The idiosyncrasies of pregnancy

So, recently I shared that we’re expecting another child (woop!), and how awful I am about sharing big news with people. (See, like how I shared it just now. Plumb awful.) Now I thought I’d take a minute to jot down some of the idiosyncrasies of this pregnancy.

  1. I simultaneously have the skin of an a) 14 year old girl, and b) 45 year old woman. No one should have to use anti-blemish treatments and anti-aging treatments concurrently. What a joke.
  2. Ummm, I forget this one because I now have the short-term memory of a goldfish.
  3. I’m waddling like I’m due tomorrow, except I’m actually only 13 weeks along. My body is ready already.
  4. I’m craving every single Mexican candy I grew up eating as a kid. Lucas (but not the sweet kind; no, I want the kind that was eventually banned from the USA because it contained too much lead), Pulparindo, Rebanaditas, Saladitos and oh my goodness CAMOTE.
  5. My body’s response to everything is nausea. Standing up for too long? Feeling really happy? Feeling really sad? Too cold? Too hot? It’s like a terrible choose-your-own-adventure book: IT ALL LEADS TO NAUSEA. You lose, sorry.
  6. I haven’t worn a bra for two weeks because heaven help me if I feel the slightest bit squeezed in any way. (See #5) Same applies to anything with a waistband. If I’m wearing pants at all, they’re riding Christina Aguilera-low. (I honestly don’t know a more contemporary pop culture reference. Sorry y’all.)
  7. I can’t stand the taste of coffee anymore. This is the craziest one of all, because HELLO. I freaking love coffee. LOVE. Well, I did. Now I drink a cup of black tea (with a teensy amount of sugar and cream) in the morning, and even that can be too strong sometimes.
  8. I’m exhausted. This goes without saying, except that I didn’t expect being pregnant at 32 to be so much harder than being pregnant at 26. It doesn’t get easier, I’ll just say that.

Here are some things that are deeelightful about this pregnancy.

  1. Sharing it with Ellie! This is so much more fun when you have a little one to share it with. Ellie is 5 now, and totally seems to understand the changes that are happening. She’s been to every prenatal appointment, and loves suggesting silly names for the new baby. She’s going to be an attentive and loving older sister, I can tell.
  2. Sharing it with friends. I was so anxious last time around that I really couldn’t enjoy it as much. This time, for whatever reason, I’m much more relaxed, and have really enjoyed sharing the news with folks (even though I’m abysmal at it—as previously mentioned in my last post).
  3. I am way more comfortable in my own skin nowadays than I was last time around. (This feels like it’s loosely related to the whole not-wearing-a-bra-for-the-past-two-weeks thing.) It’s not that I don’t care what I look like, it’s just that I don’t care what other people think about what I look like. I almost never wear makeup anymore, and it’s awesome.

Anyhoo, I don’t intend on my blog becoming like all-pregnancy all-the-time, but I want to do a better job of jotting this stuff down while I’m thinking of it, before it all gets lost in the fog of a newborn baby.

For those of you who’ve experienced pregnancy: was it anything like you expected? What was your strangest symptom? And for those of you who’ve been around the block more than once: were your pregnancies at all alike? The more I chat with women, the more it sounds like each pregnancy is totally different.

Advertisements

50 Shades of Cultural Confusion

50 Shades Melissa Jenna GodseyBefore I go any further, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve been criticizing 50 Shade of Grey since before it was cool. Given the recent release of the film adaptation, several of you have suggested to me that I repost that original post, and I would, but the fact is that I’m not a huge fan of my tone. You can read it, but hear that I’m sorry for my tone.

So this time, I’m less interested in whether or not Christian women should consume 50 Shades (we ought not to), and more interested in this question:

In a culture that is increasingly sensitive to sexual violence, while also championing female sexual empowerment, shouldn’t the very story of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele be offensive?

If you’re not yet familiar, 50 Shades is about two characters: Christian Grey, an self-professed sexual dominant who maintains a room in his home devoted to BDSM practices, and Anastasia Steele, a naively innocent young women; literally a virgin. That’s all you really need to know to make sense of the rest of this post.

When I survey our cultural landscape, here’s what I see:

  • A society that has elevated female sexual “empowerment” as a value, placing it above the development of actual personal character
  • A society that has effectively disconnected the sexual act from its emotional and spiritual ramifications
  • A society that increasingly misunderstands masculinity, and attempts (actively or passively)–even from boyhood–to feminize men

Could the popular reception of 50 Shades be a (misguided) reaction to America’s sexual climate, and our unadressed issues with masculinity?

I struggle with how to explain the popular reception of 50 Shades in a culture that at once proclaims “Men: It’s On Us,” and also venerates the Beyoncés of the world. Why would women lust for a sexually violent man (Christian Grey), and place themselves in the role of the naive, innocent virgin (Anastasia Steele)? It just doesn’t make sense.

Most of you will not like where I’m going with this, and trust me, intellectually, I understand where you’re coming from. (For starters, you probably don’t agree with the three premises I’ve outlined above.) I think you’re wrong, and you can think I’m wrong, and that’s okay. Just be decent and respectful in the comments, is all I ask.

Is it possible that enough women yearn for their sexual innocence, that they align themselves with Anastasia Steele? That they–even subconsciously–feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods?

Is it possible that women long to be in a relationship with a “powerful” man, and that Christian Grey is just a warped caricature of our idea of masculinity?

Could the success of 50 Shades be directly aligned with the fact that deep down we sense that something is wrong with the way our culture treats sexuality? Could E.L James’ work be a ham-fisted response to what’s wrong with our perception of masculinity, as it relates to female sexuality?

If you know me personally, you know that I don’t have any answers. There are a few books I’ve read that have helped me identify what I’m observing around me; one of them is John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Another is Dannah Gresh’s What are You Waiting For? Both of those books are written by believers, and neither are perfect, but I found them really helpful, and maybe you will too.

What do you think? Any resources you’ve found particularly helpful? Do you think I’m way off base? I always welcome respectful discussion.

When You’re Mothering From Scratch (Coping With Absentee Mothers)

I popped into Sally Loo’s this morning (espresso con panna + molasses spice cookie = happy mama), before I headed into the iFixit office, and the place was crawling with babies and toddlers. Makes me wish I had Ellie with me, so she could meet some kiddos, and I could have an easy transition to talk to other coffee-loving parents, but I digress.

There was a woman in front of me, presumably about my age, with a little girl on her hip who looked to be about 12 months. Judging by the still-matted patch of hair on the back of the little one’s head, and her lack of desire to be put down, I’d guess she’s not a proficient walker, so maybe she was younger than 12 months. Regardless, the little girl was adorable. Bright blonde hair, rosy cheeks, and tiny little fingers that unconsciously swirled themselves in her mama’s hair. As she rested her chin on her mama’s shoulder, we had a staring contest. She won, on account that I smiled first. (Couldn’t help it.)

After a minute or two of us making eyes at each other, the little girl’s nana walked up, and gave her rapid-fire smootchies on her big soft cheeks, and the little girl giggled. It was too cute. Shifting the little girl to her other hip, the mama looked over at the nana, and asked “ya want a cappuccino? I know how you love ’em.” Nana nods her head, but never loses the little girl’s gaze, now playing tickle on her tiny palms. “Ooooohhh, I just wanna eat you up,” coos Nana, again with the rapid-fire smootchies.

It’s a perfectly normal, perfectly natural interaction, and I’m sure I’ve seen many like it in recent weeks, but for some reason this particular exchange stung me. My throat got tight, and my eyes began to well up, and I ditched my spot in line in favor of the privacy of the restroom.

———-

It’s harder, some days than others, coping with the absence of my mother. Most days I recognize her absence the way one recognizes a blank wall in their home, knowing that there should be a photograph, or a piece of art in that spot, but not having a vision for what it might look like exactly. But other days–days like today–I see a completeness, and a love that I know I don’t have, and I feel envious.

