Armchair activism doesn’t stop rape.

By now, everyone has heard about the reprehensible sexual assault that took place at Stanford by Brock Turner, a 20 year old student athlete, who was convicted and sentenced to a mere six months in jail for his crime. This alone caused an outcry, and then his father, seemingly the most tone-deaf individual on the planet, wrote a letter defending his son, and lamenting the mental and emotional toll his ’20 minutes of action’ and their consequences have had on him. As someone who has experienced sexual assault, and as a human being in general, this story has made me ill. It’s made a lot of people ill-everyone has been talking in depth about it across social media, sharing their strong reactions to the heinous act, as well as the abdication of justice, with Turner being given such a short sentence. Good, I thought. People need to be talking about these things. And then I came across a blog post that I am assuming has gone viral, as many of my friends have reposted it. It’s titled “We With the Pitchforks”-you can read it here.

I share in the author’s frustration, as well as those who re-posted it. And a large part of me agrees with every single word written. But, there is something about the angry mob mentality that just seems counterproductive to me.I say this not out of defense for Turner…he doesn’t deserve defense. He’s dug his own grave, and this will follow him for the rest of his days, both personally and professionally, as it should. I say this out of a pure desire to want better for us, as a society. Armchair activism so easy, in the age of social media. It’s easy to share a blog post on social media, it’s easy to rant about it over a dinner party (and these are all things I’ve done, about a myriad of issues, myself). What’s not easy, though, is to change the culture of rape that we’ve so blindly allowed for far too long. This happens every single day, across the world. Fighting a hateful act with more hate is not the answer. Filling the world with the righteous courage necessary to act up against the institutions and systems that treat these crimes as permissible, is. And it’s not just about sexual assault-it’s about all forms of gendered inequities and violence.

My point is, by all means, share information…but share productive information. Share statistics on the prevalence of assault across the country. If you know someone who is willing to share their own story of assault, help them put it out into the world. Learn about rape crisis programs in your area, and support them, whether financially, or through interfacing with your legislators about the importance of these services. Stop teaching little girls and women that it is THEIR responsibility to avoid being raped, and start creating the expectation for boys and men NOT TO RAPE. Stop laughing at jokes about gender stereotypes, or sexual assault, or feminism. It’s not all in good fun. It creates an environment of acceptability, and of women being lesser than whole. If you’re a dad or uncle or any other man with a special child in your life, model how to respect and speak about and equitably interact with women. I promise you, they are ALL watching. Challenge your own beliefs and values (you too, women, because we all internalize it) on relationships and interactions between men and women, and how we view “roles.”

Let’s create a world where the Brock Turners fade into the ether, a bad dream, and where women can move freely without the threat of violation.

It’s time to tell our stories.

When I was nineteen, I was raped, just a few days after returning to school for my sophomore year. It was something that took me almost seven years to fully process. And by fully process, I mean that I dealt with horrible anxiety/depression, an interruption in my education, weight gain, an inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time, and this uncomfortable startle reflex whenever anyone approaches or touches me without warning. These last two issues, while less severe, still linger. It took me a long time to stop feeling like I did something to warrant what happened to me, the ever-expanding list of “I shouldn’t have” statements growing in my mind.

I never reported what happened to me, to the school or police. I told my friends, who supported me in the best way they could. The boy approached me a few days later, as I was pouring cereal into a bowl at the dining hall, to offer a half-hearted apology for “getting out of control”. I didn’t know his name. My body felt hot as I stammered back, “It’s ok”. It wasn’t. I couldn’t meet his eyes. I wonder if he felt absolved. I went to Planned Parenthood, where they tested me for every lingering consequence. Everything was fine, thank God. I still consider those women who treated me to be some of the most important people I’ve encountered in my life. They saved me in a lot of ways, when I had no one else, and changed the way I viewed the world. I couldn’t bear to tell my parents at the time, or the person I was dating. I felt like it would destroy them, that they would find fault with me. I kept this from them, and started therapy, thinking it would help lift the feeling of being suffocated. It didn’t.

