Sunday, September 24, 2006

Survivor redux

A couple posts back, I observed that a comment by one of the white Survivor contestants provided a crisp example of white privilege. (If you're not sure what that term means, the 50 "daily effects of white privilege" listed by Peggy McIntosh here provide one overview—I freely admit that I haven't studied the issue of white privilege, on accounta having white privilege and therefore not needing to think about my own race much.)

Yesterday, I received a long e-mail from a random blog reader I'll call Defensive White Chick. DWC writes, I agree that ‘the white race’ has no heritage- -we have truly forgotten our specific and unique pasts and blended together in forgetfulness. I'm not sure where the agreeing comes in, because that's not what I was getting at. (Irony much?) You seem to have no problem lumping us into a category of blobby whiteness, where no other identification is pertinent to you. Now, now. I do see differences among various white people. But I also see differences among people of other ethnicities, which was kinda one of my main points.

My benighted correspondent also complained of the so-called double standard in which we won't see a movie called "Black Men Can't Jump": comments are made against us [meaning white folks] on a daily basis in our media and the everyday populace and NOBODY blinks an eye. DWC also insists that something she saw on the TV show Black/White is wrong—that black Americans no longer need fear any violence from "anglos" on a regular basis, that such a fear is a 1950s artifact. That reminds me of college, when some students of color tried to raise awareness of racism on campus. I had a friend, a white guy who grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, who insisted that there was no racism. Now, how would the average white person know what non-white people might be experiencing? I knew a black guy there (mind you, this was a small college in a small town in Minnesota) who once said, "I have to shower twice a day so people don't think black people stink." That wasn't a stereotype I'd ever heard, but you know what? That discussion of white privilege has the following at #33: " I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race." If you're white, then no, you don't think about such things. (Is there any white person who can dispute that point?) People who aren't white, hey, some do worry about that sort of thing.

My jaw dropped when I read DWC's final paragraph: Regardless of whether you like it or not, we are the standard. We conquered the Indians and founded this nation. Many of this countries holidays are reflective of anglo heritage. I know it is not politically correct, but you and anyone else who pisses and moans about the anglo race wouldn’t be here enjoying your current lifestyle without us and our influence. Oh no, you din't! Can you believe that? "Genocide made this country what it is today! You should be grateful for the atrocities of the past, for they have made us great!" (I paraphrase, of course.) I just don't even have a good response to this (aside from things like saying "It's country's, not countries, doof."). Anyone have a pithy response to suggest? Maybe something like [irony] "African-Americans wouldn't be here enjoying life it weren't for the institution of slavery!" or "Can we outlaw all the holidays of non-anglo origin? Because they're just wrong." [/irony] or "Omigod, you're making this up, aren't you? This is parody...isn't it?" (It isn't.)

The last paragraph ended on a lighter note: if you are 'white' then i am sorry that you dislike your own people. if you are not then i would ask that you look at your own racism objectively. Isn't that a wonderful concept? The self-loathing member of the dominant culture? It's a great twist on the usual application of the "self-loathing" tag to people outside the tradition of privilege. I think the next step is to expand it to men. Do you know any self-loathing affluent straight white Christian men who loathe their own affluent whiteness? (Mr. Tangerine suggests that we may find them if we check S&M dungeons...but let us not psychoanalyze the folks who are into that.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Grateful journal

Oprah Winfrey recommends keeping a "grateful journal" in which you "list five things that happened this day that you are grateful for. What it will begin to do is change your perspective of your day and your life. If you can learn to focus on what you have, you will always see that the universe is abundant; you will have more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never have enough."

I know it's early in the day, but life is good and I'm sure I can come up with five things I'm grateful for right now:

1. It is no longer "Talk Like a Pirate Day." I can't write in pirate-speak, so No Nym, I couldn't comment on any of your posts yesterday. I find "Talk Like a Pirate Day" to be most irksome. I do not, however, expend any energy deploring its glorification of those bad, bad piratical people, and find those who do complain about pirates to be just plain humorless.

2. I finally got the contract from my publisher (for a book about what else? crosswords), so I no longer feel like I'm in the limbo of uncertainty. Writing about something I enjoy turns out to be fun!