I’m not kidding myself into thinking that if my mother were in my life, that our relationship would be as warm, or as familiar, as the two that I saw in the coffee shop today. I’m not idealizing the relationship. But I want the chance to know what our relationship would look like, if it were healthy. I’m 29 years old, and to this day, I do not know what that feels like. I suppose it’s okay to respect those feelings, even if they hurt, in order to grieve properly, so long as I’m not wallowing. I have very little patience for wallowing.

———-

In so many ways, I feel as if I’m doing this mothering-thing from scratch. Seeing three generations of women all together really pushes that button for me, I guess.

I wonder, does having an active and involved mother of one’s own give one more confidence as a mother? Does having that support, and that wealth of knowledge and experience equip women better for their marriages, and for raising their children? Does everyone else have resources, and support, and knowledge that I don’t have? (That’s my insecurity speaking.)

I wasn’t planning on posting anything today, but it’s rare that I spontaneously cry in public, so I figure maybe I needed to get that off my chest. And hey, silver lining: I’m not wearing makeup today, so no scary mascara tears!

Some of you have shared having similar relationships with your mother. Do you experience “flare-ups” the way I did today? What triggers them? How do you cope?

——————

Let’s be friends!

Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | YouTube

All The Good Ones Aren’t Taken: A Letter to Single Ladies

All The Single Ladies

“All the good ones are taken.” If you’re a single gal, or you’ve ever been a single gal, you’ve either A) said this yourself, or B) heard another single gal say it, and nodded your head in agreement. (Maybe even adding a sassy little “Mmm-Hmm.”)

Well, it’s not true. And? It’s offensive.

All The Single Fellas

I, personally, know of several upstanding, successful guys, who have been single for at least a year, minimum. Why? Because they’re waiting for the “right” lady to come along, and aren’t interested in dating, just for the sport of it. You heard me right: they are not looking for a hookup. They are looking for the real-deal. “Single, mature young men, without commitment issues? Openly looking for a long-term relationship?” They are not unicorns, ladies; they are real, and when you hear what they have to say, maybe you’ll think twice about all of that “all the good ones are taken” business. (Before I go too far, what I have to say is aimed at Christian young women, but regardless of your spiritual beliefs, the struggle I’ve described is universal, and is worth some consideration.)

Let me share with you something that a male reader recently wrote me, in regards to 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike (don’t worry, I have his permission to post this quote):

It is hard enough being expected to be a respectful, godly, and upstanding man on one hand, and seeing the women that we are interested in often fall for the exact opposite of what they say they want. But it is completely maddening to see women fall for the same type of cheap objectification and destructive appeals to venal human nature that men have been plagued by for generations, and to have that celebrated as progress rather than being viewed for what it truly is: degrading for both the producer and the consumer.

Hindsight is 20-20

When I read this, I got so frustrated, not because it’s not true, but because I see it happening all around me. I WAS one of those girls, falling for the exact opposite of what I said I wanted. Honestly, his comment was simultaneously a slap-in-the-face, and a push forward. Immediately I was confronted with visions of my past-self, and I figure that two or three of you out there might be able to relate, so allow me to get real vulnerable, real fast.

Facing visions of my past-self is always difficult. It’s getting easier, but I can’t help but hurt for young-me. How many times had I compromised myself in an attempt to win the affection of someone that was totally undeserving? How many times had I turned my back on what I knew was right, just because I wanted some cute guy to think I was cool? How many times had I made myself ultimately vulnerable to a guy who I knew wasn’t interested in me in a “real” way? (All the while griping about how “all the good ones are taken.”) Looking back on it, I see that I was looking to other people to define my value, rather than knowing my value, and standing firm on it. In retrospect, I thank God that he didn’t introduce me to my husband in that season of my life, because I hadn’t even become myself yet. I feel like God was waiting for me to get my act together before he’d deliver me a “good one.”

A Disposable Heart

If you allow an unworthy guy to define your value, do you know what your value will be? Zero. Nothing. Less than nothing. Disposable. And that’s exactly how I felt. And when you allow yourself to be treated as if you’re disposable, you begin to believe that you are disposable, so that when you do cross-paths with a really amazing, godly guy, you will not feel worthy of his affection. Not only that, but I’m convinced guys have a sixth-sense about this kind of thing; they can “smell” when a girl doesn’t value herself, and generally, they keep their distance. Like I said, the “good ones” are looking for the real-deal. Are you preparing yourself for that, or are you caught-up in pursuing guys who will ultimately treat you like you’re disposable? When you meet a “good one,” will he see a girl who knows her value and stands firm on it, or will he see a girl exhausted from chasing down the shadows of her self-worth?

(Some quick questions: If you are identifying with me at all right now: do you see the extent to which this cycle is damaging your ability to begin and maintain new, lasting relationships? Are you ready to dramatically shift your way of thinking? What will it take for you to be ready?)

Maybe all of the “good ones” aren’t taken. Maybe you’re blind to them, because you’re involved with a bad crowd. Or maybe they’re blind to you, because they’re looking for a girl with maturity and self-respect, and a solid foundation.

I know these might sound like harsh words, but here’s the thing: I know how you feel, because I have been there. Maybe I’m subconsciously writing this to my past-self, because the fact of the matter is that no one in my life was telling me the truth about this kind of stuff. (Even some distant stranger’s voice from across the Internet would have been better than nothing.) So I figured it out on my own, and was completely obliterated along the way, and eventually came back to square one: where, and what is my identity?

Living In The Tension

Before we get there, let’s address a very real tension that exists for women: from day one, many (most?) of us feel “less than,” as compared to women in the media. Many of us had fathers who openly lusted after women that the culture deemed worthy (or our fathers flat-out abandoned us), and though that’s not the only cause, it’s one reason why many women feel that they NEED to be more like women “of the world” than women of God. We’ve seen our fathers, step-fathers, church leaders, political officials, etc live in a way that says they place more value on “worldly women” than godly women. And over time it has caused many of us to harden our hearts, and choose to live in a way that says “Oh yeah? Well two can play at this game.” (Therapist-types call this “acting out.”)

Whose Am I?

No matter how hard you push back, nothing you do will ever undo anything that has happened to you. It won’t bring your father back; it won’t restore your trust in men. All “acting out” does do is move you further and further away from the truth, and build massive walls around your heart. It prevents you from healing, from growing up, and from moving forward. What’s left, after all of this trauma and subsequent acting-out, is a population of young women who have very little of their identity rooted in God, and most of it rooted in their worldly value.

Reversing this cycle of brokenness, claiming your identity in God, and discovering your real value takes time. But just in case you’re thinking you can cut corners and “fix it” as soon as you meet Mr. Right, let me prepare you: I’ve seen it happen so many times (I’m one of them) where a “worldly” Christian girl meets a godly guy, and changes her tune SO FAST. Suddenly she believes in modesty, purity, the whole shebang. The problem is that she is doing it to win a man’s heart, and once that has happened, she no longer has an identity. She has abandoned her worldly ways (which often means severing ties with poisonous friends), but has no identity in God; usually the relationship fails because she gets drawn back into “the world,” and the guy leaves, or she puts her identity in the relationship, and that scares the guy away. Then he leaves, she feels betrayed by (yet another) man, and the cycle repeats itself.

This cycle might be the greatest tragedy facing the young women of my generation, and the next generation, and it breaks my heart.

And lest I forget to mention them: I do know that there are young women out there who do have their identity firmly rooted in the love of God their father, alone. They are beautiful in their security, and they are choosing not to approach dating as a sport. They are serving God with their time and talent, thereby blessing their future husband and future family with a life spent in truth and light. And what an example they are to those around them!

Decisions, and Moving Forward

It is never too late to choose to begin making right decisions, and there is no shame in recognizing your mistakes, turning your back on them, and starting fresh. And depending on what, exactly, you’ve been through, I highly recommend seeing a therapist*. Most insurance plans have coverage for therapy, and it will cost you a minimal amount of money.

