Author of Breasts Don't Lie

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It’s difficult to imagine, considering the amount I curse my computer, but I was an early adopter – an early adopter, never of computers but of contraception in 1980. Yes, we had contraceptives back then.

One spring day, when my thighs were firm and my hair was bouncy, I had planted myself in front of my unsuspecting mother and said, “I am going to be sexually active, and I need to get contraceptives.”

I remember that she continued to sip her coffee, took a big breath, and looked up at me. “Okay,” she said. “Time to make a doctor’s appointment.” At which point, I sat down and broke into tears.

Mom brought me some toilet paper to blow my nose – I was way beyond tissue paper, patted me on my shoulder, and left me to wonder about this transition. After using up a good quarter of a roll, I came to the conclusion that I was being very grown-up and strutted off to my room where I looked at the bed and promptly burst into tears again. Looking back, I think that was the best it could have played out.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the family Pinto wagon, yes, the exploding model, on my way to my family GP. The nurse ushered me into a room, listened to me stammer and stutter until I could get out that I wanted birth control. I had done my homework. I didn’t want the pill – I wanted a diaphragm. She cocked an eyebrow at me.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I said.

She shook her head, yanked open the door, and yelled into the back of the office. “Diaphragm.” She turned back to me. “We need to get the kit. Get undressed,” and she handed me a sheer robe and a paper blanket.

Tying the strings on the robe, I started to shake so badly I ripped gown and had to cover myself with the paper blanket. Positioning it across my chest and over my lap, I saw one of my socks had a hole – my big toe stuck out. (There’s an analogy for you!)

I waited and waited. And waited. The room was chilly. I kept my mind carefully blank.

After a good forty minutes of ruminating – do I want to be sexually active? Well of course. But is it worth the effort, expense, embarrassment? The doctor rushed in holding an overnight-sized bag-box. “Do you want a pregnancy test?” he asked. His voice boomed into the waiting room crammed with Saturday morning, acne-plagued young people and ricocheted into the back office where I heard a few snickers.

“No. That’s why I’m here. I don’t want to get pregnant,” I said as the door slammed shut.

The nurse smirked, but we went on with the process. He fitted me for a diaphragm. “This ought to do it.” I didn’t know diaphragms came in eight sizes. He held the black rubber spring-loaded dome up to the fluorescent overheads. “Be sure and check it for holes against a light. And you’ll need spermicide.”

“Spermicide?”

“Yes, Nonoxynol-9. Get it when you get the diaphragm,” he said tossing the seven non-fitters into the sink. Hopefully for deep cleaning.

“Now you try.” He covered the diaphragm with KY and handed it to me; the diaphragm slipped out of my fingers and landed spermicide side down on the floor. The nurse shook her head. The doctor laughed as he handed it to the nurse. She rinsed it off and then I tried to insert the spring-loaded circular cup. On the first attempt, I had another floor landing. More rinsing. On the second attempt, it pressed against my bladder. Uncomfortably. And it was suctioned into place. The doctor had to reach in and get it out. By the fifth try, the diaphragm was properly positioned against my cervix. Rah. The three of us were sweating. We cheered. I nodded. They nodded back. I took it out, handed it to the doc who handed it to his nurse.

I was told to get dressed, and my prescriptions would be at the front desk. I walked into the blinding sunshine, got stung by a bee, and thought I would need to shower again before my date that night.

Check in next week for the debacles at the pharmacy and that night’s trial run.

Here’s the meat of my blog:

In the 1860s, a US doctor introduced the ‘womb veil.’

In 1882, Dr. C. Hass invented the diaphragm. Guess I’m not an early adopter.

In 1965, the Supreme Court allowed married couples access to birth control but in 26 US states, unmarried women were denied access to birth control.

In 1972, the Supreme Court allowed access to birth control irrespective of marital status.

In 2013, parental consent was mandatory in 2 states before minors could obtain access to state-funded birth control.