3. While my husband may pay no attention to laundry, he is a good man, a good husband, and a superb father. Plus he puts up with my snoring.

4. My son's having a good time in first grade, his best buddy from day camp is in his class, he's reading so fluidly now, and he does a much better job of listening to his mother than he used to. I've been productive during the hours he's in school, though today will entail more hair salon time (highlights and a much-overdue cut) and less writing time.

5. Pharmaceuticals and medical technology. Seriously. My kid and I wouldn't be here without 'em. While universal health care is sorely needed, health insurance companies drive everyone nuts, and there's plenty of over-/under-/mis-treatment in medicine, we do have a helluva bunch of resources on tap.

What are you grateful for? (And you'd better come up with five things. I know you can do it! If you're in a bind, there's always the weather, the new TV season, and the seasonal waning of heat and humidity.)

Cross-posted at Bitch Ph.D.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Raising money for breast cancer

We all know the statistics—breast cancer is all too common, and if nobody in your particular circle of friends and family has had to to battle with this disease, it's probably just a matter of time, really. Not to be alarmist, but breast cancer is hardly rare.

My family has been incredibly lucky in that there's been remarkably little cancer, and I'm grateful for that. But just recently, my mother's best friend—a woman I've known for 35 years—was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy last week, and will be doing chemo and radiation therapy to cut her odds of recurrence from 25% to 5%. She's trying to figure out which adjunctive therapy to do first, thinking about which side effects fit her schedule when. With luck, she won't have a terrible time with either, and the cancer cells will be whipped into submission for good. But I still worry.

This is the first year I'll be doing City of Hope's annual Walk for Hope with a specific breast cancer survivor in mind—I've walked each year for the past four or five years, but now that I have a more personal connection to this cancer, I want to raise more money than I have in the past. I've set a modest goal of raising $500 before October 8.

If you can afford a few bucks* to support the cause and sponsor me in the Walk for Hope, please stop by my donation page and click the "Donate now!" button. It's a secure site, and the money will go directly from your credit card (issued by U.S. banks only, alas) to City of Hope. Thank you!

*If you're flat broke, or if you've already earmarked your charitable donations elsewhere, I understand. But keep a good thought for my mom's friend, will you?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Now on CBS Thursday: Survivor: White Privilege

You've probably heard about the latest edition of Survivor, with each of the four "tribes" being a different race. I found myself on the couch at 7:00 tonight, so I turned on Survivor—what good is deploring something when you haven't even seen it? Sometimes one must make sacrifices for the sake of intellectual honesty, after all. And my sacrifice was sitting through most of tonight's premiere episode.

What I saw was a picture-perfect depiction of white privilege in all its glory. First we saw the Latino team traveling from the boat to the island, and they talked about how they'd demonstrate that they can "work hard and play hard." Then the Asian team made the same trip to the beach, saying that the other tribes would scarcely suspect that these small Asian people would be competitive. Third out was the black team, and they also touched on the idea of showing that stereotypes weren't accurate.

Last was the white tribe, and apparently these folks were cast for their ability to effortlessly present white privilege. I hadn't noticed the other groups playing the color-blind card, but one of the white guys said it really didn't matter if everyone was white or "other ethnicities"—the game's all about individual personalities. Then a different white guy said, "It's going to be fascinating to see how it plays out, but I don't believe that just because these groups have cultural similarities, that that will make them more specifically cohesive."

"These groups"? "Them"? As if the average fivesome of young white Americans who wanna be on reality TV have no shared culture? And what exactly are the cultural commonalities between a Vietnam War refugee who currently runs a nail shop, New York–born Koreans with high-powered jobs, a Midwest-raised Filipina in real estate, and a West Coast hottie guy in the fashion industry? How about a Dominican wrestler/musician, a Peruvian-born businesswoman, a Mexican-born waiter, and two Santa Monica natives, one a male volleyball player and the other a female cop? They sound mighty homogeneous, don't they?

It's incredibly easy for white people to forget about race, as we apparently have none. It's those other people who have races; we white folks are the default. (Just like men needn't trouble themselves with gender issues much—they're the default. Women, however, can't easily ignore their sex.)