I would love to see a real call-to-action for change in this regard. I have this vision of fathers who have blown-it coming forward and confessing to God, and then to their daughters, and of daughters choosing forgiveness and allowing God to soften their hearts, and confessing themselves to their Father in heaven. It’s beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s realistic. It’d be amazing if we all reconciled with our fathers, but in real-life we often have to choose forgiveness, even if the other person hasn’t seen their error. Even if the other person isn’t apologetic. And it’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Does any of this resonate with you, or am I just shouting into the wind, here? Though I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through the kind of junk I put myself through in my late teens/early 20s, I think one of the reasons it all happened is so that I can share my experiences with others, for their benefit. From that perspective, I’m very happy everything happened as it did, and I hope you were able to glean something from my experiences.

As always, feel free to say whatever you want in the comments below. 🙂

xoxo,

mj

PS- Well after posting this, I was brushing my teeth and remembered this verse in Proverbs 31 (sorry to trot out Proverbs 31 :/). It’s verses 11 and 12: “Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.” (Emphasis mine.) For some reason I never understood that ALL means ALL. That means she brings her husband good and not harm before she ever meets him. So simple, but so profound. 🙂

*A quick note on therapy: Therapy was able to provide me with the tools I needed to understand what I had been through, and cope with it on an intellectual level. I couldn’t have healed if not for therapy. But even after therapy, my heart still didn’t feel right. I was bitter, and cynical, and couldn’t seem to forgive. Therapy was only one big piece of the puzzle, but the other piece was God. God was able (and continues) to restore and revive my heart. He has, as the cliché goes “created beauty from ashes.” I could not be the person, wife and mother that I am today if not for the work God did in my heart, and the work he continues to do in my heart. (I put it in bold because I am that serious.)

—————

Let’s be friends!

Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | YouTube

Overcoming The “Dirty Girl” Paradigm: Embracing God’s Plan For Sex

The comment thread on “50 Shades of Magic Mike” is about a mile long. I’ll never do every excellent comment justice, though I wish I could. There were so many valid concerns raised, and so many worthy questions asked, that I could spend the next year writing about just that stuff alone. (But rest assured that I won’t.)

One particularly insightful commenter mentioned that telling Christian woman to “just say no” to temptation in the form of pornographic novels, and sexually objectifying films doesn’t actually address any underlying issues, and I think the commenter is right. I think the commenter’s point was that we have to ask ourselves why we feel drawn to that type of media in the first place.

Nobody Wants to Be “The Dirty Girl”

One (of the many) reasons Christian women consume media like “Magic Mike” and “50 Shades”, the commenter speculated, is that many Christian women feel sexually repressed, and when offered the opportunity for some socially-acceptable “release,” they’ll pounce. This does not sound unreasonable to me. Though I personally do not identify with this behavior, I am aware that many women have been raised to view sex as dirty, or shameful. In the church’s effort to promote chastity, many women have been made to feel that sex, in general, is wrong, and while you might not see the harm in a 13 year old girl walking around with that opinion, what happens when she grows up and gets married?

While sexual repression is certainly not the only reason Christian women have flocked to see “Magic Mike” in droves, or lost themselves in the “50 Shades of Grey” series, it is definitely a reason. And one worth exploring.

Celebrating God’s Gift of Marital Sex

I understand the social awkwardness of preaching on the beauty and pleasure of sex in a Christian context. (Our culture doesn’t seem to have a problem of doing so itself, so can we blame so many for following the culture’s lead on this?) But if we do not honestly communicate the awesomeness of God’s gift of (marital) sex, and instead limit our talking on the subject to “sex is wrong until you’re married,” we’re handicapping generation after generation of women. (I  say women, specifically, because generally men are not taught that sex is “wrong,” they are simply told to “wait,” whereas much of a young woman’s identity is wrapped-up in remaining pure. When women are taught about sex, it’s often shrouded in an element of dirtiness, as if “only bad girls think about sex.”)

If you’re not feeling “in touch” with your sexuality, or maybe you were raised to think of sex the way I described above, you need to know that it is good  for you and your marriage to improve your understanding of sexual intimacy, and devote some time to unlearning any unhealthy messages you received about sex growing up. It might be the single greatest gift you can give to your marriage, to have a healthy understanding of God’s design for sex.

Resources

One particularly great resource I’ve found is Sheila Wray Gregoire‘s (of “To Love, Honor and Vacuum“) book “The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex: (And You Thought Bad Girls Have All The Fun)” which you can pick up off of Amazon for just over $10. Here’s a snippet of the description:

Whether you’re about to walk down the aisle or you’ve been married for decades, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex will lead you on a wonderful journey of discovery towards the amazing sex life God designed you for.

With humor, research, and lots of anecdotes, author Sheila Wray Gregoire helps women see how our culture’s version of sex, which concentrates on the physical above all else, makes sex shallow. God, on the other hand, intended sex to unite us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Gregoire walks through these three aspects of sex, showing how to make each amazing, and how to overcome the roadblocks in each area we often encounter.

At present it has 63 reviews on Amazon, and the average rating is 5 out of 5. (It’s rare that a book on such a “racy” subject averages 5/5, in case you are unfamiliar with Amazon’s book-rating-system.) If you think you might like to read it, I suggest reading through some of the reviews people have written, to ensure that it’s a good purchase for you.

And if you’re not feeling like buying a book on sex (can’t blame you. What if your kid opens the package before you get to it?), but you’re interested in improving intimacy with your husband, you might like Sheila’s series “29 Days to Great Sex,” which is available for free, online. (Even if you and your husband are already, um, “proficient,” you should check it out anyway. It never hurts to refresh your perspective, and you might get some fun ideas. I’ve read her post for “Day 9” several times since she posted it, and I always come away with, um, “renewed zeal.”)

We Are Not “The Church Lady”

Being a Christian woman, one of the most irritating stereotypes that’s perpetuated is that we’re all like Dana Carvey’s SNL character “the church lady.” Sure, some of us are. But most of us are not. God created sex, and it’s obvious how much our culture LOVES (even idolizes) sex. One way Christian women can do a better job of reflecting God to the world is by having amazing, healthy sex-lives with our husbands, and not being afraid to talk about sex, tastefully. (And I have to admit, of all the ways we can reflect God to the world, having a healthy sex-life is probably my favorite.)

What other resources are available that deal with God’s plan for sex, and maintaining an awesome sex-life with your spouse? Do you have any favorites? Share ’em in the comments!

xoxo,

mj

—————

Let’s be friends!

Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | YouTube

50 Shades of Magic Mike (In Which I Am VERY UNCOOL)

This is a post that will not make me any friends, and will alienate some of my existing friends, and generally make me look like a complete stick-in-the-mud. Do people still say that? Stick-in-the-mud? How about killjoy/spoilsport/wet-blanket, etc? You get what I mean.

Explanation

The only reason I’m writing this at all is because I feel compelled to do so. I’m not sure if you ever had this feeling, but sometimes there are words that I need to write, only I don’t want to write them. So I push them deep down, underneath all of the other words I actually want to write, and beneath my mental-list of chores and errands, so far down that I think they basically don’t exist anymore. But that’s never the case. Something always causes them to spring back up, and this will continue happening until I sit down and write the words out. Then I can move on with my life. That’s what this is.

“Mommy Porn”

“50 Shades of Grey” is an erotic novel, and “Magic Mike” is a movie about male strippers, and both are very, very popular with women right now. In fact, they’re being called “Mommy Porn.” (I won’t go into more detail, because there is enough about them both on the Internet already.) I can’t check Twitter or Facebook without reading another enthusiastic update about both of them. Seems like every woman I know is into one of those works, or both. I am not surprised that both of these works are being celebrated so openly; there are so many equivalent works that are aimed at men that garner major public attention that I’m actually surprised it took women this long to get their own “thing.” I am surprised, though, at how completely accepting Christian culture is to both of these works. I’ve read a few dozen different updates from Christian women regarding “50 Shades” and “Magic Mike,” and the verdict? They love them. I mean they really looooove them. They can’t stop talking about them.