In 2017, with many forms of birth control requiring a physician’s visit, parental consent may be necessary for teens under 18, and doctors and insurance companies may have the ability to inform the parents of the reason for a teen’s medical visit.

Today, private insurance coverage for contraceptives is being questioned. Planned Parenthood, a major provider of free or low-cost reproductive healthcare including education, examinations, screening, testing and treatment of STIs, and abortions, is being challenged and defunded.

Some people are not as lucky as I was when faced with contraceptive choices. Let’s guard our reproductive rights and the rights of future generations. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s the new year, and off I went to see my sister in Chicago.

I thought things were off to an auspicious start. I was PRE-TSA checked. But still, they unpacked my carry-on, waded through my underwear, and looked at me with a slatted eye. People watched and snickered as I repacked the bright blue and hot pink panties knocking one to the ground. Ugh – won’t be wearing those.

Then I had to wrestle the carry-on, kind of lumpy, listing to one side, into the overhead compartment of the plane. A man watched me. Didn’t help, just watched. Hoping my arm muscles wouldn’t give out, I jammed it in. He said, “I didn’t think you could do that.”

Cranky and smothering in three layers with the cabin’s dry, hot air blasting my face, I said, “Why didn’t you help me?”

“It was a good laugh,” he said sitting in front of me.

I kicked his seat throughout the plane ride.

At my sister’s suggestion, I bought a card for the trains and buses in Chicago. After spending five minutes futzing with the crazy machine, swearing, breaking out in a sweat (in the 10-degree weather of slush and gale force winds), I heard a harrumph from the machine next to me.

“Try turning your credit card the other way,” said a voice from under a parka.

Oops, that worked, and I had a green plastic card good for seven days of mass transit.

Then I tried to use the card to enter a nice wide turnstile. The woman in the cage yelled, “Hey. You there. Don’t use the handicapped stile.”

Feeling stupid, I moved my enormous carry-on, furry coat (a lot of synthetics died for that outerwear), and re-slung my laptop case over my shoulder. Making it through the narrowest possible turnstile, I made my way to the steps for the train platform. A man in front of me danced from one side of the stairway to another with each tread. More swearing. Is this a Chicago craze? When I misjudged his sway, and bumped into his back, knocking us both down, he slurred, “Sorry, my feet are cold.”

We missed the train. And both of us were very cold by the time the next one came.

Sitting in the car of the Orange line, I noticed the amount of junk around my feet. Food wrappers, single gloves, and assorted garbage littered the floor. Moving as fast as I could in my arctic apparel, my feet found a ledge, and I promised no touching the bottom of my bags. Yick.

Transferring to a bus, I thought, “I’m getting this down.” I managed to place my card wrong-side up on the card-reader three-times gathering a groan from the passengers behind me growing icicles. Sitting in an empty seat up front, my neighbor poked me in the ribs and pointed to the sign, ‘Priority Seating.’ I shuffled into a seat in the back of the bus where the floor resembled a food court.

Finally, I got to my hotel. The person behind the desk took one look at me, upgraded my reservation to a larger room, and told me about the nice bar around the corner where I could get an Irish coffee. Sounded good.

Unpacked, warm, and boots off, I thought about my trip. Humbling, my trip was humbling. In Dallas, I am nicely insulated in my car from other people and the travails of mass transit.

Sitting in the Irish bar, sipping the warming Irish Coffee, I thought about all the trash on the floor of the trains and buses triggering a funny memory of riding the buses in DC as a young woman.

I was riding the bus in the business district in DC during my 20s. I stood up at my stop. A sudden breeze ruffled my skirt, and suddenly, I was cool all under. Looking down, I saw that my underwear had dropped to the floor. Just dropped. Plonk. Pretending nothing had happened, I calmly stepped out of the undies and stepped off the bus. No way I was picking those up. At lunch, I bought undies at Garfinkels. What happened to the aplomb of my 20s?

Is mass transit designed to be humbling? Why do the hanging straps of the trains and buses resemble nooses?

