Tag Archives: pregnancy

Reclaiming a Crisis: Backline is Working to Open the First All Options Pregnancy Center

20 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

If you dare utter the initials CPC in a room full of pro-choicers in a positive light, you better be prepared for some backlash. Talking about crisis pregnancy centers as a positive institution among reproductive justice, reproductive rights, and reproductive health advocates elicits a room full of negative reactions.

CPCs manipulate women at a vulnerable time in their lives.

CPCs don’t educate people about all their options.

CPCs hurt women.

So imagine my surprise when I was talking to Parker Dockray, Executive Director of Backline, about how she wants to emulate the crisis pregnancy center model.

“The model that CPCs have developed is valuable,” said Dockray, “but pregnancy  centers should not be deceptive.”

Dockray and the board and staff at Backline have decided to embark on an unparalleled mission, to create the first all options crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers are some of the most available institutions out there for women who are unsure about their pregnancy. Indiana has over 80, and they are one of 34 states that funnel money directly to crisis pregnancy centers. But they are full of misinformation and missing information.

However, as Dockray told me, CPCs often appear to meet the needs of women, even when they clearly don’t. Backline wants to reclaim the CPC model and create a brick and mortar place for the people of Indiana to turn to for support and community.

For the last 10 years, Backline has been answering the phone and offering support to people looking for options and judgment free counseling surrounding pregnancy. The Backline Talkline answers hundreds of questions each month about pregnancy options, parenting, abortion, adoption, pregnancy loss, miscarriage and other reproductive health topics. While the phone offers confidentiality, a new model could provide women with tangible support.

“The prochoice movement is not always great about visibly supporting parents,” said Dockray. Dockray hopes Backline’s new initiative will become a tangible place to demonstrate support for women across all options. Backline wants to create a place for women and their partners to receive counseling on abortion, adoption, and carrying their pregnancy to term as well as carrying diapers and other items for people to support their partners.

Opening the center in Indiana strikes a cord in a new way. The center will find its home in the middle of a red state, in a college town, surrounded by fields and conservative ideals. Reproductive rights, health and justice organizations are too siloed from each other, with each sticking to their own areas without much overlap or conversation. Backline’s All Options Pregnancy Center would bring these together under one roof, without agenda or pretense. Instead of being siloed, they are setting up shop amidst the silos in America’s Midwest heartland.

Bloomington is a town divided, one side of town is home to Hannah House Crisis Pregnancy Center, and the other is home to Planned Parenthood of Bloomington. Backline would create a middle ground, a place for women and their partners to go for real information. At a time when the middle ground seems like an impossibility in American politics, the Backline All Options Pregnancy Center will be an oasis. An oasis of information, moderatism, and choice, at a time and in a place where that hasn’t existed in a long time.

Welcome to the Midwest, Backline. If you want to help Backline build some walls, knock down some silos, and give people a place do go; click here if you’d like to donate, and click here if you live in Indiana and would like to join in.


The Ties that Bind: It’s Time to End Shackling

4 Jun

By: Catrina Otonoga

They’ve been saying that love has made its way to PA this week. They’ve been saying that equality for all has worked its way down the winding East Coast and is on the brink of the South and Midwest. Love. Equality.

But what has gotten washed away in the seas of good tidings for the state of Virtue, Liberty, and Independence, is a woman tripping and falling face first onto her pregnant belly because of shackles around her legs and waist. She could not protect herself or her fetus because her hands were cuffed behind her back.

What has gotten lost amid tales of happy couples finally getting to share their love is a woman in labor, her ankles shackled to her hospital bed rubbing her skin raw until scars are left, her legs unable to fully open so she can birth her child. Lost is the story of her child being born into a set of shackles, years after the state has banned the practice of shackling.

Shackling is the act of restraining pregnant incarcerated women by chains that link their wrists, ankles, and their bellies. These shackles are used in correctional facilities across the US throughout pregnancy, including during trips to and from the doctor, during labor and delivery, and postpartum.

For a while there, Pennsylvania seemed like a model of the anti-shackling and reproductive justice movement. In 2008, Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla prohibited the widespread practice of shackling women during labor. And, in 2010, the Healthy Birth Act was passed in Pennsylvania that prohibited the use of shackles on pregnant incarcerated women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy during prenatal visits, labor, delivery, and postpartum.

