, live, and die.
“When I visit patients for the first time, it is like skipping to the very last page of their autobiographies,” writes Kaplan.
During her seven years of service as a hospice chaplain in New York and New Jersey, Kaplan gathers quite a repertoire from which she skillfully draws in her memoir. While she changes identifying details of the people encountered, all of the stories are true.
Known for her iconic image, Christy Turlington Burns does more than model an ideal of physical beauty.
Following the birth of her first child, Burns suffered from an unexpected postpartum hemorrhage. Her safe recovery depended upon the wise response of an effectively outfitted medical team. But what of women who do not have access to such care? In 2010, Burns founded Every Mother Counts in order to make “pregnancy and birth safe for every mother.”
“We are sisters in motherhood,” states Burns. “When a child is born, a mother is also born.”
Not long ago, laws protected the “rights of men” to use physical force to correct or punish their wives. A husband’s ability to assert his authority through corporal punishment was accepted as a social norm. Due to the dedicated efforts of activists working to improve the status of women, legal prohibitions forbidding any form of “chastisement” are now commonplace in most countries around the world. This is a good thing. While men’s violence against women continues to be a serious public health concern, it is no longer justifiable in courts of law. It is time to extend this basic dignity to the world’s children.
This won’t be easy. A significant shift in public opinion is necessary if America is to join the 31 countries that currently ban all forms of corporal punishment against their most vulnerable citizens.
In the past, it was considered an act of government interference or encroachment to limit a husband’s use of force against his wife within the privacy of their home. Many Americans adopt this same attitude when it comes to corporal punishment against children. A parent’s “right to discipline,” specifically with the use of physical force, is a deeply held belief in our society. According to an ABC News poll conducted last fall, 50 percent of American parents admit to using corporal punishment at some point. Other surveys indicate that number is closer to 80 percent. The rationalizations provided that justify this behavior are based on the same authoritarian models of thinking that defended corporal punishment against women for centuries.
A very small percentage of American women intentionally choose to birth at home without the presence of a midwife, doctor, or nurse. According to Shira Segal, professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, this is a “radical sub-movement within homebirth ideologies.” Why would women choose to give birth without the presence of medical professionals? For some, this action stems from religious conviction. For others, it’s a philosophical choice. However, a growing number of women are turning to unassisted childbirth (UC) as a result of feeling powerless and mistreated during a previous birth experience. They have lost faith in American obstetrics.
In 2013, The Journal of Medical Ethics featured an article entitled “Unassisted Childbirth: Why Mothers are leaving the System.” The authors argue that health care professionals must understand the growing popularity of UC. Why? The authors claim that contemporary hospital protocols such as “procedural intervention” are “driving women away from formal health care.”
Like a miner’s canary, this small but growing trend towards UC -- also called “free” or “undisturbed” birth -- should not be ignored. As a doula, I’ve never attended a UC. As a mother, I would not choose one. Nevertheless, the practice both intrigues and concerns me. As a society, we would be wise to study this phenomenon and reflect upon its meaning.
Tomorrow you turn two.
You are my little one, my constant companion, my sweet guy. Soon you will have journeyed twice around our glorious sun.
Today, I watch you move, jump, and dance. We practice singing “Happy Birthday” in the mirror. I make up words and blow on your belly. Delight fills my soul as you laugh.
“That will be $37.00,” the woman behind the counter tells me.
I pay in cash and place my ticket in the back pocket of my jeans. I am 22-years-old and on my way to Nelson, British Columbia. The bus station is quiet. Only a handful of travelers mill about the terminal. One of them is a young woman my age.
During a cross-country road trip, my husband and I stop at Subway for a much needed break. We are both hungry and anxious to get some lunch. Upon entering, we find the place understaffed and overcrowded. Hoping to make a quick stop, we end up waiting in line for 25 minutes. Finally it’s our turn. Exasperated, I make no attempt to do anything but place my order.
As we walk back to our white pick-up truck, my husband turns to me. “Amy, you were pretty rude to that girl.”
Defensively, I reply. “No I wasn’t. I didn’t say anything mean to her.” I take another bite of my sandwich as we cross the street.