I told my boyfriend. He promptly dumped me. I told my mother, and in response, I got “Oh, we’ve all made dumb decisions when we’ve been drinking. Stop beating yourself up about it.” I’d like to believe she was just misunderstanding what I was telling her, but I don’t know how much clearer it could’ve been. I didn’t dare tell my father, as I honestly had no idea how he’d react. I’m not sure if my mother did. These responses from the people I needed the most, sent a very clear message: you did this to yourself. It took me a long time to realize that was incorrect. I never believed that women could feel they were at fault, after a sexual assault. Until it happened to me.

I’ve told a small number of people this story over the years, and the response has always been the same: Why didn’t you report it? And while the 33 year old me has the wisdom to know that I should’ve, the 19 year old me didn’t. I had no voice. I felt like I would be blamed, my actions picked apart, my reputation destroyed. I was smart enough to know how these things panned out, but not smart or strong enough to know how to fight back against it. To say that nothing I did gave anyone permission to violate me in the most heinous of ways. The panic and trauma coursing through me sent one clear message: get away from this. Put it away. Otherwise, I feared at the time, it would follow me. I needed to just move past it.

But it did follow me, an apparition reminding me that life would always be divided into “before the thing that happened at school” and “after the thing that happened at school”. Until just a few years ago, I couldn’t even say the word “rape”, in regards to my situation. It was always “the thing that happened”. The more I thought I was distancing myself from it, the more I realize now that it was tethering me back even tighter.

I’m sharing this not for you to feel sorry or angry for me, I’ve done enough of that for all of us over the years, and I have finally made peace with it. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience the past few days, after reading this article from the NY Times, about the alleged mishandling of a sexual misconduct case of a young woman named Anna at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, here in Geneva. After reading the article, as well as the HWS official response on their website, I can’t help but feel like there’s a fair amount of accuracy in the NYT article, and a fair amount of backpedaling and “Let’s quote our policy and practices to cover our asses” in their response. In my opinion, HWS grossly mishandled this situation, and failed not only this student, but any student who has ever kept quiet about a similar experience, for fear of reprisal or dismissal of its severity. Regardless of all that, more than the pain I feel for the young woman, I feel incredibly proud of her bravery. She is so young and so vulnerable after such a trauma, to have found her voice, and gone to such great lengths to tell her story, her truth. I lay in bed last night, trying to imagine the firestorm that is surrounding her now, how dizzying that must be. I wondered if she second guesses her decision now, and the feedback she’s getting from people. I love that despite the fear and apprehension she’s likely feeling, that she plans to return to HWS in the fall, to continue her education. “Someone needs to help survivors there,” she said.

And she’s right. Interactive videos or other vague educational tools are not going to stop sexual violence. It’s going to take a cultural shift to change people’s attitudes about power, assault, and sex in general. That shift will only come from people speaking up about their experience, and taking individuals and institutions to task their slut-shaming, scrutinizing of a victim’s actions prior to an assault, and dismissing of claims. Boys need to be taught from a young age that girls are not merely there for the touching or invading of space, and girls need to be taught to be strong and comfortable in the claiming of their bodies as their own. Women (and men, in those cases) need to come forward, share their stories, and remind others that without exception, no always means no. Because as I’ve said before-if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.

If you’ve read the article and HWS response, and are compelled to voice your support for the improvement of the colleges’ handling of sexual assaults, you can do so by signing the following petition:

https://www.change.org/petitions/to-president-gearan-and-the-hws-senior-staff-president-gearan-and-hws-senior-staff-take-action-to-prevent-further-mismanagement-of-campus-assault-cases#

What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.

Holy crap, we have a baby (the birth story).

So, by now, most of you know that we have been graced with a healthy boy. He came on 6/16, which reallllly helped the fact that I was stumped about a Father’s Day gift for Andy, weighing 9lbs, 6 oz, and measuring 22 inches long. So yeah…he was huge. Nothing went the way I had planned…in fact, I pretty much had every intervention that I hoped to avoid. But, as I said in my birth plan, our ultimate goal was a safe delivery and a healthy baby. We got that.

