The Need for More Father’s Days

Growing up,  I had a father, whom I reluctantly visited once in a while on the weekends when I couldn’t fake being sick. He never knew my birthday (or didn’t bother acknowledging it), constantly told me how dumb my mother was, and lectured me about being greedy when I wanted juice with my meal at the Chinese restaurant we frequented during our visits.  As you can imagine, my image of a father figure developed into a dysfunctional assumption that men lacked the ability to raise children.

Luckily, I learned to distinguish a bad apple from a much larger lot of really wonderful men who are actual fathers to their fortuitous children.  I felt fortunate to have witnessed these relationships among my close friends who welcomed me into their families.

As my fiance and I talk about having a family of our own in the near future, I’m consumed with fears about becoming a single mom, which will have to be discussed in another post.  What’s interesting about our conversations is the amount of concern he has about being able to spend enough time with our unborn children.  His job is stressful, he periodically works long or odd hours, and he’s the breadwinner.  We talked about how it’s not fair that men frequently don’t get time off as easily as women for family reasons.

It turns out that my fiance isn’t the only one who feels stressed about juggling family and career.  According to yesterday’s New York Times article studies found that dads are just as stressed as moms about balancing work and family life.

Just last week, Boston College released a study called “The New Dad” suggesting that new fathers face a subtle bias in the workplace, which fails to recognize their stepped-up family responsibilities and presumes that they will be largely unaffected by children.

Putting our gender war aside about who does what and more, this article gave voice to family health concerns, rarely brought to the table at work.  Five years ago, I may not have wanted to acknowledge the importance of a father figure but I now know better than to think that a child is better off with one parent.  With the exception of extenuating circumstances, like abuse.

So in light of this article, here’s to more father’s days and not just the one day acknowledged by Home Depot and Hallmark.

Some interesting words from our president about this topic.

Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer

I have an increased risk for developing breast cancer because my mother had the disease.  She passed away eight years ago and since then, on most days I imagine the conversations I’d have with her about dreams and fears, writing, food, health, and love.

Sometimes I’d write about those conversations as a way to remain connected to her spirit.  Today’s post is about a conversation I wish I could actually have with my mom in person.

Under a pile of bank statements, credit card offers, and various receipts lay a request form for genetic testing my OBGYN gave me half a year ago.  It was an option, should I want to know if I have the breast cancer gene.

The breast cancer genetic testing form out from hiding

It’s just a piece of paper but I keep it stowed away under piles of paper I won’t sort through for a while.  I can’t bare to think about ever having cancer, leaving my family and friends prematurely, and never seeing my children have a family of their own.  Like my mother.  That form is a staunch reminder of my mom’s physical absence.

The offer for genetic testing doesn’t expire as long as I either have the money or health insurance to cover its cost.  My mother believed with conviction that her illness was caused by her stress and lifestyle.  The stress was from being a single mother of three, an immigrant, and poor.  Women with similar demographics have higher rates of breast cancer prevalence, and are more likely to die from the disease.

There are different types of breast cancer.  Some are more aggressive than others, and some are passed down through the abnormal breast cancer genes, BRAC1 and BRAC2.  Having these genes don’t mean breast cancer is definite, but it significantly increases your likelihood of it developing.  Getting breast cancer is complicated and has a lot to do with risk factors including but not limited to, age, reproductive history, environment, lifestyle, and whether first-degree family members have/had breast cancer.

After my mom’s  diagnosis, she took up yoga, ate organic food (before it was offered in grocery stores), worked part time, actively engaged in support groups, and underwent chemotherapy.  We frequently talked about politics and why there was a disproportionate amount of women “like me,” as she’d say, suffering from this disease.

My mom frequently reminded me that other than herself, we have no family history of breast cancer.  Therefore, I need not worry about having a similar fate.  She would tell me to “just continue to eat healthy and exercise.  Don’t worry so much.”

Intuitively, I know my increased risk for breast cancer is neutralized or even reduced with my lifestyle.  On most days, I exercise, eat well, and try to choose organic.  I’m also engaged to a wonderful and supportive partner who helps reduce my stress, and once we’re married, our union will serve as another protective factor against diseases.  I go for regular check ups and floss (flossing is a protective factor against gum and heart disease, not breast cancer). But still, the genetic testing service appeals to me like a customized horoscope does to astrological believers.

Both the test and horoscope provide information about the future and would leave me with the choice to act (or not) based on what I know.