I don't know how much race will figure into the course of Survivor: Cook Islands and frankly, I'm not interested in watching the show. But that comment about "these groups" perfectly encapsulated the concept of white privilege for me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I love my local IHOP restaurant, I do. I swear that it's hipper than the average IHOP, but until today, I didn't have a clear explanation. Here's the deal: Not only does it draw a diverse clientele, but the wait staff tends to look hipper. To wit: The three waiters working the dinner shift tonight included a red-haired guy with a barbell traversing the cartilage of his upper ear (plus a little other hardware, I think), a blondish guy with hipster sideburns and two small hoop earrings, and a foxy, chatty Asian guy with spiky hair and a pierced tongue. The restaurant seems to do a good job with employee retention, because busboys get promoted to cook and waiters and waitresses tend to stick around. And I've had subpar flapjacks only once in the past seven years.

Plus, Feral Mom and one of her toddlers once attempted to destroy the women's room, and it survived unscathed. What more could you ask for in an IHOP?

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, five years later

I remember where I was, exactly five years ago (give or take a half hour). I was home with my 16-month-old son, who was only beginning to walk. I sat in front of the TV for hours that morning, stunned and crying. Ben was too young to have any idea what was going on. He wasn't walking yet, but he could stand up just fine. Indelibly, the sound of his rolling push toy, with its jangly, tinkly rendition of the alphabet song, is imprinted on my memories of September 11, because Ben was playing with it while the planes hit the Twin Towers, while the people evacuated, while the towers turned into rubble, while the terrible day unfolded. He didn't get to play with it much after that day, because the perky music sounded so mournful to me and I didn't want to hear it any more. At least the toy served its purpose in diverting Ben while his mother's mind was hundreds of miles away. That morning, I held Ben close and wondered what sort of world Ben would know—it was no longer the world I grew up in.


I'm sorry for the thousands of people who perished on September 11, 2001, including the selfless rescue workers, and for the families and friends who miss them still. I'm sorry for the survivors who escaped with their lives, but experienced such terrible trauma that day. I'm sorry for the servicemen and women who lost their lives in the wars that followed, and for their families. I'm sorry for the many heroes who toiled at Ground Zero to gather human remains and clear the site, many of whom are now ill from the toxic exposures.


This morning, Ben's school had a memorial service outside before classes started. More than a thousand students and hundreds of parents and staffers gathered. Flag at half mast, the Pledge of Allegiance, the standard patriotic songs (plus an odd "If you stand up for freedom, clap your hands" number), a tall, slender young woman with skin the color of espresso who wore a Statue of Liberty costume, a release of red, white, and blue balloons, and a moment of silence. If I had started to sing along, I would have ended up bawling, so instead I stood quietly and only sniffled. The children and parents there represent the beauty of America—the way this beacon of freedom, imperfect though it may be, draws people from across the globe who want to become Americans, who want their children to be American. People from different continents, cultures, countries. These people, like the immigrant ancestors of Americans born here, strengthen the nation and remind us that what we have is rare, and we shouldn't take it for granted.

The cynic in me can scoff at rosy discussions of freedom and point out the erosion of civil liberties, wars I don't agree with, the persistence of bias. But it is because of our communal commitment to freedom that the United States remains such a powerful magnet. It's imperfect, yes, but its problems are amenable to change through democratic processes. Even a terrorist attack on the nation's power centers didn't change that.

What do you know about menorrhagia?

A dear friend, P., is approaching menopause at 41 (even though she doesn't look a day over 25), and her last few periods have been bloody monsters—the one just past lasted two weeks (two weeks!) and was really heavy, to boot. Chunky clots (she said it looks like her body is disgorging an alien, bit by bloody bit). A tampon an hour. Blowouts requiring a trip home to change clothes. Painful cramping. And did I mention...two weeks! Bad, bad period, in other words. She clearly meets the criteria for menorrhagia, with the heaviness of the flow, how long it lasts, and how miserable it's making her.

Herewith, a few questions for anyone who has been through this herself, or knows someone who has:

1. What treatment(s) did you try? Did you get good results? (P. has had side effects from the pill, so she's looking for another option.)