A few days before he arrived, I started having contractions. Irregular, and nothing major, but surely a sign that things were happening. I dealt with it, went about my business, until Saturday evening around 7 when I thought perhaps my water broke. I mean, I don’t know what the hell that feels like…so how would I know? I called my MD, who told me to head up to the hospital, a 45 minute drive away. We did just that, and once in triage, we were met with a nurse with all the warmth of Miranda Bailey. She asked what was going on, then if I was having any contractions, and when I told her…she rolled her eyes. Oh, it’s on now, I thought. She left for a moment, and I tossed up a middle finger behind her. Long story short, my water had not broken, and so we went home.

We got home at 11:30, I drowned my sorrows in a half bag of mini candy bars, and went to bed. At 2:30, I was woken up by a violent, popping sensation followed by….oh yeah, so THAT’s definitely what your water breaking feels like. Contractions immediately got regular and intensified, so I woke up Andy and off we went, 4 hours after we got home. Once back at the hospital, Miranda Bailey emerged again from behind the curtain, and I decided that I should make a joke to repair our relationship. She laughed, and became a fantastic nurse. My water *had* indeed broken, but there was also meconium staining, so I had to be continuously monitored (intervention #1).

We were admitted to a room, and I struggled really hard to stay on top of the increasingly intense contractions. All that BS they tell you about “getting a break” in between contractions is just that…BS. Mine were coming nonstop, radiating from my stomach to my back, and rendering me paralyzed during the peaks. I tried all my pain management techniques-birthing ball, squatting, walking, you name it. I could barely do anything, but stand perfectly still and shake. At 7am, the words “So, can we talk about drugs?” left my mouth, and within 15 minutes, I had an epidural in, and life was restored (intervention #2). They started my IV fluids, and put a catheter in, which was really quite convenient, not having to bother with a stupid full bladder (interventions #3 and 4).

At 9am, they started me on pitocin (intervention #5), to hasten contractions and dilation. I didn’t want it, but given that there was the risk of issues due to meconium, I kept my mouth shut. By 1pm, I was ready to push. And push I did…for 3 f-ing hours. Dempsey was at -2 station when I started, so he was still up pretty high. And after all that time spent, pushing and shedding all of my human dignity on the table, for all to see…he remained at -2 station. While my MD had herself forearm deep inside me (a real pleasant experience while trying to push), she said, “I’m not shy about telling people they are bad pushers…but you are great. This guy just isn’t budging. You can push another half hour, or we can start taking you back now for a c-section.” Terrified, but exhausted, I agreed (intervention #6). I just wanted him here.

Back in the OR, I was pumped full of more drugs, and my vitals were going wacko, my pulse highly elevated, and my blood pressure vascillating between hypertensive and bottoming out. I watched the conversation that I imagined the anesthesiologist and his assistant were having with their eyes, and became convinced that something was awry. Being a nurse is frequently the bane of my existence, but that was never more true on this day. I laid on that table, carefully cataloging every possible calamity that could affect us. I think I said, “Am I OK?” approximately 456 times, to anyone that came within earshot. Once everything was in place, they got started.

HOLY CRAP-I was not prepared for that sensation. Sure, the drugs numbed the severity of any pain, but I felt literally every movement made. The scalpel across my skin, the pulling, tugging, rearranging, etc. It was making me super anxious, because it almost felt like I was on the edge of actually really feeling it. Pain, that is. Of course I didn’t, but it terrified me every second. At one point, I turned to the super-stiff, formal anesthesiologist standing to my right, put out my arm, and said, “Will you hold my hand?” He obliged, and I heard my doctor let out a little laugh from the other side of the drape. Guess no one asks this guy for physical reassurance on the regs. He asked me if I was scared, and when I told him yes, he patted my head robotically. Nonetheless, I appreciated his attempt. They finally pulled Dempsey out, and lifted him up over the drape so I could see him. His massive body cast a shadow over me, and he was screaming his face off. Holy shit, he’s huge, I thought to myself. They took him to examine him, and I started getting more drugs pumped through me.