But, the law isn’t being followed. The state of Pennsylvania has continued to illegally shackle incarcerated women during their second and third trimester of pregnancy stripping them of any of the mores Pennsylvania so proudly scrawls across bumper stickers and state quarters. The ACLU of PA estimates that 820 women a year are restrained while pregnant. Facilities in Pennsylvania filed only 109 incidents of restraint for 15 women in 2012-2013.

Four years later, prenatal clinics are unfamiliar with the law. Four years later, doctors didn’t know they could ask a correctional officer to remove the restraints. Most clinicians had never spoken to a correctional about security concerns, and many believed that using restraints was only for the correctional officer to decide and not medical personnel.

Only twenty states restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women with a statute. But, if what is happening in Pennsylvania is happening with a law in place, what is happening across the rest of the country?

I have never given birth. Honestly, I don’t even know if giving birth is in the cards for me. I imagine it hurts, an unbearable amount. I also imagine that there is nothing more joyful and loving than holding that bright red screaming baby after that hurt. I imagine it’s like no feeling I can imagine.

I have never been arrested. Never felt that cool steel around my wrists or ankles or pregnant stomach. Never felt that gut dropping feeling of uncertainty about the rest of my life.

The idea of facing these two forces, this incomparable pain and joy, the horror of detainment and arrest is unimaginable to me. Yet, every day women across the United States face this. They face it while they are in labor and delivery and while they hold their screaming red baby for the first time.

The reasons we imprison women in this country are complex, the reasons we shackle them are historic and myriad. But it does not make them right. Like many historic institutions in this country, it is time for shackling pregnant incarcerated women to come to an end. It is time to bring love and dignity to Pennsylvania.

For reproductive justice oriented organizing and mobilizing in PA check out New Voices Pittsburgh

Able of Mind and Body: Why Reproductive Justice Needs to Address Mental Health in Pregnancy

11 Sep

“An estimated 500,000 pregnancies in the United States each year involve women who have or who will develop psychiatric illness during the pregnancy.”

Think about that. Half a million women each year.

We know about 1 in 4 Americans suffer from mental disorders, 15-20% of American women suffer from depressive symptoms DURING pregnancy, and that depression during pregnancy is a global issue. Clearly, psychiatric disorders during pregnancy are common, and in my experience are not acknowledged nearly often enough.

Depression is a symptom of pregnancy seen all over the globe, and most moms do just fine. Is it fun? No, but that’s why it’s called depression. It is the opposite of fun. Does that preclude you from carrying a pregnancy to term? No. Can we connect the dots to say that if women who experience temporary mental illness shouldn’t be stopped than women who experience semi-permanent mental illness shouldn’t be impeded from carrying to term? Yes, yes we can. [President Obama gets a shout out after all the women’s health love at the DNC. Though I’m pretty sure he would still be afraid to have one of us AGers go up on stage.]

“Mental competence” in pregnancy is surely often an excuse stemming from socially unjust motivations to prevent a pregnancy from going to term. Its more socially acceptable for some people to be a parent than others. Poor people, shouldn’t parent. Rich people, should parent. Some folks have too few kids, others too many. Women contending with mental illness shouldn’t. Not because they are inherently incapable, but because they are disenfranchised. These cases are not about mental capabilities, but about privilege. Social injustice is the determining factor here. This is just another realm where we see the same patterns replicated, only with different excuses.

What is perhaps most strange to me, is that there is a cultural dialogue about postpartum depression, see: Gwyneth Paltrow’s confession, but almost no external discussion of depression during pregnancy. We are all so beholden to the image of the glowing orb of sunshine pregnant person, there is no space for an alternative leaving women without models and information. We need to create this space, and we need to make sure to discuss mental health at-large.

The two major stories I’ve seen make their way through the reproductive health circuits (which does not mean there are not more) are one of a young schizophrenic woman was who ruled mentally incompetent, and her parents forced her to have an abortion and be sterilized against her will. The ruling was made on the basis that if the young woman, Mary Moe, were “mentally competent” she would have sought an abortion. The other is thankfully slightly more uplifting. Here a woman pro-actively chooses to stop taking her mental health medication to pursue a pregnancy to term and paid a full-time babysitter to keep her from hurting herself. We need to hear more of these stories, or really the half a million women grappling with mental illness (in a wide range of forms), each year during pregnancy need to hear these stories. They need to know they are not alone. That there are women in situations more difficult than themselves, and women who have made conscious choices after considering their options (and that this is something they can be empowered to do too). We especially need models for dealing with depression during pregnancy, which is the most common illness faced.