(Quick, like a bandaid:) This is not okay.

Christian women need to reject both of these works, and instead, use our voices in support of what is good, right and true. It is our responsibility, as daughters of the Heavenly King, to remain set-apart from the poisons of our culture, to rebuke temptation, and to celebrate and honor righteousness.

Some Scriptural Support

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

If your enemy thinks he can snare you with something as “acceptable” as 50 Shades or Magic Mike, you better believe he will take advantage. Don’t let the culture’s acceptance and celebration of these works confuse you, or put you off your guard.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-9

(Emphasis my own.) Do not conform to the patterns of this world. In other words, just because everyone else is reading it/watching it, that doesn’t make it acceptable.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23

Is what you’re putting in front of your eyes healthy? Is what you’re putting into your imagination healthy?

Put Yourself in His Shoes

To gain another perspective, imagine your husband (or father/brother/church leader) going around bragging about how much he loved reading last month’s Playboy magazine, or rallying all of his guy friends to go see “Magic Meghan” for the third time. If our husbands were drooling over a movie about female strippers, we would be livid. It wouldn’t be tolerated. Church leaders would be publicly denouncing men’s sudden acceptance of pornography and erotic films. (Why aren’t church leaders publicly denouncing 50 Shades or Magic Mike, by the way?)

Make Good Decisions


If you’re a Christian woman, and you’re reading this, know that I am not judging you. (I own 50 Shades myself. I bought it before I knew what it was, on the recommendation of a friend, and after reading some pages and discovering that it’s pornography, I cast it aside.) We all have poor judgement sometimes, and leave ourselves open to temptation. But we can also use our agency to make good decisions. Like throwing 50 Shades away (don’t re-gift it!), and not going to see Magic Mike. (Or if you’ve already seen it, stop encouraging all of your friends to go see it.)
Rather than causing each other to stumble by putting our sisters in the path of temptation, what if we decided to use our voices to celebrate our marriages? Or the marriages of your friends and family? What if we championed healthy relationships?

Taking Things Up a Notch

(This next paragraph talks about sex a little bit, so stop reading if you don’t want to read about sex.)
What if we invested our time and energy into spicing things up in our bedrooms? Rather than spending $12 on that movie, or the book, why not save the money, and instead, wear something sexy to bed, just because? And what if all the time that you would have spent reading 50 Shades, you instead spent making love to your husband? (Though probably not all in one day…unless you’re, like, training for a marathon.) We can definitely kick things up a notch without resorting to reading pornography, or lusting after celebrity-strippers.

Non-Christian Perspective

It is not okay to sexually objectify people. Just because evidently this summer we’re all about objectifying men, that doesn’t make it okay. It’s not like there’s a scale, and all these years, it’s been heavy on the objectification-of-women side, and we need to balance it out by objectifying men now. It doesn’t work that way. The only way we “balance the scale” is by quitting objectifying anyone, and leaving the scale empty. Oh, and that saying “you are what you eat?” I’d say the same thing goes for media: you are what you consume. Pornography is unhealthy. There, I said it.

Do I win some kind of prize for being the least popular person on the Internet for this? Like I’ve said: I did not want to write this. Please be nice to me in the comments, because if you know me at all, you know that this is totally out of character for me. I don’t preach at people…well, ever. I’m just glad these words are out so I can finally write the things I want to write.

xoxo, mj

[Edited to add a link to a follow-up post I’ve written]

So This is Love?

If your faith is tied up in people-pleasing, and following rules in order to be accepted by people, your faith is in trouble. I used to resent Christians, because I didn’t feel like I needed to live a certain way in order for God to love me. And that’s the truth. God loves you, no matter what. But here’s the thing: if you believe that God, your Father, loves you, and only wants the best for you, it follows that you would, out of respect and love for Him, do your best to live in a way that honors Him, and brings glory to his name. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be happy living that life if you are looking to others for validation. So many of us have tried doing just that, and failed miserably.

[Edited to add additional links on the subject, if you’d like to read more]

A Nun Reviews “Magic Mike” – From Sister Helena Burns (If you only read one additional post on the subject, make it this one. Sister Helena NAILS IT.

Why is a nun always* talking about sin? Because sin is real. And it’s bad. And it hurts us. And it’s mean. As “Sister” from Late Nite Catechism sez: “Sometimes we feel guilty because we are.” Guilt is good! It’s an indicator that something is wrong! And then we can do something about it! Yay, guilt! Just like we get aches and pain as symptoms that something is wrong in our bodies. But of course we need a healthy conscience, not a lax or scrupulous one. That’s why we need “formation of conscience.”

I’m Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey – From Dannah Gresh at purefreedom.org

Over time your body becomes conditioned to self-stimulation and gratification. It’s not just a preference. It’s physiological. The lust cuts a literal pathway in your brain tissue that’s kinda like a rut. A rut you better be prepared to get stuck in. While at first a little bit of erotica might give you a taste for your spouse, overtime that rut reminds you how great you are at self-stimulation and how powerful your imagination can be.

Fifty Shades of Great Sex With Your Husband – From intimacyinmarriage.com

The landscape is cluttered with shiny things masquerading as pathways to authentic intimacy, and I’m fairly certain that Fifty Shades of Grey is merely finding its place in the mix.

Escape into Grey – from the-generous-wife.com

The problem is that reading erotic novels is like eating Twinkies to stop your hunger. It’s sweet. It’s gives you a sugar high. It makes good food taste bland. It doesn’t give your body the nutrition it needs and all you do is crave more sugar, more Twinkies.

The Fifty Shades of Magic Mike – from Fatherhood and Other Unknowns

I will be the first person to tell you that we, as men, are called to a much higher standard and have to do our best to protect our ears, our eyes, and our mind from the gutters of junk that surround us on a daily basis and we also have a responsibility to, by doing that, protect the hearts and image of the women in our lives.

Shades of Grey: Media Choices and Marriage – from Mulberry & Magnolia

Praise God (for own my broken self and for every other broken person out there) that GRACE ABOUNDS and repentance is just a prayer away.  Let’s all aim to be quicker to recognize danger zones and flee from them, and let’s turn to God and do our best to filter all of our decisions through His Word.  Will we do it perfectly?  Heck, no!  But, I think if we ask, the Holy Spirit will file the junk far away before we come close to damaging our hearts or our husbands.

Fresh-Faced for 40 Days: Because You Should Love What You Look Like Naked

Fresh-Faced For 40 Days Icon

Feel free to share this button to link back to the challenge!

First, the point: I am quitting makeup for 40 days. I began today.

(Actually, I’m calling it a fast, but for those of you who do not subscribe to a set of spiritual beliefs that engages in fasting, you can just think of it as quitting, and that’s fine by me.)

Next, the ugly truth: I do not like my naked face. I think it is ugly. Showing my naked face in public terrifies me, and that makes me sad, and I think that is a problem.

And finally, the rules: I will not wear anything that alters or obscures the natural appearance of my face for 40 days. (June 27, 2012 – August 6, 2012)

  • This includes all standard makeup products, but also tinted moisturizer, tinted lip-balm, and pore-reducing or anti-shine lotions and potions. If it feels like cheating, it probably is.
  • This does not include: my standard moisturizer or regular old chapstick. A girl’s gotta stay hydrated, am I right?
  • On days where I am to appear on camera at work: I will arrive to work barefaced, apply my makeup just before filming, and wash it off once we’re through. (Washing it off will take every last ounce of my will power. God help me.)
  • I will not avoid having my picture taken while barefaced, and I will continue to video-blog, au naturale.

Okay, that’s basically the gist of it. The rest of this is supporting exposition that I’d love it if you read, and I insist that you read before you make any sort of comment whatsoever.

The rest of this is the story behind this insanity.

————————————————

Lies.