 

(Image courtesy of morguefile.com.)

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I’ve sat on this for two weeks, but I’m ready to wade into the fray. With the permission of a friend, who feels it is now safe to share her story because most of the people are dead and she is mostly away from their influences, I will tell you why people wait decades to come forth with their tales of abuse.

My friend was accepted into a selective graduate program in a prestigious university. She was ecstatic as it furthered her career path. So, she uprooted her life and moved to another state with her husband to attend the program.

She did well in her master’s program – earning all As and making friends but her husband was jealous of the time she spent studying. She invited him to come to department events and tried other ways to include her husband, but he declined. She kept going to classes and making connections with her fellow students and her teachers, an essential part of the graduate school process but didn’t attend the informal events where many connections are made and strengthened.

Her husband left her in the middle of the degree. Cleaned out the bank accounts and moved to the Midwest with another woman. She was heart-broken and thought of school as her refuge enough to spend her summer camping on a friend’s dorm couch. She spent more time with her classmates and teachers, going to some of the more informal events – a cookout on the dorm steps, a beer after class with peers and teachers to follow-up on class concepts.

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One teacher noticed how sad she was looking and invited her to talk during office hours. He was sympathetic and laid an arm across her shoulders in a fatherly way. She struggled out from under it. He suggested they have a relationship. He had admitted to her that he had done this before with students – he had an “open” relationship with his wife. She said no as gently as she could – he was on her thesis committee. Without his support and his signature at the defense exam, her master’s thesis would be rejected and all her work from the past two years would be wasted. She started avoiding him, and her work suffered. She had nightmares and panic attacks. She couldn’t concentrate. She turned in lousy work for her master’s thesis barely meeting specifications, but her goal was to get out from under him, literally and metaphorically. Somehow, she passed the defense of her master’s thesis although the lecherous professor made it known that he was unhappy with her work. Lots of grumbling in the halls that isolated her from her peers and professors.

Knowing that the master’s thesis would not get her a job and that her master’s thesis would not get her into another university, she applied and was accepted into the doctoral program. But. The professor picked her as his teaching assistant, and he signed on as her graduate advisor for the doctoral dissertation. The nightmares got worse over the summer. She picked fights with other teachers, lost weight, and would jump at every noise or sudden movement.

When she started school in the fall, the reality of her situation worsened. The lecherous professor stood over her in meetings and looked down her dress. He sneered at her ideas for a dissertation delaying her progress. Her shakes increased. The other teaching assistants made fun of her, calling her variations on teacher’s pet. Her peers noticed and avoided her. She tried to talk to the professor, but he laughed saying she was misinterpreting his words. As head of her graduate committee, he could stall and even derail her doctoral program.

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She lasted two semesters before the head of another department took her to lunch. She was scared to go – what could she say that didn’t sound whiny or defensive? And the department head was male. She wore a shapeless dress to the lunch. Had her hair cut by a barber in a flat top to look less feminine. But he was kind. He asked what was going on. After hemming and hawing, she told him. He assured her that he would take care of transferring her to his department.

Emboldened from being out from the direct influence of the man, she decided to make a complaint. Following the university’s protocols, she contacted the woman administrator overseeing sexual harassment cases for the university. She did not know that the university’s first objective is to protect its own. The university’s harassment ombudswoman did not prepare her for the proceedings. The student did not know what would happen or if she would have to speak.

The predatory professor brought a legal representative. A group of her peers and professors watched them file into a conference room. She heard their whispers. She was aware that her career in the university and beyond would be affected by the outcome of this mock trial. When called upon to present her side, she stuttered. The professor sat across from her blatantly holding her gaze, a folder in his lap, his department head on one side of him and his legal representative on the other. The woman remembers feeling outnumbered.