But do I want to know if I have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer? Let’s say I end up having the gene, what next?  Will I be able to handle everything that needs to happen next?  If I don’t have it, will knowing that help resolve hurt feelings about my mother’s death?  Will I act as though I’m immune to the disease? If I choose not to get the test does avoiding it mean I’m taking an “ignorance is bliss” approach?  Or does it prove my confidence in a healthy lifestyle?

My OBGYN also warned that the test results will be on my medical and insurance records.  If I have a genetic predisposition, and therefore a higher risk of breast cancer, it can impact my insurance premium or restrict services offered to me.  Future insurer could potential deny me coverage as well.  But, the health reform, when implemented, should protect me from these types of discrimination.  Thanks Obama!

The form is officially on my fridge

My current thoughts are to do the following:

  1. dig up the form and put it on my fridge so I don’t conveniently forget about it and thus eliminating my need for a decision (done, by the time of publishing this post)
  2. find out more information about the testing such as counseling options to go with the test results, insurance implications of the results, fees and co-pays, if it’s necessary, and general pros and cons
  3. figure out if I’m taking my sweet time coming to a decision because I’m afraid of knowing the results (my friends and family can help me with this one)

I’ll go from there and keep you posted.  At the very least, talking and learning more about the testing can only help me make an informed decision.

Society’s Aversion to Public Displays of Breastfeeding

Two dear friends of mine are new moms.  Their babies are beautiful, precious, and hungry.  Hungry for momma’s milk and lots of it so they can grow big, healthy, and strong.

Both of my friends told me that they felt shy about feeding their infants in front of friends or in public, even with a nursing cover.  I wondered if I would feel the same way when I have children.

Both moms are educated, beautiful, and confident women who support healthy and natural baby-rearing practices such as delivering with a midwife or doula, using cloth diapers, and breastfeeding.

A few day’s ago, I was reading a global health article in TIME Magazine (June 21, 2010 edition) and came across a photo of a malaria-stricken Ugandan woman nuring her child. I felt conflicted about this image for two reasons:

  1. Had that woman been white or looked like a relatable middle-class American woman, I would imagine, TIME would receive an uproar of complaints for indecent exposure.
  2. Reason #1 reinforces our society’s aversion to public displays of breastfeeding.

The conflict stemmed from my initial reaction to this photo thinking it was provocative.  I was disappointed with my degree of sensitivity to an image of a woman naturally feeding her child despite my support for the benefits and act of breastfeeding.  Our cultural practices of censoring the boob had penetrated my health education and values, just for a split moment.

Clearly, many women feel similarly to my two mommy friends about public breastfeeding.  Some go further down the spectrum where, for varying reason, do not or cannot naturally feed their babies.  Some women use a combination of breastfeeding (at home) and formula or pumped breast milk for going out.  If breasts were seen less as sexual objects and more for their important functionality, we’d see more women feeding their babies at the bus stop, in the mall, at work, or with friends at a restaurant, while the moms eat themselves.

My (not-yet-a-mom) maternal and public health instincts feel an injustice about how we’ve grown accustom to the lack of public ownership we (women) have over our bodies, particularly our boobs!  Our society highlights this injustice for every time a woman gets a stare for publicly nursing their child, or worse scolded for indecency, or worse yet banned from permitting the act to not offend or distract others.

Despite popular belief, public breastfeeding is NOT a controversial issue, it’s a public health one.  Not enough women naturally feed their babies either exclusively or for a long enough period to maximize its health benefits for mother and child. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey among US infants born in 2006:

  • 73.9% were ever breastfed
  • 43.4% were still breastfeeding at 6 months of age
  • 22.7% were breastfeeding at 1 year of age
  • 33.1% were exclusively breastfed through 3 months of age
  • 13.6% were exclusively breastfed through 6 months of age

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding,

…up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

For a practice so important to the growth and development of our future generation, any societal barriers to breastfeeding are troubling.  Especially when we censor such images from public consumption as Facebook (FB) did when they deemed breastfeeding photos a violation of their decency policy.  In response, many women added more pictures of themselves nursing and a non-profit organization started a FB fan page called “If breastfeeding offends you put a blanket over YOUR head.” You should check out some of the discussion, it’s really interesting.

As natural as it is, initiating and maintaining breastfeeding can be challenging or uncomfortable.  There’s no place for additional barriers or judgment whether it’s from your partner, a stranger, employer, or a social networking site run by a twenty-something year old, multi-millionaire guy.