2. What do you know about the NovaSure endometrial ablation technique? The website makes it sound like the biggest boon to bleeders. What's the down side (aside from having a thingamajig inserted into the uterus and cramping up afterwards, etc.)?

3. Got any coping strategies or pointers to offer?

Friday, September 08, 2006

When famous older women have babies

Do you remember a few years ago when there was a push to raise women's awareness of when fertility dwindles? I think it was an initiative from one of the reproductive endocrinologists' groups (maybe this one), frustrated by how many of their patients were heartbroken to discover, now that they were finally ready to start a family, that their eggs were pretty well cooked. Why have so many women been in the dark about this, thinking that age 40 was a fine time to embark on a first baby? I blame the media attention given to celebrity pregnancies, where it's seldom hinted that a woman in her 40s or 50s might have required assisted reproductive technology (ART).

Case in point: this week's news that actress Marcia Cross, age 44, is pregnant with her first child, quite soon after her wedding. Nowhere in the article does it mention fertility treatment. This gossip piece reports that she and her husband were seen leaving a fertility clinic, but Cross's publicist, of course, omitted any mention of ART.

It's possible Cross and her husband relied on IVF and perhaps donor eggs. But with all the media attention showered on famous 40-somethings who are pregnant—and the conspiracy of silence on ART—American women can easily get the message that fertility after 40 is quite unremarkable, just another natural, happy circumstance.

I recognize that everyone has a right to medical privacy, and that you don't necessarily want your child learning they came from donor gametes via a Google search. But time and time again, the media leaves out the details that remind people that the average woman is going to have infertility issues if she tries to get pregnant in her 40s.

Jane Seymour gave birth to twins at age 45; at that time, I don't recall seeing a mention of IVF, although she has acknowledged it since then. But might she have used donor eggs? Could be. Cheryl Tiegs claims to have used her own eggs—at age 52!—and a gestational surrogate. (I concede it's possible that Tiegs was the 1-in-500 case with viable eggs at that age...) Geena Davis was in her mid-40s, and I've never seen any acknowledgment of ART in her case.

Last year, I blogged about Joan Lunden, who used a gestational surrogate twice, starting at age 49, and now has two sets of young twins. (That's in addition to three grown children from a prior marriage.) The pregnancies used Lunden's husband's sperm, but the Good Housekeeping article I blogged about delicately avoided using the words "egg" and "donor" (though an infertility-savvy reader could pick up the implication of donor eggs).

I don't begrudge affluent, famous, biologically middle-aged women the joys of pregnancy. I just wish that they didn't perpetuate the stigma of donor eggs, donor embryos, and gestational surrogacy by omitting their personal details, while simultaneously propagating the false impression that it's easy to get pregnant at that age. And I wish the media would be far more responsible in their reporting of these late-in-life pregnancies.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Chapter 1

The birth story begins, as some do, with optimism. My mom got pregnant with my sister a month into marriage, and conceived me when my sister was 6 months old. Said sister got pregnant within about 4 months of going off the pill. With familial fertility like that, clearly I'd be knocked up in no time at all. Mr. Tangerine and I had been married for 6 years, I was getting laid off from my job and beginning a freelance career, and the timing was perfect for starting a family.

Except...month after month, ovulation predictor kit after ovulation predictor kit, the excellent timing and the de rigueur postcoital assal elevation proved pointless. We began to fret. Perhaps something was amiss in his bits, or in mine.

After about a year, we started conferring with doctors. Mr. Tangerine "collected a sample" at the andrology lab, and the results indicated that his spermatozoa were splendid.

My turn. Blood work showed normal levels of all the pertinent hormones. Could there be a traffic jam in the fallopian tubes, perhaps? Time for the dye test, a.k.a. the HSG, a.k.a. the hysterosalpingogram. Saddle up in the stirrups, let the doctor thread a catheter tube through the cervix, and x-ray the fluid as it whooshes through the catheter and uterus and to the fallopian tubes. Piece of cake, right?