Now we got that out of the way, what about the women who decide to continue using medications for mental disorder during their pregnancy? Though the scientific evidence is still limited, the results are tentatively promising, but women still need to be educated about the risks of drugs on themselves and the fetus, and enabled to make decisions for themselves. But there is a clear need for more research, especially studies longer periods of over time. In the interim, if you decide not to go off your medication, you are not without alternatives to care. However, many women are faced with slightly more complicated medical circumstances and often run from doctors who either says your only choices are to go off/not start medication or have an abortion, which happens. It is very common for women with mental illness to be untreated because they are pregnant, not just untreated with medication, but unable to get a spot at a psychiatric hospital. So everything I said about alternative care is true, to the point you can actually access it. Which without access, it all goes out with the baby and the bath water and we are left back where we began with disenfranchisement through social injustice.

Remember the 500,000 pregnancies are affected each year, in the US. It could easily be you one day sitting across from a doctor leaving you a choice between an abortion or your necessary medication, and simply ignoring your choice to carry to term in the best way you deem fit.

Beyonce and Pressures of Fertility

11 Oct

Beyonce announced her pregnancy just a month or two ago, and there was just a flutter of excitement for the first big-time Hip-Hop baby. And, then, yesterday, Beyonce’s prosthetic baby bump collapsed on HD TV and everyone is questioning her, and her fertility. People are making allegations that she is faking her pregnancy, that she is having a surrogate mother carry a child that she will then “pretend” to be hers. Most of all people are calling for an explanation and “proof” that she is pregnant: one celebrity columnist said, “She better pull a Demi or Britney and show off her bump on a magazine cover!”

First, NO. Beyonce does not have to prove anything about her sexuality, her fertility, or her reproductive choices to absolutely anyone. She can represent and do whatever she wants with her body, which includes her uterus and her baby bump. Second, this shouty response to Beyonce having a prosthetic baby bump illustrates the extreme pressure valuing fertility puts on us. We often talk about the social pressures and stigma of not carrying a pregnancy to term here, and this instance illustrates another example of one of the reason why that stigma exists: America is fertility obsessed, and we have high standards for what ‘good’ fertility looks like.

Pregnancy can be vomitey, swollen, uncomfortable and hard. Birth is bloody, smelly and awesome in all of its meanings. But connecting uncomfortable, bloody imagery with highly valued soft little babies and their beautiful Mamas horrifies people; so, we demand that pregnant women (especially ones in the spot light) clean up, and be perfect. Most likely Beyonce’s bump is smaller or of a different shape or position than the image society has of a perfectly protruding oval, and the bump is there because she feels like she has to be perfectly pregnant. If that is not reason, I can assure you that, beyond being none of our business, whatever the reason is for her prosthetic baby bump (miscarriage, surrogacy, infertility etc.) it is high social pressures on fertility that is causing her to wear it.

I am choosing to BELIEVE HER that she is pregnant because I TRUST WOMEN, but I also check myself because I know I project my own values of pregnancy-image and fertility onto her. Do you want to be a true Beyonce fan too? Yes? Then:

  • Do not judge her for what is happening–respect her and her reproductive and parenting choices.
  • Repeat: I will love her equally with or without children
  • Repeat: I will love her and her adopted, surrogate, invitro child the same amount that I would love her and her child that is a product of a “naturally” fertilized and implanted egg.
  • Repeat: I will love her if she has a miscarage or an abortion.
  • Repeat: I will love her and her if her baby is in anyway malformed.

Check yourself when you are disappointed that she is not being your ideal super-star, super-feminist, super-mom–she’s human.

How to support breastfeeding without being a jerk

10 Oct

Last week, there was a FULL OUT FEMINIST BATTLE in the blogosphere over breastfeeding.  I found it, quite frankly, pretty disheartening.  We fight for abortion access for all women, even those who don’t want and won’t have abortions, and we don’t judge women for whether or not they choose to have abortions – and, as activists, I don’t think many of us struggle with this.  So, why can’t we fight to better support nursing mothers, to break down systemic discomfort and misinformation around breastfeeding, while at the same time accepting, without caveat, mothers who formula feed?