At the end of the meeting, it was decided that he would receive a sealed letter in his personnel file to be removed after three years and that he could not give her any reference. She was under legal constraints to be silent about the entire incident. This sounded like blaming the victim to the woman. No one would know what he did. She went home and cried. Her academic work suffered. She was distracted and hostile in classes, due to sleep deprivation, wariness, and being ostracized by her peers and university faculty. She was untrusting and distressed by any male attention including her new husband’s concern.

When she attempted to get together another graduate committee for her thesis, she needed professors from the lecherous professor’s department. Her top choices, based on her dissertation topic, turned her down.

When she needed a teaching reference, the department head of the lecherous professor smirked and said he could not give her one. She had put him in “a bad position.” She didn’t get the job.

Eventually, the woman completed the dissertation in a program that was wonderful but not her first choice moving her into a career path that was not her first choice. She did the minimum amount of work to get her dissertation, not trusting the predominantly male faculty.

She brushed off other women’s attempts to talk to her about their harassment by the same professor.

All this time, she shielded her body in baggy clothes, kept her hair short, and avoided men in places of power. She made herself small and invisible. Hid her face behind big glasses. Didn’t go places alone.

No one knew what he did to her. What he cost her.

After over two decades, she put this behind her, but it still comes up. She told me about the years of therapy for the PTSD and feelings of betrayal by the university and her peers. She told me about the moments of panic when she thinks she sees him in a crowd or on the street. She had to learn to approach men as human beings.

Even today, after the professional awards and personal accomplishments, she can’t –

Account for a gap on her resume

Works in a field that was not her first choice

Has moments of panic when a man, a boy, or anybody looks at her body

Feels uncomfortable in meetings and minimizes her accomplishments/ideas

Why would she want to expose herself to betrayal and ostracism again unless she knew she had the support of other women? So as women come forward with their stories, she started to feel emboldened. She wanted her story told and believed.

That’s why you are seeing a great many women come forward; finally, there are enough of us talking for a woman to feel safe telling her story.

Please, when a woman tells you her story, say ‘thank you.’

She has probably told it before, and it has been dismissed or silenced.

Don’t do that to her. Ask her how you can help.

 

(Images courtesy of morguefile.com by PEDROJPEREZ and JELTOVSKI.)

Jamming My World

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My forty-year-old Swingline stapler is jammed. I’ve stabbed myself in the thumb with a pair of tweezers, a pen, and now a knife trying to get it working again. I understand the urgency of my righting the stapler has more to do with the state of the world and my fear for the global future than the need to attach pieces of paper. But the world is an ugly place right now. Right now, it is really ugly.

I’ve tried to keep out of social media for the last two months. That world is another chaotic and mean venue. Real mean. One word and everyone descends to feed on your bones. Kind of appropriate for last week’s Halloween but I don’t want any part of it.

I’m not chicken shit, but life is tough, and I feel myself pulling away in response. As I get older, I wanted to get a little sweeter, a little nicer (that might be a stretch), and a little more thoughtful about where I put my fiery energy, but I’m not becoming any of those things.

In massage school and then again in yoga teacher training, come to think of it, even in graduate school, I have always been the fireball. The one who is not afraid to say what I’m thinking and usually a few others too, the one who will stand against what is wrong. This stance is necessary and right (and self-righteous).

I am pitta; I am Aries, I am the consequence of a history of inflicted wrongs, one who wants justice. I pick up my sword to fight but in the darkest hour of the night, when I am honest with myself, the question – do I like the Adrenalin high – pings around inside my head. What if I am addicted to fighting for the sake of fighting, basically self-mutilating to get that feeling of being on the side of justice?

And it is getting in my way of allocating my energy in useful ways – ways that are beneficial to myself and humankind?

My graduate school advisor, the thoughtful and wonderful Dr. Norm Thies-Sprinthall, told me to “Pick my battles.” My therapist, a kindly soul, told me to “Be careful with your judgmental stance.” My friends tell me to “Use your power for good not evil.”

So, I’m trying to use their words as my mantra and good grief, it’s hard work. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, I cannot look away. I could not live with myself if I negated the millions of lives demolished then, now, and into the future. I don’t want to dwell, hyperfocus, obsess because PTSD is an ugly and incapacitating result.