We all tell little lies. The biggest lie I tell every day is my face. My face says I’m well-rested (I’m not), that I’m well-hydrated (I’m not), and that I am poreless, and without blemishes (I most certainly am not). My face says I’ve got it all together (I don’t), that I’m not aging (I am), and that being pretty is effortless (it isn’t. Well, it isn’t for me.). I put so much time and energy into telling lies with my face, that it’s making me sick. What a complete waste of time and money, and what a terrible example to set for the women who know me. And what an affront to the God who created me. (N.B. You and I might not subscribe to the same spiritual beliefs, and that’s completely cool. Please do not let my spiritual beliefs stand in the way of you, perhaps, learning to love your naked face a bit more than you do now. Deal? Read on, friend, read on.)

I know, I know, you’re thinking that I’m being too hard on myself. “It’s JUST MAKEUP” you’re saying. “We ALL do it.” Trust me, I hear you. Really, I do. But something inside me has snapped, and there’s no going back to the way things were.

I Love Makeup.

I LOVE makeup. I’m a makeup-aholic. Is there anything more fun than taking the time to do your makeup really well? Sephora is my favorite store of all of the stores, and every time I walk in there I get giddy with the excitement of hunting out a new product and sampling all of the goodies. I love the artsy quality of makeup. I love what can be communicated by makeup: how you can be a blushing, natural-looking girl-next-door one day, and a smoldering femme fatale the next, just with some smudges of highlighter or blush, or some well-placed lashes. I enjoy makeup for many of the same reasons that I enjoy fashion. Many of you already get me on this point, so I’ll leave it at that.

Applying my makeup in the morning, while enjoying a cup of coffee, used to be one of my favorite parts of the day. It was fun, and somewhat artistic, and who doesn’t enjoy looking lovely? But at a certain point, I can’t really pinpoint when, I began putting on makeup not because it was a mode of self-expression, but because I felt that I needed to cover things up, because I wasn’t proud of my face the way it naturally looked. It became less and less about choosing to put “my best face forward,” and more and more about keeping up appearances (and yes, I can appreciate the irony of this). Rather than making an informed and empowered decision, I had become a slave to my daily makeup routine; I watched as hundreds of dollars slowly dripped out of my checking account, and hours were lost in front of my bathroom mirror, painting over my blemishes and accenting my best features. I’m not sure when it happened, but eventually I lost sight of all of the good and healthy reasons why women use makeup, and I had become dependent on it, maybe even addicted to it. It became so that I could not see myself as pretty when I wasn’t wearing makeup, and that’s where I’m writing from today. (Of course none of you have this problem, right? Riiiight.)

I think makeup is an amazing tool that women have at their disposal, and it can be used to increase confidence, but at some point I traded my actual confidence for my makeup bag. I’m not sure why it never bothered me before; maybe I was really good at justifying my makeup use to myself, but when I think about how much I dislike my naked face, and how scared I am to be seen in public without makeup, I get really really angry. Who is this unconfident, sad little woman? And why is she so afraid to bear the face God gave her? Does she really think she can improve upon the creation of God? It’s a terrible comparison, but I keep imagining somebody walking up to the Mona Lisa and gluing on some false eyelashes, or increasing the size of David’s “manhood.” Am I saying that I am unique, and beautiful, and artfully created by the Master of Creators? Well…Yeah. (Aren’t we all?) So why can’t I look at my face in the mirror, and thank God for it, and tell him I like what I see? (Something in my head is broken, that’s why.)

Confronting My Fears

Nowadays, the idea of leaving the house without makeup is (literally) terrifying. And this is a big, ridiculous problem. For perspective: Looking back through my photos, I can’t find a single picture since junior high where I wasn’t wearing makeup. Summer camp, 12 hour dance rehearsals in the heat of the Texas summer, doing missionary work in rural Mexico, I’m wearing makeup in every single picture. The photos taken during the labor and delivery of my child? I’m totally wearing foundation, bronzer and mascara. (I remember applying it before my contractions got too painful to concentrate.) It’s the bronzer-whilst-birthing that makes me realize I have a serious mental-problem.

I remember my reasoning for applying makeup before I gave birth to Ellie: “these pictures are going to be around for who knows how long” I told myself. “They define this moment of my life. Why not have an even skin-tone and pretty eyelashes?” It all sounds harmless enough, but if a woman can’t feel at ease with her face while she’s giving birth to a child, what hope does she have for feeling at ease with her face in any other circumstance in life?

Are You Like Me?

If you’re not getting me yet, here’s a fun little exercise: if you’re a woman, close your eyes, and imagine yourself as a man (maybe your husband, or your father, or your brother, or even a coworker). Now imagine yourself getting out of bed, and getting ready to go to work. What do you do? You probably shower, shave your face, brush your teeth, apply some deodorant, and fiddle with your hair (if you have any) for about seven seconds. If you’re fancy, you splash on a bit of cologne. Then you get dressed, and leave for work. You don’t think to yourself, “my eyelashes are so light, they’re practically nonexistent!” You don’t inspect your pores thinking “if only I could make them smaller.” You certainly don’t apply that lip-gloss that makes your lips sting because of its “plumping agent.” Doesn’t that minimalist morning routine sound absolutely liberating? (And to you women out there who already have very minimal morning routines: I salute you. I also hate you a little bit, because I envy your confidence and grace, but it’s a loving kind of hate, if that makes sense.)

I feel like I need to repeat myself again, because someone out there is not hearing me: I love makeup. I love being pretty. I love making a good impression. I love “going the extra mile” and polishing my appearance. I love that with a few products from my makeup bag, I can stack-up against the likes of hollywood starlets. I’m a die-hard makeup fanatic; I get all of the reasons why makeup is awesome, and I am not judging you, or your relationship with makeup. But my reliance on makeup not just to feel beautiful, but to feel acceptable to be seen in public, is crushing my heart, and is preventing me from seeing myself the way God sees me. The only way I am going to break free is to give up makeup cold-turkey. Not for forever, but for long enough that my vanity can be completely uprooted, and a healthy appreciation and respect for the face that God gave me can grow in its place. I approximate that this will take (at least) 40 days.

Why 40 Days?

Surely a week or so would be good enough, right?

I have a couple of reasons for setting 40 days as the minimum duration of my makeup-fast.

  1. I am stubborn, and it takes me a bit longer than some other people to get over things.
  2. Most research says that habits can be broken or formed in 21 days, and since 40 days is roughly double that, I feel confident that real, lasting change can occur.
  3. In the Bible, a 40-something time period, whether days, months, or years is always a period of testing, trial, probation, or chastisement (but not judgment) and ends with a period of restoration, revival or renewal (for example, Jesus 40 days spent in the desert, fasting and being tempted by the devil). There is a lot of hocus-pocus-ey sounding stuff on the Internet regarding the significance of the number 40 in the Bible. Honestly, a great deal of it sounds superstitious to me, and I am not an adherent to any kind of superstition, but, if Jesus chose to fast for 40 days, I see no problem with mimicking him.
  4. But mostly numbers 1 and 2.

The Seed

For several months I’ve prayed that I would grow to love my naked face more than my “made-up” face. And guess what? God has not blessed me with an appreciation for my naked face, which comes as no surprise to me, because that’s not really how God works. What God did do, however, was push Jen Hatmaker and her book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excessacross my path, and slap me in the face with this question: “What, in my life, if taken away, would alter my value and my identity?” Yikes.

And you know, at first, the only things I could come up with as an answer to this question were 1. My husband, and 2. My daughter. (Then I gave myself a mental-high-five for being so level-headed, and so in-tune with God’s priorities for my life.) But then, later, as I was putting on makeup to take Ellie to the pool (yes, I’m that mom), it hit me: I am the most vain person I know. That is not an exaggeration. I don’t think I’m the hottest lady on the block or anything, but I place so much of my value in the fact that, when made-up, I can be very pretty. My identity? When made-up, I am a Pretty Lady. What kind of crap identity is that? And temporary, to boot. Once I realized this, I might have shame-spiraled a bit, and sought comfort in my guys Ben & Jerry. (Don’t ask me why I’m confessing this to you. I guess when I start telling the truth, it just all comes out.)