All things being equal, yes, medically speaking, breast is best. But here’s the thing: all things are never equal, and frequently circumstances can drastically change what the “best” thing is for mother and baby.  For women and babies for whom nursing goes well (and, yes, both mother and children need to have biology, preference, and temperament on their side), there are quantifiable health benefits to nursing, and many women report really bonding with their baby while they nurse and truly enjoying the experience.  But things are rarely so simple.  For example, blogger Melissa has written extensively about not breastfeeding her twins.  In her post, Breast is Not Best, she writes:

I was a hormonal, terrified mother who had finally given birth to live children and what do you think happened to me when I looked up at the wall where the “breast is best” posters were hung (they were every few feet on the walls in the maternity ward and NICU), and was told by a medical care professional that it was better to continue with the IVs rather than start formula?

We luckily had an excellent neonatologist who knew what was best for our twins, and she stepped in and not only had the nurse reprimanded and removed from the twins’ care, but she explained that while breastfeeding is wonderful, it does not trump getting our twins off IVs so they could learn how to swallow and put on weight.  That to keep to a mantra that does not take into account specific situations is to cause damage.

Even in more typical circumstances, breastfeeding can be a challenge.  It can be painful; it can be impractical; it can be exhausting.  And, most fundamentally – even if none of these reasons existed – there will be some women who just don’t want to.  We cannot make these women feel like second-rate mothers for the way they choose to feed their children.  We must trust women, and we must trust them in this decision.

If we want more women to have access to the choice to breastfeed, we have some work to do as activists.  We need to provide mothers with information not just about the benefits of nursing, but with practical knowledge on how to do it: when and how often, latches and holds, pumps and nursing bras.  We need to combat the stigma women face when nursing in public (remember, women have the right to nurse their baby anywhere they are both legally allowed to go).  We need to make workplaces more breastfeeding-friendly.  When it gets tough, we need to be supportive as friends, colleagues, and partners.  We need to make sure women have accurate information on supplementing and weaning.  Importantly, we need to address those barriers without judging the women who – regardless of why – do not end up breastfeeding.  If you have trouble with this, please follow this chart:

Read more:

The Real Breastfeeding Support Team Every Mom Needs  and why it includes both a breastfeeding drill sergeant and a laissez-faire feeder.

All the Breastfeeding Support Info You Need to be Successful (although, in some cases, all the information in the world just won’t be enough).

Ask the Lactation Consultant anything you want to know about breastfeeding, and get an expert opinion.  She’s on Twitter, too.

Mama Knows Breast, on breastfeeding in the real world.

My favorite books on nursing:

At the Breast: Ideologies of Breastfeedings and Motherhood in the Contemporary United States by Linda Blum (Best non-instructional book on the topic, in my opinion.)

Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins

Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin

The $11,000 Convenience

5 Sep

A couple weeks ago I had a girls weekend with 2 very good friends. Both of them would describe themselves as feminists. My one friend was recently married but doesn’t expect to have kids any time soon. We were discussing birth control and sex, as we are wont to do. My married friend and her husband are very careful and use hormonal and barrier methods; I just use hormonal. She pondered what would happen if she got pregnant now. I piped up and told her that if she wasn’t ready for kids, she could have an abortion. She was quite taken aback by my suggestion that she have an abortion “for convenience.” In her mind, she is married, she has a house, they have jobs, albeit her job is as a TA while in grad school – she and her husband could afford a child, and thus an abortion would be for mere “convenience.” As I am wont to do, I stated in no uncertain terms that if I got pregnant before I was ready, I would have an abortion.