I need to find balance. I’m working on it. Paying attention to the world but placing parameters about the amount of time I watch TV or listen to NPR, spending more time with friends not talking or picking apart the latest terror, and guarding my sleep. Those 3 am panic attacks suck. I am so over them.

In the meantime, I am asking you to pick up the sword, pay attention to the world, while I get my own house in order. My father’s death and the repercussions hit hard. The move to Texas continues to be tiring. Coming back to jobs where I have been replaced while looking after my father and family was hurtful.

I stare at the stapler. Work dammit.

(My image – you can use it.)

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Right now is a weird time for me. I’m in a new location, Texas with the cows, really huge horned cows, without access to friends in town, trying, really trying to make some friends here but my people are harder to find now I’m older, and my father died. After two weeks in ICU, we decided to let him go. His death was easy. A whisper of breath, a silence of the machines, the falling into himself that was disastrously elusive in his life. I was grateful for the mercy.

Coming home has been not so graceful, not so grateful, to end up – not so quiet – as I hoped.

I have been loud. Effectively loud. BECAUSE. The doctor, hospital, and funeral home could not coordinate the death certificate. 

“Yes, he died,” I told everyone. 

“I was there when the machines stopped. A doctor stopped by and declared him dead. What, you can’t find the doctor? Did he die too?”

“What do you mean – it’s been two weeks. Dad’s dead. Where’s his body? Where’s the paperwork?” 

Yep. I started out professionally cool, then curt, throwing around some of my degrees and threatening with the barrister cousin, days later I became loud, yelling under my breath and finally, into the phone. By some mysterious power, and no one will tell me what kind of power, my father’s body made its way to the crematorium. I need to see my hairdresser for the extra grey hairs.

The yelling continued; upon my return to North, North Dallas, I found out that my classes had been canceled or I had been replaced. Yes, that lovely national organization, espousing religious values, gave my class, the one I trained for over two months without pay, to another teacher while I was away tending to my family. They didn’t tell me. I had to write an email and wait for their response. A pox on them. I mean frogs, boils, and locusts on their facility.

(Truthfully, I expected to stumble with the class initially; I had been upfront with my supervisor telling her of my inexperience but a willingness to train. Still, a pox on them.)

With all this distress, I have restarted watching horror movies. Finished with the big shark extravaganza, I watch vampire movies in the afternoons. I don’t know why it helps, but it does. Perhaps bloodsuckers, like the sharks, have some profound, blocked message about grief or suggest a clue about my internal state. I don’t know yet – stay tuned.

The panic attacks at night come and go. Nightmares, full of people I love attacked by a faceless murderer, rouse me out of sleep multiple times a night. This rite of passage, being without parents in a chaotic and alienating time, emphasizes how alone I am in this world and the importance of connections. Some days, I enjoy the revolting troll stalking me on Facebook and my blog. Easy enough to block her and report her to the authorities. Should I send her a thank you note for the opportunity to feel powerful? A pox on her, wait, someone already poxed her!

So, let’s all get connected. Maybe not gracefully or quietly but gratefully. Sending lots of love to my friends and supporters. Say hi below! And send job leads …

(Image courtesy of morguefile.com. Thank you.)

Teething: Fractured Grief

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I restarted grinding my teeth at night. Like I did after Rod died. For years until my dentist started talking to me about a bite guard. A bite guard! I had visions of pimples and acne cream and headgear out of an 80s John Hughes movie.

But it wasn’t until years later that I took the dentist’s advice seriously and hustled down to the neighborhood CVS for a two-pack of bite guards figuring I would ‘boil and bite’ myself into a decent fit by the second try. The cat used the mangled first attempt as a toy, tossing it into the air and catching it in her mouth. I was impressed. Some serious chompers on that kitty – hers are in better shape than mine.