So that’s the seed that sprouted this whole insane, scary, exercise in self-torture. Jen’s book “7” inspired me in many, many other ways, but the only thing that actually scared me was the idea of going makeup-less. I know how trivial of a problem this might sound to some of you, and I get that. I get how trivial and petty and self-absorbed I sound. “Privileged white-girl from beautiful Coastal California chooses to fast from her makeup collection that probably costs more than some people’s cars.” Please believe me when I tell you that I know this exercise epitomizes the expression “first-world problem.” But I also know that each little step I take is valuable, and just because other people might think it’s silly doesn’t mean it’s not important. I need to get over my vanity. I need to get over myself.

Concerns and Expectations

What will people think of me when they see me barefaced? Will people assume that I’m lazy? That I don’t care enough to put effort into my appearance? Can I handle being told I “don’t look so good” every day? Or that I look tired? Or being asked if something is the matter with me? Will people hear about my fast and think I’m some holier-than-thou crazy-lady? Or a militant feminist with an anti-makeup agenda? Will people look at me and think, “Gosh, if she just tried a little, she could be kinda pretty?” Or, “I feel sorry for that uggo’s husband?” It’s my obsession over what others will think about me that really upsets me. My primary concern shouldn’t be what people will think of me, it should be what my Creator thinks of me. This verse keeps coming to mind: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14) And this lyric by the David Crowder Band: “You make everything glorious, and I am yours. What does that make me?” I know in my head that’s what I should believe, but my heart puts so much value in how others consider me, that this whole idea of simply not putting makeup on has my stomach in knots. It’s ridiculous, and that’s why I have to do something about it.

What do I expect at the end of the 40 days? For one thing, I expect that I’ll be thrilled with how much time I’m saving by abstaining from makeup. And of course I’ll also be saving some money. But bigger than that, I hope I’ll grow to love what I actually look like, without all the cosmetics, and come closer to seeing myself the way God sees me. And I hope that I’ll have more grace for the rare makeup-less women I come across in the world.

And for the record, my husband thinks this is my best idea yet. He thinks it’s crazy that I don’t like my bare face. He’s a keeper, that Mr. Godsey.

—————————-

So, for the next 40 days I invite you along with me. You can participate as passively as cheering me along (I will need lots of encouragement), or as actively as joining me in fasting from makeup for the full 40 days. I would love to have some ladies on this journey with me! If you’re interested in joining me, I’ve made a Facebook group where we can keep each other updated on our progress, post links to our blog posts, and generally hold each other accountable. Obviously, we’ll all be starting on different days, so it’ll be fun to cheer each other on through the different stages.

If you’re joining me on this fast, of course you can be as flexible as you want to, but I encourage you to go Full Monty on this one. Also, feel free to use the button  I’ve made (up at the top of this post, or in the sidebar) to link-back to this insanely long post, so you don’t have to do all of the ‘splaining to your friends if you don’t want to.

Or, you can just subscribe to my blog over there in the sidebar, or follow me on twitter @melissajenna.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to share them. I always love hearing what you guys have to say.

xoxo,

mj

Confessions of a Former “Non-Breeder”

Before I was a mother, pregnancy and childbirth gave me the heebie-jeebies. It just seemed so…gross. The idea of another living-thing living inside of me would literally make me nauseous if I thought for too long about it. I couldn’t help but likening pregnancy to those urban legends about earwigs laying eggs in people’s brains and stuff. (Don’t ask me what was wrong with me, because I haven’t a clue. Not a clue.) And childbirth just seemed so…animalistic. So below the innate dignity of human beings. And I know what many of you are thinking: pregnancy and childbirth are both natural and necessary for the survival of our species. Trust me, I get it now, but for many many years, simply the word “pregnant” made me shudder. (To be honest, I still avoid using the word “pregnant” whenever possible, mostly because we DO use it to describe both animals and people, and that bothers me. So I say “expecting a baby” whenever I can.)

And I already wrote a while ago about how I used to be a self-righteous, judgmental jerk, referring to parents as “breeders” and children as “spawn,” so when I began reading this series on Slate regarding people who are against having children, my interest was piqued. They’ve done a whole series on people who have decided, for a plethora or reasons, to remain childless. There’s one article about a man who was very concerned with his “career mobility,” one on a woman who had her tubes-tied at 26 years old because she was afraid she’d repeat the abuses of her parents, one where a woman called babies “alien parasites,” (me and that girl would have been BFFs back in the day), and one where the writer described a “baby-shower” she attended for a women who was not having a baby, but was releasing her first book. (Yeah, because those two things are SO similar. Does your book wake you up to breastfeed every hour and a half?) I hear so much of my former self in each of the women interviewed for the series: the self-righteousness, the judgement, the fear, the selfishness, the insistence that there “is no such thing as a biological clock,” and the unwillingness (or inability) to value motherhood equally to success in the marketplace. And it makes me so sad for them.

The series of articles makes it very clear that the child-free do not want to be pitied, and that they find my feeling sad for them to be offensive. But here’s the thing: I used to be one of “them,” a self-proclaimed non-breeder. A girl who used to go around proudly telling people that “I love my life too much to have kids.” And now that I’m on the other side, I realize not only how wrong I was, but how immature and completely bone-headed I was being. I was like so many young women, walking around with lower-back tattoos or breast implants: I made a decision that was right for me at the time, without fully understanding the longterm ramifications. Without leaving room for myself to change my mind in the future. I guess the good thing about being a self-righteous non-breeder is that it’s much easier to go back and change your mind than if you’re walking around with a tramp-stamp, or massive barbie-boobs.

The unifying tone that I hear, in each of the articles in the series, is a powerful aversion to wisdom from those who have “been there and done that.” None of the non-breeders interviewed wants to deign to hear anything a former non-breeder like myself would have to say. They effectively plug their ears and “lalalalala I can’t heaaar you” their way through the series, never once really hearing that there are so many women who used to feel just like them. They have the tone of a petulant twelve year old girl, being advised by her mother, that she will, in fact, find love again. (“No I won’t! He was SPECIAL! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME!” I can hear them sobbing, storming out of the room and slamming the door behind them.)

I want to tell the self-righteous non-breeders that I understand that feeling. I mean, honestly, no one wants to feel immature, or that their thoughts aren’t special. But listen: countless women have thought to themselves the very same thoughts you do regarding having children. Most of them, myself included, have found themselves on the other side of the situation, raising a child, and realizing just how wrong they were about the whole thing; motherhood has blessed us with an ability to understand ourselves, and life, in a deeper and more gratifying way than our careers ever could have (not to mention all the other blessings motherhood brings). We know this because we’ve been there, shouting from the rooftops that we’d remain childless forever, and we feel foolish about that whole thing now.

Notice that I am NOT saying that it’s everyone’s “destiny” to have children. If you hate children, I’d rather you don’t. What I am saying is that you need to leave yourself some wiggle-room. You need to keep your mind open to the possibility that you might change your mind one day. Try not to make being a non-breeder so much of your identity, that when your biological clock starts ticking, it ushers in with it an existential crisis. I used to be just like you, and here I am, twenty-eight years old, telling you that having a child was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Just consider that you might not know it all. And don’t go rushing to get any crazy tattoos, either.

mj

(Edited to reflect that one of the articles I originally attributed to a woman was actually written by a man. Oddly enough, I remember telling myself to use gender-neutral language in describing the series, because men do weigh-in, but it look like I forgot that when writing about it. Thanks Laney for the heads-up!)

Mamas and Wine

Back when Ellie was an infant, I remember wondering to myself (sometimes desperately), when and if I would ever feel like “myself” again. To be straight with you, I’m not even certain what I mean when I say “feel like myself,” but I think what I was looking for was to rediscover the me that exists once I’m outside of a position of responsibility and obligation. (And if you’ve had a child, you very well know what I’m talking about.)