“Nine pounds, six ounces!” the nurse shouted. Good lord, I thought. That came out of me?? I started feeling really drugged up, and Andy came to me with the baby. I looked at him, so perfect, and said, “I feel like I am reacting in an inappropriate manner to my child because of all the drugs I’m on.” So, yeah, my pretty standard response-neurotic. The MD came to talk to me and said that they had to take Dempsey to the nursery, because his temperature was slightly elevated, and there was a concern for infection. So, off he went while I was sewn up and went off to recover. Those drugs were amazing, by the way.

After a few hours, I was taken to the nursery to properly meet my son, and attempt to nurse him. Once I saw him, it was all over. I fell in such hard love with that little face, and he fed like a champ from the beginning. Remember those amazing drugs? Yeah, well, while I was feeding him, I remembered that I needed to count his fingers and toes (you know, since the medical staff can’t be trusted), and I counted…SIX TOES on one foot?! “Andy, oh my god, he has six toes!” I shout-whispered. “Yeah, why don’t you take another pass through on that? There are only five”, he said. I did so, and he was right. Thank God. One deformity safely behind us. He had to spend the night in the nursery to get antibiotics, but was able to come stay with us starting the next morning, and it was ultimately determined that he never had an infection, so he would be able to come home on time, with us.

The next few days in the hospital sucked, to be honest. I wasn’t impressed with the care we received in the postpartum unit (but the labor and delivery unit was amazing), and I was a total and utter emotional and physical mess. If the baby cried, I cried. I couldn’t sleep, so I asked the nurses to take the baby in the night and bring him back to feed. Once they took him, I cried, feeling like a deadbeat mom for passing my baby off to strangers. Never mind that when I worked in L&D, I always encouraged moms to take advantage of the built-in assistance while they could. Oh, and then there was my first postpartum shower.

Once I was able to shower, I was anxious to do so, and the midwife told Andy to make sure that he was able to assist me, because I would need it. I took this to mean that he might stand sentry on the other side of the curtain, should I need help, but what this REALLY meant, was that I showered with the curtain open, with him physically helping me complete this task. The real icing on the cake? The giant, full-length mirror directly on the other side of the tub, allowing me to see my swollen-in-some-places, deflated-in-others body in all its glory. I have never felt less attractive in my entire life. Oh, and those Shrek feet and ankles that wouldn’t quit didn’t help, either.

After a few days, we were finally sprung from that wretched hospital room, and went home. The next week or so continued to be a blur of no sleep, discomfort, tears and anxiety (and Shrek feet), but that shall be saved for another post, because I feel like there’s so much to say, that often isn’t said about this point in time. We’re slowly but surely adjusting to life with a baby, and despite all my worry and doubt, I am assured he is a happy and healthy little boy. Nothing went as planned, but we got everything we wanted. Funny how life works out that way, sometimes.

The personal IS the political.

It’s a given that I’m an Obama supporter.  Anyone that knows anything about me knows this.  However, I am not naive enough to believe that he is capable of solving all that needs to be solved.  It’s a job far beyond the time and scope of any one administration.  If you believe otherwise, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  Knowing this, I am voting for the man who I believe best understands the needs of the Americans he will represent, and works to align himself with meeting those needs.

We’ve all got issues that are important to us.  For me, those issues are health care, poverty, education, the environment, human rights, the economy, and equality-in marriage, adoption, legal protections, military service, and the general right to enjoy the freedoms that others are afforded.  And today, this last one is heavy on my mind.  I caught this Huff Post article that talks about Romney’s attempts to marginalize the gay families of MA during his tenure as governor, by supporting an amendment to ban gay marriage, and to also make it all but impossible for the non-biological parent of a same-sex family to appear anywhere on the birth certificate.  Each sentence disburbed me more and more, but this is what sent me over the edge:

Julie Goodridge, lead plaintiff in the landmark case that won marriage rights for gays and lesbians before the Supreme Judicial Court, asked what she should tell her 8-year-old daughter about why the governor would block the marriage of her parents. According to Goodridge, Romney responded,“I don’t really care what you tell your adopted daughter. Why don’t you just tell her the same thing you’ve been telling her the last eight years.”