Although most states have laws protecting a woman’s rights to breastfeed in public, women brave enough to bare their breast still face scrutiny and harassment.  The image of baby-sucking-on teat still makes people feel uncomfortable.  Could it be because for every picture of a breast in our society , a small fraction of them represent its primary function, to provide nutrients?

Don’t get me wrong, breasts are beautiful and sexy. But the breast’s attractiveness and function don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

I joked with one of my friends and said, “imagine women had the guts to whip out their breast whenever they needed to nurse and said to their onlooking nay-sayers ‘Watchu lookin’ at? Never seen a tit before?'”  Some women are that brave.  But the vast majority of us who may (or will) find it challenging to publicly breastfeed, shouldn’t have to compromise their child’s health (even in the slightest) because of societal pressure to keep nursing behind closed doors.

Many workplaces now have policies promoting nursing and the CDC has a guide to promote breastfeeding at work.  You can also support local or national breastfeeding campaigns.  Joining or starting a support group is also an option.  If you’re committed to building your public breastfeeding confidence, start small.  Try nursing in front of trusted family and friends, use a cover if need be, then go from there.

Remember, there’s no justification in anyone judging a woman for nursing.  It’s a beautiful and natural way of keeping mom and baby healthy.  For nursing mom’s out there, please share your tips.

The Price of Spa-Pedis

My afterwork pedi. Arguably a mani with those finger-like toes.

Treating myself to pedicures is a recent indulgence.  I used to find the ordeal a bit strange, but I’ve now grown accustomed to the experience: Enter the shop, pick your polish color, soak your feet in bubbly water, turn on massage chair, have someone scrape the gunk out of your nails, clip and file them.  Your feet and lower legs get scrubbed, massaged, then your perfectly groomed nails are polished with a stylish new color.

A spa-pedi session after a long and tiring work week with some girlfriends felt golden yesterday.  But after visiting the salon’s bathroom, I was reminded of some apprehensions I have towards getting pedicures (and manicures).  There were jugs of acetone polish remover and various containers of creamy, hard-to-pronounce labeled substances.

My mani-pedi reservations are because of the following:

1. It’s hard to escape the smell of chemical fumes in the salon.

2. Nail polish contain harmful ingredients to our health (such as Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde, and Toluene), albeit in “safe” doses.

3. I feel a bit awkward having people service my feet.

4. Why pay for a pedi when you can buy a good bottle of nail polish for a third of the cost?  And then you can keep painting your nails and your girlfriends’ nails too.

These are reasons (among others) many women avoid or limit getting pedicures, and I would still put myself in the “limit” category.  Like eating chocolate mouse cake, I’ll enjoy this in moderation.

But to address the first two points of my reservations (which bother me the most), nail polish is still considered “safe” and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

By law, nail products sold in the United States must be free of poisonous or deleterious (harmful) substances that might injure users when used as labeled or under the usual or customary conditions of use…Many nail products contain potentially harmful ingredients, but are allowed on the market because they are safe when used as directed. (FDA)

Even if products are used “as directed” our skin and nails are permeable to toxins, meaning they can be absorbed by our bodies.  Small amounts may have little or no health impact. Unfortunately small amounts of toxins are also found in cleaning products, shampoos, soap, detergents, and pesticides on food, which can all add up.

Potential risk for:

Formaldehyde – It’s a suspected carcinogen; can cause breathing difficulty (wheezing and coughing); induce eye, nose, and throat irritation; some develop fatigue, skin rash, severe allergic reactions.

Toluene – Acute and chronic reactions vary depending on exposure and can range from nausea to impaired speech, hearing, and vision; may affect reproductive development (generally for women who abuse solvents).

DBP – Evidence of adverse health effects are limited, however animal studies show reproductive issues associate with exposure.

With growing concern over increased exposure to toxins found in beauty products, as consumers we can push for safer alternatives.  Many local health food stores and (natural) spas now carry organic or natural nail polish brands, such as No-Miss nail polish, Suncoat, or Zoya.  If you have concerns, it’s worth Google-ing “natural spa (your location)” and asking before your appointment if the salon’s products are DPB, formaldehyde, and toluene free (especially if you’re pregnant).

I’ll definitely get a pedicure again.  It’s hard to resist the lure of sitting in a massage chair while you get your feet scrubbed, and then leaving with nicely groomed and painted toes.  This is especially tempting during times when I’m treating myself for working like a donkey.  However, among the many other beautifying luxeries (like hair cuts and waxing) I’ll have to examine the cost-benefit ratio.  Costs = monetary and health impact and benefits = having nice feet and feeling like a queen for an hour.