Antis love to talk about how women have abortions for “convenience.” The definition of which is a moving target depending on which anti you speak with. I am currently reading Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. While little of it surprises me, it is very eye opening. She references hundreds of studies that have been done to discredit any notion that gender is innate. Many of these studies illustrate how women are constantly subjected to moving targets. In a series of studies, researchers demonstrated how participants would mould a job that was traditionally male in such a manner so as to make it fit the strengths of a male applicant. For example, when the job was as a construction manager, 1 applicant had more education and less experience and the other had more experience and less education. When sex was not mentioned, 76% of male undergrads strongly preferred the more educated applicant. When sex was mentioned, 75% preferred the better educated male candidate over a female candidate with more industry experience. But when the female applicant had more education, only 43% preferred her over the male with more experience (Norton, Vandello & Darley, 2004). In a similar study involving a police chief position when the applicant was a male, participants placed greater value on whatever skill he possessed more of, be it education or experience, more than the skill he possessed less of, so as to mould the job to fit his skills (Uhlmann & Cohen, 2005). As the researchers wryly stated, it is not a matter of picking the right person for the job, it’s picking the right job for the man. No matter what, when a job is traditionally male, women face a moving target that cannot be met.

When discussed in relation to motherhood notions of gender are even more punishing for women. In a study using identical resumes for 2 women, participants consistently rated the mother as 10% less competent and 15% less committed than the non-mother. Only 47% of mothers compared with 84% of non-mothers were recommended for hire as head of the marketing department for a start-up communications company. Not only that, but the mother was docked in her salary by a whopping $11,000 (Correll, Benard & Paik, 2007). When antis discuss abortion as a matter of convenience, are they considering that a mother is less hireable and worthy of significantly less salary than non-mothers? How can $11,000 be considered a matter of convenience? In a follow up study, employers were sent resumes for 2 applicants, both of the same gender. Men, whether they had kids or not, received the same number of call-backs. But women who had kids were subjected to a significant “motherhood penalty” and received half as many call-backs as their identically qualified childless counterparts (Crosby, Williams & Biernat, 2004). And the kicker? Women are punished for displaying “masculine” traits such as aggression just as much as they are punished for displaying “feminine” traits such as compassion (eg. Bolino & Turnley, 2003, and others).

Nothing about those statistics is a matter of convenience. I do not believe that any abortion can be said to have be done for mere convenience sake when mothers face this sort of discrimination. This is not even about career advancement, but simply hiring. The fact remains, if you are a mother you are less likely to be brought in for an interview, less likely to be hired, and you are going to be paid less. How can the inability to get interviews, get hired, or get paid be considered matters of convenience? The fact is abortions for convenience sake are a myth.

Unexpected Motherhood

22 Aug

A guest post by ninersgirl.

My friend recently had a baby.  Savannah was born two months early, due to several difficulties that my friend had during her pregnancy.  Mom has gone back to work full-time, and I have become Savannah’s full-time caretaker. Although Savannah was a planned pregnancy, my role in her life was not.  I love this little baby, but I am also feeling very overwhelmed by unexpected “motherhood.”

Savannah is a fairly easy-going baby.  She has no health problems.  She’s generally very predictable (eat, sleep, poop, repeat).  Some days Savannah is crankier than others, and some days I swear she hates me.  But on the whole, she’s a good baby.

I have never wanted to have my own children.  I like sleeping in, I love a tasty cigarette, and I curse like it’s my job.  I’m not what you would call “motherhood material.”  I am totally honest about the fact that I’m selfish, which is a big reason why I have never considered getting knocked up and raising a baby.

My plans have taken a back seat for a while because I’m in a position to help a friend.  She can’t afford full-time daycare, and I want to be supportive.  Compassion aside, I keep asking myself why I said “yes.”  Last week I had a little panic attack when the baby wouldn’t stop screaming.  I got a little dizzy and thought, “I can’t do this.”  Fortunately, my partner was home and could take the baby off my hands for a few minutes.  I don’t know how single women manage to do it.

Full-time care giving has definitely reaffirmed my pro-choice beliefs.  Some women (myself included) aren’t ready to be mothers.  Some women feel overwhelmed by the children they already have.  And some women are stuck in bad relationships.  Whatever their reasons, I support their right to decide when parenting is appropriate for them.

I’m really struggling to be a good friend and a good “aunty” right now.  I love Savannah, but I don’t know that I’m cut out to take care of her full-time.  At least I have the option to walk away – if she were my own baby, I couldn’t shirk the responsibility.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by care giving, how have you managed to deal with your feelings?  Has your own experience with motherhood contributed to your pro-choice beliefs?  I’d love to hear your point of view.