Wrong. Turns out my cervical canal fakes left and goes right (or vice versa), meaning health-care providers always have a dickens of a time getting through it. Except this was the first time anything larger than a sperm ever tried to traverse that route, so the unfortunate OB/GYN didn't know my cervix was tricksy. He put on his lead apron at the beginning, assuming he'd reach the x-raying stage quickly—but no. He was a sweaty, nervous wreck, working under that hot spotlight and feeling the flop sweat as my reproductive parts repelled his efforts. Eventually, the catheter went through, the X-ray movie was made, and my uterus and tubes were deemed normal.

But do you know what happens when somebody picks a fight with your cervix? Ow ow ow ow ow. There's nothing quite like traumatizing your cervix to produce a flow of scarlet blood. There was blood all over the back of my hospital gown...and I had to go down a ways and across the hall to get back to the locker with my clothes. Ladies, you haven't lived until you've strolled a hallway with a bloody hospital gown clinging wetly to your ass. (This experience with the HSG is exactly the reason I haven't opted for the Essure method of sterilization. You have to get an HSG 3 months after the Essure coils are inserted to make sure your fallopian tubes are blocked, and I...have issues with the HSG. I'll pass.)

Anyway, with no information other than that there was no apparent reason we hadn't gotten me pregnant yet, the Tangerines moved on to the reproductive endocrinologists. We did three or four cycles with Clomid and intrauterine insemination. It didn't result in a pregnancy, but there were plenty of good times along the way. For starters, Mr. Tangerine had to "collect a sample" each of those cycles, in the little room with the videos and the magazines. All the men in the waiting room had just masturbated, or were about to; some men were present only by proxy, inside plastic specimen cups. One time, a younger woman made small talk by saying that her husband got "excited" every time he saw the special plastic cup. Thanks for oversharing! Another entertaining aspect was the mood swings wrought by Clomid—PMS on steroids.

Disheartened after several failed cycles, we took some time off from appointments and medications and procedures. And we got pregnant right away, once we stopped thinking about it so much! No, that's a lie. But it's a funny one, isn't it? All of you who have ever run the infertility gamut know what I'm talking about. "Just relax." Ri-i-i-ight. I couldn't have been any more relaxed during the first 6 to 12 months of trying, honest.

Then we started over with a new reproductive endrocrinologist, an aggressive South African with a fantastic accent. At first I thought his suggestion of moving ahead to injectible drugs for a couple cycles, then on to IVF, was too aggressive. But the less aggressive approach didn't get me pregnant, now, did it? No, ma'am.

And so we embarked on a new phase. Buying $700 of hormonal drugs and needles at a specialty drugstore. And shots! Mr. Tangerine gave me shots in the belly every morning before he went to work. Oh, such fun it was. First cycle: failed. Second cycle: deferred an extra month because of leftover follicles from the first cycle; gotta love taking oral contraceptives when trying to conceive! The cycle-two insems were at the end of September in 1999. (So much for having a kid in the 1900s—I always thought it was cool that my great-grandmother had been born in the 1800s, and wanted my kid's future descendants to marvel at the idea of someone born in the 1900s!) Mr. Tangerine collected his sample at home. I tucked the sealed cup beside me while he drove me to the medical office building, and he went on to work and eschewed the whole being-there-for-the-conception-of-his-child business. That's so, like, medieval! Much more efficient this way, no? (Plus it allows the parent to point out the building to the child—"That's where you were conceived, my son"—with none of the awkwardness that comes with telling kids about sex.)

The second cycle seemed to fail, but I jumped the gun in peeing on the pregnancy test stick and got a too-early negative. The first sign I was pregnant was going out to lunch with two old friends on short notice—and totally spacing on the fact that I had a dentist appointment. Many people claim pregnancy induces forgetfulness, you know.

The follow-ups at the reproductive endocrinology clinic showed that, thankfully, just one embryo had taken up parasitic residence in my womb. This is no slam on people with multiples, but as future installments will show, a twin pregnancy would have been a bad, bad thing in my case. But I didn't know any of that yet. I was just delighted to be pregnant and proud of the little ultrasound pictures of my little bean of a 7-week embryo.

Next: Chapter 2, The First Trimester—in which I don't go to Hawaii.