Once I had a child, I found myself in a perpetual state of responsibility and obligation, which is quite a “culture” shock (if you can call it that) to a woman who was used to doing basically whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and never having to answer to another soul for anything. So yes, I can remember times when I was nursing Ellie at half past three in the morning, with tears streaming down my face, wondering “when will I get more than two hours of sleep in a row?” “I love this so much. Why is it so hard?” and “will I ever just be me again?”

No. No, I’ll never “just be me again.” Since Ellie was born, and until the day I die, I’ll be me+. That’s just the way it is. And I wouldn’t have it any other way (no matter how hard it was in the beginning).

***

Some of my mama crew, plus some friends!

Today, several of the other mamas in my moms’ group, and a couple of their friends and I got together and took an RV (Thanks B!) down to the Santa Maria Valley to go wine tasting, and we had such and excellent time. We left our kiddos with their papas, and actually got to hang out. I laughed way too loudly sometimes, and I got to hear SO many great stories. The lives these women have lived! It felt so good to just be, without feeling pulled in twelve different directions. To just talk and enjoy each other’s company. How refreshing!

That is what I was missing, back in the lonely nursing hours. And while I’ll never “just be me” again, I couldn’t be happier to be me+ alongside all these amazing women. Motherhood has been the greatest blessing of my life thus far; I thank God every day for my little Ellie Bean, and for the bonds that are being created between me and the rest of the mamas in my group. This is such a special and unique time of our lives, and I’m so grateful to have their love and support while we all begin to figure out what it means to go from “just being me” to being “me+.”

Career vs Baby-Making

I filmed this super-casually (obvs), after I put Ellie to bed tonight. Mostly just because I hadn’t posted a video to my channel in about a month, and I figured some ladies could relate. Enjoy!

Komen, Planned Parenthood, TOMS and “Bad Aid”

I’m always fascinated with how the Internet has changed the way many conversations (and disagreements) happen, specifically how the near-instant spread of information has made everyone a pundit, and has encouraged people with very little investment (or no investment at all) in an issue to quickly form an opinion and share it– vigorously– with everyone in their social network.

This uninvested (and often uninformed) rapid-fire opinion-making is evidenced in everything from the latest silly celebrity baby-name (Blue Ivy Carter), to political faux-pas (Romney’s out-of-context remarks on the very-poor) to charitable organizations and their allocation of monies.

Enter Komen for the Cure, and Planned Parenthood, two organizations with which I have loose ties (at best) and zero allegiance. Without the Internet, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this. If this “story” were chosen to appear in the paper, I would have skipped it, because it does not interest me, and I certainly don’t think it would have appeared above the fold. But because of the Internet, I have a knee-jerk reaction to outline my opinion for all to hear (or not), and as much as I find this compulsion silly (and totally undisciplined), it is good for me to keep writing, if only to remain practiced.

Enough with meta “introspection as out-loud conversation.” Onto my hasty, hardly-informed, not-at-all-invested opinion regarding Komen For The Cure cutting, then reinstating their funding to Planned Parenthood.

Let’s imagine Susan G. Komen for the Cure as an individual, one to whom many people entrust their charitable dollars for use in breast cancer research. We’ll call her Susan. And Planned Parenthood as a person who supports treatment and education in all areas of womens’ health, reproductive and otherwise. We’ll call her Paula.

Anyone– rich, poor, young old, gay, straight, whatever– can go and see Paula and receive any number of treatments or services, including breast exams and mammograms, pap smears, birth control consultation and administration, STI testing, pregnancy testing, abortions, etc, and many of those clients wouldn’t have to pay a fee for many of the services. Paula doesn’t turn people away if there is a need (which is very kind and generous). But sometimes Paula’s services are performed in a way that is not compliant with the law; that is to say, sometimes Paula does something illegal. And while her services to those in need are valuable, her reputation has come under fire as someone with questionable standards, which makes many people uncomfortable.

And then there’s Susan. Susan raises money to support breast cancer research, and is best known for slapping her name and logo onto anything (ANYTHING), turning it pink, and having some of the proceeds from the sale of that product support her organization. You buy a pink Komen water bottle, $1.00 goes to cancer research. You get the idea. Well, Susan likes to give some of her money (a very small sum) to Paula, so Paula can continue offering breast exams and mammograms to women in need, which seems like a smart partnership, considering their mutual interests.

But remember what I said about Paula’s questionable reputation? After some consideration, Susan decides she is uncomfortable allocating any of her funds to support Paula’s practice, until Paula straightens everything out with the law. Susan is concerned with being accused of knowingly supporting someone who is engaging in illegal activities, and does not want her own reputation to be tarnished in the wake Paula’s legal scandals (which are popping up with more frequency these days). Susan decides to suspend funding to Paula, until she’s dealt with her legal issues.

Then everyone who has ever made a charitable contribution to Susan, or purchased something pink, or thought about making a charitable contribution but never quite got around to it, takes to the Internet and lashes out bitterly against what their perceive as a grave injustice against Paula, Paula’s services and Paula’s clients. And then the Internet gets all puffed up and sells this whole encounter as an actual story, and here we are.

Let’s get some things clear: while Susan G. Komen for the Cure did a great job at co-opting the color pink and raising awareness, it is not the most efficient of charitable organizations. You can take a look at their 2010-2011 audited financial statements and see for yourself. If you want to support breast cancer research, you can do better than entrusting your charitable dollars to Komen (give to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, for example, or The National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund, both of which are scored higher than Komen by the American Institute of Philanthropy).

I don’t see a problem with Komen wanting to distance itself from an organization that is constantly under legal fire. Komen can choose to do with their dollars as they please, just like we can. So if you’re so upset that Komen cut its funding to Planned Parenthood, and you’re so supportive of Planned Parenthood (PP), why not give PP your dollars directly? I’d be willing to bet that most people, myself included, were not aware that Komen supported PP in the first place. Personally, if I give money to an organization, I don’t want them allocating any part of those funds to support organizations I do not agree with, (this is not my position with Komen and PP, for the record) and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable stance.

So if you don’t like it, don’t support Komen. Like I said, there are several other charitable organizations that will offer you more “bang for your buck.” And if you love PP so much, why not donate to them directly and cut out the middle man? Why turn this into a women-hating-on-women issue that so many people are making it out to be? The Internet can be SO. DRAMATIC.

But none of this really matters because Komen announced today that after being bullied by the Internet, it’s decided to continue funding PP. (Komen didn’t say they were being bullied, I’m just calling it as I see it.) Rather than directly donating to PP (and thereby giving PP the most money possible), the Internet would rather complain loudly (something the Internet is GREAT at) and continue having Komen do the money-parsing for them. (But don’t call us lazy!)

I’ve actually been meaning to write something about misguided charitable giving recently, but I’m afraid that anyone with a pair of TOMS will want to hunt me down and punch me in the face. Spoiler: TOMS is bad aid.

For perspective, you might also want to read TOMS Shoes: An Opportunity for “Bad Aid” to Generate “GREAT Aid.”

For even more perspective, check out the book “When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself.”

Thoughts on Komen? Thoughts on PP? Thoughts on bad aid? Wanna throw a rock at me for hating on your TOMS (it’s cool. I own a pair.)? It’s all welcomed in the comments.

I Am Not a Mom-A-Tron

Something that’s become particularly clear to me this past week, is how easy it is to fall into the maternal trap of trading one’s individuality– that is, the very qualities that make one unique– for the quest of becoming the very best mother one can be. I advised a friend via email recently to give no consequence to his feeling “too old” to attend certain concerts, because “some of us are, by circumstance, made too old to attend” I knew, even then, that I was projecting my sense of loss onto him. (But I still find mine to be sound advice.)