Eventually, maybe ten years after my husband’s death, I stopped wearing the bite guard, probably in the search for a decent night’s sleep. My teeth had stopped grinding by that point; my heartache had lessened.

So, now I’m thinking- will I need another twofer as I grieve Dad’s death? Should I hedge my bets and use my 30% off coupon or wait? Wait like we did sitting two weeks in ICU tearing out our hearts. We sat, siblings, wife, and friends, listening to the constant noise of the unit whittle away more and more of my father.

That unit was never quiet. I don’t begrudge the nurses their laughs or gossip. It’s the mechanical noises that got to us. The continual and rhythmic whines and whirl loved ones learn to block out, but the unexpected beep sends our hearts racing with adrenaline and sets my teeth to grinding. The nursing unit jumps into action and visitors shuffle to the walls plastering their ashen bodies against the hospital green paint.

Every night during that two weeks, I changed out of my clothes as fast as I could. Who expects to spend two weeks in a hospital chair with the frigid air circulating the stench of decomposing bodies? We began to look like the sheets, wrinkled and threadbare with use. After eating a nutritious dinner – we were keeping up our strength – we would retire to our corners of the house.

I sat by the computer watching Netflix movies, any movie with a killer shark. You don’t get many killer sharks in ICU, so I thought they would be safe to watch. I was aware of teetering on the edge, dancing between the extremes of closing everything up so tightly that it would take an act of God to open me up again and on the other end, the great beast of grief breathing down my neck, teeth ready to drag me under. Maybe Jaws wasn’t such a great idea. If I tiptoed up to the abyss, I saw a long drop down into sadness and pain as deep as the pain I had known before – an abyss where the tiniest act of kindness would send me into a despair for days, knock me down and leave me winded to the point that I wondered if I wanted to go on living, waking every morning with my jaws aching and the taste of old teacups in my mouth. Maybe the shark movies were a brilliant leap of my subconscious.

I searched my Netflix queue; I watched six shark movies and even got my sister hooked on them when she joined us in our vigil. The night before she left, we gave it a rest and watched a comedy, but only after watching an hour of The Omen, a 70s movie, predicting the end of days. Maybe My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was not the most tactful of choices, but I figured we needed something not too taxing. We laughed. I thought my stepbrother might fall out of his seat at one point. Even so, my teeth ached the next morning.

Back home, trying to establish a world without my Dad, I still feel the need to watch my “big bug” movies. I know Andrew wonders what the fuck I’m doing, but I don’t want reality right now. I want fantasy where my father wakes up demanding decent coffee with whipping cream and brown sugar, Lichen tries to serve us tripe, and I don’t stick a clear chunk of plastic in my mouth every night to avoid fracturing my teeth.

(I drew the shark. Don’t copy without asking me.)

 

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This 200-word piece is the second assignment from Coursera using the ABDCE process. Again, it is fiction. (Little trolls, go away. Actually, you remind me of a grumpy smurf.)

 

The patient left the doctor’s office after a briefer visit than her previous post-op appointments; without hesitation, she had gathered her purse, shifted her good foot underneath her, and lashed out with the booted foot knocking the podiatrist on his ass.

“Hope that hurt.”

She hobbled past the reception desk, staring down the assistant who took copays. A nurse rushed past her calling out, “Doctor Nitwit, are you okay?”

She smashed the large red exit button to open the heavy building doors. On the hike to the car, she thought about what he suggested. “I’ll lend you my beach house for a vacation.”

“You idiot,” she had said. “You put me on antibiotics so I can’t go in the sun. You created an open wound so I can’t go in the water or walk on the sand.” He had shrugged his shoulders as if to say, I tried my best, what do you want?

Halfway to her Honda, she saw his shiny BMW. She lurched over, used her cane to knock dents in the sides, stepped back, and took a good swing at the driver’s window. The twinkle of falling glass brought a smile to her face.

Dr. Nitwit came running out mouth agape. She lifted the back of her hand to her forehead. “I fell. Maybe I do need that walker after all.”

 

What do you think?

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