Mind you, this “adopted” daughter he dismissed was, in fact, her biological daughter.  A fact Romney was quick to overlook, because he ultimately doesn’t care.  He’s made it clear on multiple occasions-gay families are lesser than straight families.  He has no interest in protecting the rights or interests of an entire subset of the population he desires to serve.  For a man who believes in the idea of reducing big government, he certainly has no problem with forcing that same government into the homes/beds of thousands of Americans.

You may say that this isn’t an issue that affects you personally; 90 % of the population will never contend directly with the difficulties that same-sex couples face when trying to be a family.  Many of you may not even have anyone in your lives whom this affects.  I do.  So, allow me to introduce you to Corinne and Lisa:

Corinne and Lisa are two very dear friends of mine, who were married a little over two years ago in MA, in one of the most beautiful ceremonies I have ever attended , and are expecting their sweet baby boy this February.  Pretty standard story, right?  Only, these two spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to conceive, and contended with the heartache and hurt that came with that process.  It was heartbreaking as their friend to watch them struggle with the failed attempts, and incredibly gratifying to get the news that they were finally pregnant.  As difficult as this was, it was far from the most trying challenge they continue to face in trying to start a family.

These two women are going to be the most amazing parents, and I cannot wait to see them as a family, raising a baby boy who is going to be surrounded by so much love and happiness, that his little heart will overflow.  I am excited to see pictures of the three of them over the years- on the beaches of their home state,  celebrating holidays with their families, the little guy running around and playing with their dog Olive, and the little moments of pure, unabashed joy that fill their lives.  I can’t wait to hear them talk about how no matter how badly they always knew they wanted him, nothing could have prepared them for the love they felt when he was finally in their arms. I am looking forward to these things not only because I love them, but because they deserve it.  They deserve the right to find happiness and joy wherever they can in this world, to experience every sweet drop of life as a family.

Even though his arrival is just a few short months away, there are still battles to be fought.  There is all the legal paperwork to contend with, so that Corinne is protected as the other legal parent of their son.  And with that, comes exorbitant cost and jumping through hoops to prove herself to the state, a state that doesn’t yet recognize their marriage.  For example, Corinne AND Lisa (the biological parent) must complete fingerprinting and background checks, as well as a home study.  Lisa is a veteran of the US Air Force, who served this country proudly for six years, and is being made to follow an exhaustive process, because that same country doesn’t recognize her marriage or family.  Corinne must provide letters of recommendation regarding her character, from multiple sources.  Corinne also has to follow a tedious process to ensure that if, God forbid, something happen to Lisa before,  during or after childbirth, her child isn’t taken into the custody of the state and taken from her.  Because without all of this, he would be.  The state would find foster parents, strangers, better suited to raising this child, than his other mother.  Disturbing as this all is, same-sex adoption wasn’t even legal in Florida until two years ago, so this is what progress looks like.

These are experiences most people never even have to entertain, when deciding to have a child.  Why is the default that parents are considered fit unless proven otherwise, when the parents are straight?  I think time and experience has shown that children are no more secure in straight-coupled homes, yet heterosexual couples don’t have to prove themselves to be suitable parents before being allowed to have a child.  So, when you find yourself thinking about this issue, this topic that may never directly impact you, I want you to remember their faces, their story…because this IS personal to them, and thousands of families just like theirs.

And although you may say you disagree with Romney’s policies on equality, yet still plan to vote for him for his economic “policies” (which are what, again?), remember that by voting for him, you are still responsible for perpetuating anti-gay legislation and rhetoric.  Remember that your decisions, and Romney’s (if elected) have human consequence.