But then I considered: what good does it do Elliott to have a mother who divorces herself from herself? Or for Mike to watch me slowly shape-shift into a single-minded Mom-A-Tron? (He did, after all, marry me, not Mom-A-Tron. Although the more I say it, the more awesome Mom-A-Tron sounds. Like a badass mommy-robot.)

My realization isn’t anything novel or groundbreaking, I’m sure, but here it is: Elliott and I were matched together as mother and daughter (and to Mike as father and daughter), because we are the individuals that we are, and because of the unique inclinations of Elliott’s heart that neither Mike nor myself are even privy to yet. I have to believe that my likes and desires are shaping me uniquely as Elliott’s mother, and that the relationship that Elliott and I are cultivating will be enhanced by those details.

The Happiest Baby

Gratuitous photo of The Bean. Sigh. Feel that? That's your heart swelling full of happiness.

I want Elliott to love me as her mother, but I also want her to know me as an individual that exists in roles in addition to my primary role as her mother. And rather than knowing Elliott singularly as my daughter, I look forward to knowing her as a person, gaining insight into her character, and watching her grow into the many roles that she will play.

I guess that’s all to say that it will not irreparably tarnish my relationship with my daughter if she watches her mother go to a Metric concert with her friends, continues indulging her fascination with haute shades of nail polish, or falls further into the vintage rabbit-hole, sartorially.

And, as usual, I’m not really sure about any of what I just said. But it feels right. As Walter Sobchak asks, “Am I wrong?”

(Polish en ce moment: Essie’s Mint Candy Apple)

Essie's Mint Candy Apple

Labor Regret and Post-Partum Perspective

What a difference a long weekend makes! After some much needed rest, recreation and relaxation with my husband, I feel refreshed and ready for the week. Could I sleep more? Always. But this is the best I’ve felt in over a week, so I’ll take it.

I was napping with Elliott yesterday, or rather she was napping on me, when I began reminiscing about her birth. (I had been keeping notes on my iPhone along the way so I would remember as much as possible later.) When I remembered the moment when I was told I would have to have a c-section, I suddenly became filled with regret, and for the first time, I wished I could do it over again. I know that it’s silly to hold myself responsible for her brow-first presentation, but still I think things like “if I would have had better posture during the final months of my pregnancy, maybe she would have had better position?” Regardless of how she entered the world, she is totally healthy and very happy, so what more could I (sanely) ask for?

Guilty admission time: I miss being pregnant. Not so much the discomfort, nausea and constant back pain, but the way everyone treated me so gently and talked as if I were extra-precious because of the job I was doing. It doesn’t take very long after childbirth before you become “just” a mother, and suddenly no one holds the door for you anymore, and the smiles from strangers evaporate and are replaced with frowns of annoyance at the unwieldy stroller taking up the entire doorway. What’s with people loving pregnant women, but disregarding mothers? This experience has surprised me in ways I never expected.

In case I need to clarify, I’m not suffering post-partum depression (thankfully); I’m pretty sure these kinds of sentiments are common and are par for the course. The vast majority of my day is spent in adoring-mommy bliss, but that’s not the kind of feeling that one needs help understanding, you know?

Aaand I just heard the slightly disturbing low-gurgle that accompanies a massive diaper deposit. Time to put clean underpants on The Bean! (I still love this part of mommyhood. Is that bizarre?)

Tell me just how normal I am (or am not) in the comments below.

Natural Birth Control: Safe, Effective and Little Known

A couple of weeks ago I had my final postpartum visit with my OB, during which he mentioned that my husband and I should begin considering family planning options. (‘Family planning‘ being a polite euphemism for birth control, but I like the sound of ‘family planning’ much more.) I immediately felt anxious, as I’ve never met a method of birth control that has agreed with me. There are many methods of birth control for women, and yet none of them are entirely safe or healthy, and all of them have adverse side effects (weight gain, increased risk of stroke, more severe/painful menstrual cycles and general craziness, just to name a few).

The saddest fact is that conception is possible with every method, and many of the children that are conceived on birth control are miscarried as a result.

The idea of miscarrying a child as a result of our choice in birth control, as opposed to an act of nature (both of which are devastating), has haunted me, and it’s that truth that has the greatest impact on our decision. Combine that looming consideration with my desire not to mess with my hormones or cervical integrity, and there didn’t appear to be any suitable methods of ‘family planning.’ Fortunately, it was during a discussion of family planning methods with my mom’s group that a new, natural method was revealed to me. I’m surprised that I had never heard of it before, and after reading about it, I’m shocked that I knew so very little about my body and my fertility. Unfortunately, I’m almost certain I’m not alone in my ignorance, which is why I’ve taken the time to discuss what I’ve learned.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility

The natural method that my mom’s group shared with me is called the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), and the book I would recommend reading is called “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” Before I go any further, I want to make the distinction between the Fertility Awareness Method and the “Rhythm Method.” FAM is not the Rhythm Method, and there’s a whole section of the book that talks about how they are different, how FAM is reliable and how, as we all know, the Rhythm Method is not. (“What do they call people who practice the Rhythm Method?” “Parents.” Yuk yuk.) My goal here is not to talk about the Rhythm Method, nor explain FAM in detail; I would highly recommend reading “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” if you want more specific information.

Something I didn’t know about women: we’re only fertile for a few days a month,

unlike men who are fertile 365 days a year (with exceptions, of course). The Fertility Awareness Method allows women to determine when they are fertile, that way they can choose to use a barrier method of contraceptive during that time, or abstain from intercourse entirely. Conversely, a couple trying to conceive can use FAM to determine their window of fertility, eliminating the frustration and disappointment of making countless attempts that are doomed from the start.

Finally, family planning aside, every woman should read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” as it does a better job of explaining female anatomy and the amazing details of the menstrual cycle than any sex-ed class I was given in elementary school, junior high, high school or Cosmopolitan magazine. As a method of tracking one’s cycle, I’ve found FAM to be empowering and surprisingly fascinating. Without going into clinical detail, I feel comforted in knowing the wide range of variation from woman to woman in how we experience our cycles. For example, because my cycle is typically much longer than the “normal” 28 days (which is a total myth, by the way), I’ve always been told there is something wrong with me, but no doctor could ever go into detail about what exactly was wrong, or how to fix it. Long story short, after reading “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” I’ve realized I’m just fine, “normal” in fact, and so are countless other women who have walked around carrying similar anxieties for so long. Bonus: practicing FAM can help you discover gynecological problems before their “normal” symptoms are ever felt, saving you valuable time in diagnosis and treatment.

As a method of birth control, FAM is simple and effective; when used consistently and correctly,

FAM is found to be 99% effective, the same as oral contraceptives.

When used by a couple who are trying to conceive, FAM is effective on the first attempt between 67% and 81% of the time. Practicing the Fertility Awareness Method is certainly more enjoyable than ingesting hormones every day and living with the side effects, and it can save couples that are looking to conceive the stress and cost of fertility treatments. And like I said, though it’s possible to conceive while using any method of birth control, there’s no way that FAM will be the cause of a miscarriage, which is my main source of anxiety.

It’s my hope that if you read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility,” one of three things will happen: some of you will become more educated about your bodies, some of you will finally conceive a child, and maybe some of you can stop ingesting unnecessary hormones, any of which will greatly enhance your life. That all being said, you’re free to do what you want with the information. It’s just healthier and more empowering to make an informed decision, you know?

Are you or someone you know using the Fertility Awareness Method? Do you absolutely swear by a different method of family planning? I didn’t learn anything until I had the “awkward” conversation with a bunch of other moms, which turned out not to be awkward at all. In the spirit of helping each other learn and grow, feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Also, I’m giving away one copy of “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” to a random commenter. If you would not like to receive a copy of the book, please say so in your comment, that way I can draw someone else. (I’m using random.org to choose the winner, just so you know.) The drawing will take place Friday, October 1st 2010. Good luck!

(Also, here’s a good article from Slate about another woman’s research and experience with the Fertility Awareness Method.)

%d bloggers like this: