Showing posts with label Women's Empowerment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Women's Empowerment. Show all posts

July 20, 2011

Tweeting About My Twat: Where Social Media and TMI Awkwardly Collide

I have always been particularly comfortable with all things vagina. I use the word casually, even in conversation with my friends. It's probably because I've performed in The Vagina Monologues five times, so I've built a certain familiarity and comfort with the word others may not have.

Basically, I say "vagina" and talk about my vagina all the time.

In the infertility community, we get to say lots of words that would otherwise make us squirm or giggle. We are forced to become situationally cozy with words like semen, uterus, sperm count, cervical mucus. It's a very romantic lexicon of assisted babymaking.

(That last paragraph should do wonders for my SEO.)

Sure, we can say these words in our private face-to-face conversations with partners, doctors, and close ALI confidantes. Really, this issue is not about these specific words - it's about sharing these formerly  private medical-related conversations in the Virtual Public.

How does sharing some of our most intimate medical details with others play out in the context of social media?

Twitter as Public Conversation
When people ask me to describe Twitter to them, I say it's like a million people all talking at once, 24 hours a day. If you want to hear only what your friends are saying, you have to make an effort to pay attention to them. Maybe you take them aside in their own room to hear them a little better. I then explain that's how third-party clients like TweetDeck and HootSuite work: they're special gathering spots so you can hear only the conversations you want to hear.

When folks ask me about hashtags, I explain that they're another way to distinguish a single conversation topic had by millions. That maybe you create your own room (column-view in a third-party client) of a particular hashtag to hear what everyone has to say about, oh I don't know, #vaginas.

When I'm tweeting about #infertility, I obviously use that hashtag. I want to make sure my voice is heard in that specific topic area. I use hashtags all the time. Sometimes I like to play around with a particular trending topic (like yesterday's #whendiditbecomecool) to promote something for the #infertility community, e.g., my tweet yesterday:

Twitter can be a very loud, fast-paced forum with millions of ideas, thoughts, flashes of brilliance and utterances of drivel all happening at once. It does take a little time to get comfortable with all the shouting and to start sorting out whose voices matter and whether what they're saying is of any worth.

Conversations of Authority and Establishing Trust
The fantastic thing about Twitter and other social media platforms is that we can instantly connect with other patients and health advocates. We can connect with doctors, clinics, agencies, and non-profits. We can also connect with thousands of spammy scammers who will happily hawk their crap at you under the guise of a trusted hashtag. Case in point: just following #infertility brings me hundreds of tweets for Pregnancy Miracle/Get Pregnant Fast infertility "solutions."

In order to have meaningful patient community experiences on Twitter, it's important to take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff, to determine just who in fact are the leading voices of authority -su the credible, reliable sources of information.

We have to then spend time cultivating those relationships that we trust. If we auto-follow every person who follows us, we may inadvertently help feed a spammer. Every time someone follows me on Twitter, I get an email. I click over, I read a little about them, see how many tweets they've made and how many people they follow, maybe check out their website to find out more. If you're a spammer, I report you as such. If you don't have a description, I definitely don't follow back. And clearly, I don't follow everyone who follows me (nothing personal).

I take the time to screen and vet who I follow as much as possible. I do this because I want to make sure any tweets I retweet are from credible sources. I know there are people who follow me for credible, reliable information and I'd be doing a disservice to those who trust me if I didn't extend that same level of care and intention about who I follow and what information I share.

Herein lies the some of the challenges about sharing medical information via Twitter and other forms of social media.

Quacks, Hacks and Lasting Impressions
I love being able to connect with other patients and medical experts on Twitter. I've formed Twitter-only colleague relationships with other health advocates. At face value, Twitter is an amazing arena for the exchange of ideas, research, and innovative thinking about patient care. But when you start to dig deeper, you start to see more tweets like the Pregnancy Miracle ones that drive me batty. But they're not necessarily all spam - they are in fact real people who represent the Not Exactly Voices of Authority, aka, the Quacks.

Look, I'm flattered that you've decided to @ me to tell me there's a natural, safe cure for my infertility, I really am; but unless you're selling me a brand new set of ovaries, no amount of whatever you're trying to sell me is going to magically or "naturally" turn them back on. That's not to say I'm throwing my glove down at the natural, homeopathic, or alternative fertility industries: personally, I think there's a lot of value to be had in mind/body techniques as well as acupuncture and TCM - the caveat being that you're under the care of an expert professional in those fields. But no amount of herbs or relaxation is going to restart my ovary without anything short of divine intervention.

The other challenge to consider is the possibility of account hacks. If you don't have a spiffy set of passwords you rotate often or log in willy-nilly to your favorite websites on free wifi networks - expect to get hacked. And once one account gets hacked (especially if you're using the same password for multiple forms of social media), the rest of your accounts can fall like dominoes, the most devastating of which would be an email hack. Think of any email conversations you might have with your doctors and therapists: if your email account got hacked, any of that otherwise private information could be leaked. Not to mention once your account has been hacked, there can be many virtual hoops to leap through to get your access back and regain control of your account.

The final thing to consider about having private medical conversations in a very public arena is the lasting online legacy you build for yourself. Some of you might not care and honestly, who knows what the internet landscape will even look like in 20 years. But the fact of the matter is that our words in these public spaces become tied to our virtual identities, that may or may not reflect our actual IRL identities, and in the endlessness of the internet, these words will last far longer than us. In fact, every time I tweet, I'm getting archived into the Library of Congress. And so is every other Twitter user, including you.

Consider this: 20 years from now, when someone searches for your name, do you really want your cervix length and your husband's sperm motility coming up in the search results?

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?
So we're left with the question of what's a savvy Twitter user like me supposed to do? Simple answer: it's a matter of personal preference, comfort, and how much you're willing to risk by sharing personal health information online.

Long answer: there are lots of things to consider so weigh the pros and cons of each question below to decide what's best for you.
  1. Why are you using Twitter in the first place? This is an important question people should be asking themselves anytime they sign up for the latest, greatest social media platform. Why are you using it? Are you a casual user, looking to meet folks of similar interest? Do you like to stalk celebrity Twitter accounts? Or are you looking to make solic connectoins with other patients and professionals in the field? Or is it a little bit of everything? Establishing why you use a particular platform is the first step to guiding just what information you choose to share in that arena.
  2. Should you protect your tweets? While this is one way to avoid being archived in the Library of Congress, it does make it slightly more difficult for people to find and follow you. You'll have to manually approve every person who requests to follow you and whether or not they can see your tweets. However, it doesn't protect you from one of your followers from mentioning your name and repeating your personal health info within that tweet.
  3. Should you crowdsource or put on your Dr. Google hat? Sometimes I'm looking for a specific answer and rather than throw my query to the wilds of search engines, I'll ask the question on Twitter. Usually, I get trusted answers pretty quickly rather than having to weed through search-engine optimized results. But you have to be careful about what medical information you request, whether it's in the form of a question to the masses on Twitter or in your Google search field. It all circles back to trust and established, credible sources of authority.

I haven't even framed this post with regards to blogging and there's plenty to consider in that platform, too. I'd love to hear how other people choose or choose not to share their personal health details online.

Do you tweet it all in every intimate detail for the world to see with nary a care? Are you selective about what you post? What precautions do you take? What are some other concerns I may have missed here? How do you decide what personal health information will be shared online - if it even gets shared in the first place?

What do you do?

And... am I the only person who uses the word "vagina" in casual conversation?

July 13, 2011

Do you accept your infertility?

It's a loaded question, for sure.

Here's another: if you could go back in time and wave a magic wand, would you take away your diagnosis? What if you could wave a magic wand right now and just like that, your infertility was gone?

Of course, we can't wave a magic wand or travel back in time.

All we can do is to live in the moment.

Today I've written about this idea of accepting my infertility at Identity Magazine, "an online magazine that empowers women to accept, appreciate, achieve."

Here's an excerpt from the article:

While infertility has wrought havoc on both my body and spirit, it hasn’t broken me. I’ve come close; I was brought to the ugliest corners of myself that frightened me in their visceral rawness. It was through this dark journey that allowed me to confront some of my worst fears and come out renewed and strengthened.

No matter how difficult this road has been or how challenging it may be as we begin treatment, I wouldn’t take my infertility back for a second.

You can read the rest of my article, Accepting Infertility and My New Identity, at Identity Magazine.

June 22, 2011

Feminism is Not a Four-Letter Word

Whether I call myself a women's health advocate or Vagina Warrior, it boils down to this:

I'm a feminist.


What a loaded word, right? Images of unshaven armpits, gross looking white-girl dreads, floppy bra-less boobs, a man-hating smirk on my face, my fist raised in the air. Now, granted, if this describes you... um, cool! More power to you. But it's not me. And honestly, that's not what feminism looks like.

Feminism looks like women and men who want to take the world by storm to make the world a safer, better, more empowered place for women and girls. If you want men to stand by your side and advocate with you, feminists can't be man-haters. Are there some feminist man-haters? Sure. But if feminism is going to make any kind of global impact, it's got to be a collaborative effort between both sides.

Why the heck am I talking about feminism? A few reasons, actually. First, to be an advocate for women's health is a pretty fundamental aspect of feminism. It's about leveraging equal access to healthcare. Second. Esperanza at Stumbling Gracefully has a post that asks the question "Do we want too much?" and third, Schmoopy in our Prompt-ly Writing Group posted a link to a Guardian article that asks Why is feminism still so afraid to focus on its flaws?

The two are truly interrelated and it got me thinking about stereotypes that even I've held about what it means to be feminist, who is and is not considered feminist, and what it means to want more than we have.

Me at a campus protest, circle 2003. Photo by Julie K.
I took a few women's and gender studies courses in college. I was both vice-president and then president our of GLBT student alliance. I performed in the Vagina Monologues. As a young empowered woman in my early 20s, I was rockin' the feminist label and damn proud of it.

Like so many things in my early 20s, I wouldn't really appreciate all of it until now, as I approach my (gulp) early 30s. Feminism has become less about the rallies and the petitions and the student activism for me. Feminism for me has now become an active effort to make good in the world for women and girls where I can with the strengths and talents I have to offer. I blog about infertility and women's health. I blog about why we need to care about the cultural norming of misogyny in America. I support and promote the work of the Red Tent Temple Movement. I think very intentionally about the kind of world I want to shape for my niece and hopefully, my own daughter should I be so blessed.

I've been doing the SITS Girls 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (SITS31DBBB). Much like their Bloggy Boot Camp blogging conference I went to in May, I am out of my league here. I'm one of a very small group (as in, you could probably count us all on one hand) of infertility bloggers participating. SITS is a very Mom Blogger focused forum of support. I've stuck with it because I've got a lot still yet to learn about blogging and as I've come to realize from reading both Esperanza's post and the article Schmoopy shared - I've got a lot to learn about feminism too.

Did I turn my nose up at Mom Bloggers? A little, yeah - I'll be honest. Part of it was jealousy - I want what they have. Part of it was being judgemental - how can nothing but reviews and giveaways be good for the blogpsphere? But as I've spent the last 3 weeks interacting and networking with these fabulous ladies, I've realized my stereotypical judgments were wrong. The Mom Blogger niche is just as varied and valuable and has as much to offer as the ALI blogosphere. I'm realizing it's time to stop passing judgment and start taking a closer look at blogs outside of my niche to see what I can learn.

Oh Diane is one of those Mom Bloggers I've met through SITS31DBBB and she posted a fantastic post on why the Mommy Blogger market is so hot right now. What followed in her post comments was a fiery discussion about why Mom Bloggers get all the attention from advertisers while may of us childless folks sit here twiddling our thumbs.

My point is this: Mom Bloggers - and Mom Blogging in general - can be feminist too.

The Guardian article elaborates:
"Women bear the children and, far more often than not, they wish to be the primary carer for those children. At its most strident, feminism can be mistaken for an ideology designed to make women feel they are wrong to want that."

Mom Blogging is not counter-productive or counter-intuitive to feminist ideals. Even when I was in college, I got horrified looks from other college feminists who were shocked - shocked I tell you - that I didn't really care what my degree was in because I eventually just wanted to be a SAHM and pump out babies.

This is the point: it's not about creating an army of empowered career-women. Feminism is about having  equal access to and support for making empowered choices, be it career, motherhood, health or otherwise. Wanting to be a SAHM mom - like my own mom was when me and my sister were kids, a fact that I am so grateful for to this day - doesn't make me any less feminist. The fact that the Mom Blogger market is growing says to me that women's voices in social media and technology are rising, and people (especially advertisers) want to hear what they have to say.

Which brings me to my last point: does feminism want too much? Again, from the Guardian:
Worse, feminism has accidentally promoted the idea that it's pretty easy to work and have children, with the right support in place. On even an average income, it's never easy, even once children are at secondary school (though it's certainly easier then). Your priorities change. Work is no longer the most important thing, for a while anyway. Ambition can dissipate.  
Let me rephrase that: do we want too much? In fact, let's drill that down again:

Do I want too much?

Take a look at what I grew up with: a mom who stayed at home for the most part, picking up seasonal part-time work to pad out Christmas and birthdays. My father still works almost 60 hours a week. He traveled extensively when I was much younger, leaving the brunt of the child-rearing to my mom. I'm stating this as fact, not to pass judgment. This was what worked for my parents and they were in agreement about their roles as caregiver and provider, respectively.

I grew up with a big, two-story house with two cars. My sister and I went to public schools and college. We pretty much got to do just about any lesson or extra-curricular we wanted. We lived in comfortable New Jersey suburbia. For the 18 years I grew up and lived in that house, this is what The American Dream looked like to me.

Is it too much to want the big, single family house? Is it too much to want a husband that brings home the bacon while I stay at home and serve as primary caregiver to our gorgeous genetic children? Is it fair to place that kind of burden on my husband?

Folks, I struggle with this. These are things I want really bad, I can't necessarily have and boy howdy, I don't like taking No for an answer.

But let's step back for a second: in an time of record foreclosures, a flailing economy, and my seriously busted reproductive system, The American Dream I grew up with isn't realistically even possible anymore. 

Esperanza challenges us:
"The reality is, we might not get to be what we want to be, or we might have to sacrifice greatly to get there, and the same can befall our children. If certain lessons are learned; that frequently life brings disappointment, that sometimes their is no just reward for our efforts, that we must be grateful for what we have and stop continuously looking for more, that sometimes we won’t be happy, maybe, just maybe, we will wake up one day knowing how to be satisfied with our life.And maybe some day, if we’re very lucky, we can learn to be truly happy with what we have."
I counter with this:

If the status quo was okay though, we wouldn't need a feminist movement in the first place. And you know what? After all this, after this huge and rambling post, it's not about feminism anymore.

It's about being active participants in shaping a just world.

Feminist labels aside: where do we fit in to shape that world?

Where do you fit in? How are you helping to shape a just world?

June 18, 2011

Blog Tour of Inspired Reading: The Red Tent

Today's post is in conjunction with the Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour: a fantastic blog hop that brings together bloggers of all genres, backgrounds and locations. In today's hop, the blog featured before mine is Karen's But I Digress. The blog featured after me is the captivating Catherine at Idea City. Do stop by and say hello plus some of us are having giveaways and contests. Enjoy!

For this Blog Tour, we were asked to write about the book that inspires us the most. I'm glad I've gotten the  prompt to write about a book that has meant so much to me over the years and has in many ways, shaped the way I view myself as Jewish Woman (yes, with capital J and capital W).

Every woman should read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. I have often called it Required Reading for Every Woman because it is a remarkable, gorgeous, sensuous work of historical fiction that celebrates both the darkest and most glorious parts of what it means to be Woman.

Seriously? Go read it this weekend.
Very briefly, because I don't want this to feel like a book report - The Red Tent unearths the story of Dinah from the dusts of the Torah, a Biblical figure who receives little more than passing mention in Genesis 34. Jacob is known as one of the great Patriarchs of Judaism with two Matriarchs at his side, Rachel and Leah, and a whole host of a dozen sons who became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. But among his boyish brood exists a lone daughter: Dinah.  Her story is often known as "The Rape of Dinah" as a prince of Shechem "defiles" her, and Dinah's brothers Levi and Simeon avenge her rape by massacring the city of Shechem, leaving no survivors.

And with that, Dinah fades back into the dust of the Torah, never to be mentioned again. This is where Diamant picks up, fleshing out the story of Dinah's youth and relationship to her four mothers: Rachel, Leah, and Jacob's concubines Zilpah and Bilhah, as well has her grandmother, Rebecca. She weaves the tale of Dinah falling in love with the Prince of Shechem and that her brothers' crusade was bent on murderous rage. After the massacre, she flees to Egypt where she gives birth to a son and becomes an devoted and talented midwife.

The Red Tent refers to something we talk about a lot in the infertility community: our menstrual cycles. As happens in many confined living arrangements, the women would often cycle together, in a phenomenon known as menstrual synchrony or the McClintock effect. Ancient tribes of women would gather in a menstrual tent or hut during their blood cycle, often cycling with the moon. Dinah learns of her rich heritage, not just as a third generation of monotheistic Jews, but as a Woman in her place in a Long Line of Women Before Her.

As I've said before, we shouldn't be ashamed or grossed out by our periods, because our menstrual cycles are a vital indicator of women's health. The Red Tent reminds us of this and inspires us to be mindful of the miracle and wonder of our own human forms.

You may have also read posts where I speak of the Red Tent Temple, the women's group I go to every month. The Red Tent Temple movement was born out of Diamant's novel by ALisa Starkweather, a Wise Woman and Women's Empowerment Practitioner. I'm also so pleased to know filmmaker Isadora Leidenfrost who is making a documentary of the Red Tent Temple Movement: Things We Don't Talk About. This one-hour film is slated to be released next year. I have eagerly been awaiting the trailer; hopefully I've made the cut from hundreds of hours of footage that Isadora shot herself at Red Tent Temples all over the country. She's also looking for some more financial support to stay on track with her production and release schedule, so if you know of women-empowered businesses or organizations who'd be willing to help out an empowered woman filmmaker, please head over to her site and drop her a line.

The Red Tent in its modern iteration has become a place of community wisdom and social healing, a sisterhood of empowerment. In reading The Red Tent and participating in the Red Tent Temple in my own community, I've realized that their is indeed power to be had in gathered groups of women. We need more dialogue circles like this, more Red Tents, to share our collective womanhood experiences; there is so much we can learn from one another as women when given the opportunity.

So... have you picked up your copy yet? The Red Tent is an amazingly beautiful, captivating read, and like I said: practically required reader for women everywhere. Now head on over to Catherine's Idea City - she'll tell you about her most inspiring book. Come meet me over there and we can read along together! Want to see what other books are inspiring other bloggers? Follow along on the rest of the Blog Tour this week by stopping by at each of these fabulous blogs for the Blog-a-licious Blog Tour!
  1. Roy: Roy’s Garage Sell and Auction Well
  2. Sulekha: Memoirs
  3. Sora: Peace from Pieces
  4. Shaeeza: My B Words
  5. Mari: Mari Sterling Wilbur Photography
  6. Paula: Hardline Self Help
  7. Karen: ...But I Digress
  8. (You are here) Keiko: Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed
  9. Catherine: Idea City
  10. Kate and Ashley: Back of the Book Reviews
  11. Desiree: Desiree Holt Tells All
  12. Sonia: Sonia
  13. DK Levick: Writing in the Woods
  14. Sarcasm Goddess: For the Love of Writing
  15. Tosh:
  16. Lucy: Life Through Lucylastica's Lense
  17. Leo: Find Peace, Love and God
  18. Dora: Blog-a-licious Blogs

June 10, 2011

Infertile Women of the Torah: Resourceful Hannah

The Infertile Women of the Torah is an occasional series here at Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed that examines the role of infertility in the Torah (Old Testament).

Engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1851).
In my last post, I introduced the idea that infertility is of cultural and religious importance within Judaism. I asked folks to read the story of Hannah, perhaps one of the most prominent stories of infertility in the Torah as Hannah's emotions are depicted with such heartbreak and longing. I asked folks to reflect on her story, as so many parts of it speak to our own infertility journeys thousands of years later.

Like many of us, she is devastated after years and years of trying to produce a child with her husband Elkinah, but to no avail. She is bereft with grief and depression: "...she wept and would not eat (Samuel I 1:7)." Weeping and not eating? Sounds like classic signs of depression to me, don't you think?
Reader Gail agrees:
Hannah is depicted as a strong woman who is depressed. She cries and is "bitter in spirit" and she is haunted by her rival, her husband's other wife, who has been able to have children and makes her feel bad. In that way, I can totally relate (expect that my husband does not have 2 wives - only me). I see other women with babies and am jealous and angry and depressed.
Judaism has taught me that there's more than one side to any given story and that we must question all sides. Cue: the Talmud. In a nutshell, the Talmud is a body of complementary interpretation of the Torah. It's kind of like an ancient VH1 Behind the Music but written by ancient scholars and sages. Male scholars and sages, obviously - but this is important, especially when writing and commenting about prominent female figures in the Torah.

In the Torah, the basic story is this: Hannah's super sad she can't have children, she prays like a fiend, BAM! miracle baby - a nice, neat Bible story package with a little bow on it. The Talmud, however, drills down pretty deeply into Hannah's story and I'm amazed that ancient (male) sages spoke so acutely of Hannah's resourcefulness.

So in Samuel I 1:15, Eli the temple priest confronts her in her sorrowful prayer and calls her a drunk, telling her to leave the temple. She pleads with him saying that she is not drunk, but so consumed with prayer for her heart's greatest desire - she never mentions what that desire is. The Talmud explores this much further, and draws on some nifty, lesser known Jewish mysticism in the process. The Talmud asserts that she doesn't just plead with Eli, but lashes out at him and questions the very authority of his priesthood.

The Vilna Gaon, an ancient rabbinic scholar, asserts that Eli didn't properly read his Urim V'Turim, whereas Hannah correctly interpreted it. What's this Urim V'Turim thingie? This is where it gets... mystical. Eli wore a breastplate of 12 jewel stones, each representing a tribe of Israel. To communicate with G-d, Eli would ask his question and G-d would answer by lighting up the stones to form Hebrew characters, spelling out the answer. (Think of the Urim V'Turim like a Divine Lite-Brite.)

Still with me? Good. I know it got weird for a minute there.

When Eli asks G-d, "Hey, Adonai? Who's this crazy lady here praying silently but whose lips are moving?" his breastplate lights up and spells out four characters: shin (ש), resh (ר), kaf (כ), hei (ה). Spelled thusly, they spell out shikorah - meaning drunken woman.

Hannah saw Eli's breastplate light up and recognized the characters for what they truly spelled, when arranged in the following order - כשרה. Read in this order, they spell out k'Sarah: Hebrew for "like Sarah."

Sarah, the original Barren Mother. Chills, right?

Hannah decries Eli's priesthood by saying, "Look putz, I'm prayin' my heart out to G-d over here, and you can't even read the messages G-d is sending you right now! How dare you cast me out of my temple as a drunkard! It is my right to be here and to pray for my heart's deepest desire!"*

*I'm paraphrasing from the Talmud here.

Another example of Hannah's resourcefulness and wisdom: the Talmud asserts that she tried to force G-d's hand that in her silent prayers, she told G-d that she would make G-d answer her prayers. She threatened to go into a private room with a man who was not her husband and confess this act to her husband, Elkinah. Now, Hannah didn't plan on actually doing anything with this man, but the implication as she tells her husband is that she's slept with another man. Elkinah would then take her to the temple so she must drink sotah waters as her punishment/confession of her "sin" (remember, she doesn't actually sleep with the dude, but since they were in a private room together, there's no way to Elkinah to know for sure.)

The sotah waters were a heinous concoction of ashes and water (and who knows what else) that suspected adulterous women were forced to drink. The ashes were from a sheet of paper wherein the accused woman writes her confession and is then burned and mixed into the water. If a woman strayed, the sotah waters would make her violently ill or even kill her; thus, her adultery was proven. The deck is not exactly stacked in the woman's favor here. However, if she was virtuous, then the sotah waters would not make her sick...

The woman would conceive instead.

It's almost like a modern anecdote: a woman can't conceive naturally on her own, so she forces G-d's hand by using another of G-d's creations to aid in her conception. What a resourceful woman she was, that Hannah! It's almost like the idea of using modern science to assist our own reproductive efforts. When we can't make a miracle, we turn to science. But if you believe in the ever-present creative power of G-d, then you have to admit that G-d made that science possible too.

Still, we circle back to the key overaching theme of Hannah's story: if you pray hard enough, a baby will come. Some of you took issue with this as well.

Justine writes:
But the story also sort of raises false hope; "the Lord had shut up her womb," and yet she goes on to conceive? What of the women who can't, who don't ever? Do they simply not pray hard enough?

Elana expands on this with this interpretation:
I used to think that my prayers weren't being listened to, even though I was praying with my whole heart. Now I know that G-d was answering me but saying "Not yet" rather than "No."

For me, I found the most powerful comment to again come from Gail:
Last night, we had our organizational planning meeting and I found out that the last night of VBS is centered on the story of Hannah. And, the moral of the story that the kids are supposed to learn is that "God gives you what you ask for." I just don't know how I'm going to teach this to a bunch of kids when I don't believe it myself.
There is no easy answer or explanation for this. We're working with ancient texts and in a simpler time, simpler answers sufficed. No baby? Pray to G-d. Tada! Baby. Another simpler explanation in that simpler time would also have been, "Well, if there's no baby, then you're being punished."

This is a modern myth that many women still struggle with in their own faith. It was the first time I'd ever truly experienced a crisis of faith when I was diagnosed. I asked myself - and G-d - "Why am I being punished? What have I done?" while simultaneously praying: "And what must I do to regain Your Favor?"

So this is what I would say to Gail - teach whatever your curriculum imposes you must teach your VBS kids. But in your heart, it's okay to know that sometimes G-d doesn't answer our prayers. We have been given the free will to decide how we live our lives in the wake of unanswered prayers.

Look, I know it's not that simple of an answer, and I'm trying to boil down vast amounts of theological philosophy into a conveniently bite-sized blog post. It's this thought, however, that pulled me out of my own crisis of faith. If G-d doesn't answer my prayers, that doesn't mean that G-d isn't in my life; I pray for the strength to make the best decisions to live the best life I know how.

These posts always get so heavy! But they give me a chance to really think about the ways in which my spiritual path has been affected by my infertility.

I would love to hear how these two areas meet for you too. How has infertility affected your relationship with G-d? How do you reconcile the two? Remember, looking for all perspectives, not just Judeo-Christian. I'd also love to hear from the areligious too. Sound off in the comments!

May 25, 2011

The Power of 1000 Women

Join the 1000Women movement

I recently discovered EmpowHer, a women's health website. I was intrigued by their 1000 Women campaign, a massive effort to reach 1,000,000 women online to create a huge social media women's health advocacy movement. From their website:
Through our 1000Women campaign, EmpowHER is recruiting 1,000 women who will then each reach out to 1,000 women to create the biggest movement for women’s health and wellness. When we have reached our goal of reaching 1,000,000 women, EmpowHER will donate $50,000 towards women’s health research. In 2001, the Institute of Medicine validated the need for studying the sex differences in all areas of biomedical and health-related research. However, since women were excluded from most major medical research studies before the 1990s, there is still so much to learn about health conditions that are unique to women or affect women differently than men. Your involvement in this campaign can help change this and save lives.
It's a fascinating, inspired idea and speaks to so much of what I write about here on this blog: it's important to get out there and share our stories. By opening up about our infertility to others we help to lift the silence that surrounds our entire infertility community. Our stories make the infertility experience real to others; we give infertility faces and names.

To that end, I've shared my story on While every infertility story is unique, we share so many of the same themes in our journeys. 

I'm asking folks to vote for my story of infertility awareness and advocacy. I bet that between here, Facebook, Twitter, and my friends and family I could get 1000 votes!

You can share my story with others by tweeting the following:

@MiriamsHope is a Voice for #Infertility Awareness. Vote for her story at @1000womendotcom

What's in it for me? I would be featured on and that's pretty much it. What's in it for you? A single click and registering with your email address (you can opt out of emails from EmpowerHer) helps to further advocate for infertility awareness.

I know infertility isn't just a women's issue, but with an audience like that at EmpowHer, I think it's vital to make sure our disease is given the spotlight it deserves. All it takes is a minute to click the link and cast your vote - that's it!

And with that folks, I'm out for the day. Off to celebrate my birthday tonight with loads of oysters and a chilly bottle of champagne.

May 20, 2011

The Infertile Women of The Torah: Infertility in Biblical Judaism

Marc Chagall (1956):
Hannah prays to the Lord for a son who will be Samuel
My page titled Who Are Hannah and Sarah? consistently gets the second highest number of views on this blog, besides the main page. It makes sense: neither are my name so the page outlines from where the inspiration for my blog title came and in what lens I first approached the news of my own infertility diagnosis. In short, the stories of Hannah and Sarah provide a unique juxtaposition of the issue of barren women in the Torah; for me, these stories serve as a model for infertile women in Judaism.

As I've come to terms with my infertility over the last two years, my faith and my infertility continue to contextualize one another. I'd like to write about some of the key players in my spiritual journey: our ancient infertile mothers - our Jewish Matriarchs and other key women in the Torah. I'd like to start an ongoing series with a few posts a month exploring various aspects of infertility in the Torah.

I hope you'll read along and I'll do my best to explain everything so it's approachable for anyone who reads this blog. I'm not here to push any kind of religious agenda; I'm just trying to explore my faith and see what lessons we can glean from a historical biblical perspective.

Tuesday night I had the privilege to attend a really engaging, deeply meaningful program at Mayyim Hayyim, a progressive mikveh and Jewish education center in Newton. The topic was "Infertility, Matriarchs and Ritual." One of the presenters was a rabbi who offered some truly thought-provoking exploration on the story of Hannah. She noted that three of Judaism's four Matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel - were each infertile and the prominence of Hannah's story in the Torah as well.

What struck so much with me was what she said next: "And those are just the ones who made it in." Like all holy texts, the Torah was hardly exempt from (patriarchal!) editing through the centuries. In some ways, we are lucky that the story of infertility even made it in the Torah at all. It's a thoughtful inclusion when G-d's first commandment is to Adam and Eve are "be fruitful and multiply."

As long as humankind has been havin' babies, there have always been those who can't. The Torah could have been very unkind to these ancient barren women by casting them in a harsh light or omitting their stories entirely, but their stories have been included to survive thousands of years. To me, that says that infertility is valued as a historical, cultural lesson within Judaism.

Interestingly enough - and this is really important here folks - the Torah never says that their infertility is the result of something they did or G-d's punishment. Think about that for a minute.

There's a really beautiful commentary in the Talmud (a body of ancient rabbinic commentary on the Torah) about how Hannah "spoke in her heart." She prays silently, moving only her lips. The Rabbis in the Talmud give Hannah a strong voice, saying that she "spoke in her heart" the following:
She spoke concerning her heart. She said before Him: Sovereign of the Universe, among all the things that Thou hast created in a woman, Thou hast not created one without a purpose, eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell, a mouth to speak, hands to do work, legs to walk with, breasts to give suck. These breasts that Thou hast put on my heart, are they not to give suck? Give me a son, so that I may suckle with them.
This particular commentary says something very profound about the fundamental nature of infertility: just as G-d created every part of our bodies, G-d too then created infertility. If a part of our bodies does not function in some way, G-d has fashioned that disfunction. Granted, this is a very modern interpretation of this Talmudic tract, as we live in an age where infertility is recognized as a medical issue. I'm not saying that infertility happens for a Divine reason or purpose, but I argue this commentary opens the door to say that infertility is as much of one of G-d's creations as are our limbs, organs, or breath.

I have a lot more to say about Hannah, so I'll leave you with a short homework assignment:

Read about the story of Hannah in the Torah and then come back here and share in the comments what part of her story resonated with you the most. I'll use the discussion and comments to guide the next few posts in my "Infertile Women of the Torah" series. And remember, I'm not just looking for Jewish responses or approaches only - I'm looking for all views, religious or otherwise. Just think of Hannah as an infertility story just like any of ours. What sticks out for you?

May 11, 2011

Two Videos from Infertility Advocacy Day

Just a quick post to share two videos from Advocacy Day. The first is a short interview with Risa Levine, our keynote speaker and RESOLVE Board of Directors member, and her thoughts on how Advocacy Day went this year.

The second is Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz's inspiring address to the volunteers before we headed out to our appointments. The first video is just over 2 minutes long, the second is about 11 minutes long. Something short or something more, depending on the time you have to view them. Please also feel free to share on your own blogs; you can snag the embed code right from the videos below. Enjoy!

May 10, 2011

How You Can Help the Atlanta Walk of Hope This Weekend

This Saturday, May 14, RESOLVE is hosting a Walk of Hope in Atlanta, Georgia. So often we say to ourselves, "Where's our walk?" Well... here it is! In addition to being a great fundraiser for the folks at RESOLVE, the Walk of Hope provides a chance to very publicly raise awareness for an otherwise very private disease. It's exactly the kind of event the infertility community needs. And if you're feeling brave enough, Kim over at The Ladies in Waiting Book Club has come up with a very creative way for you to participate without having to even go to Atlanta.

Kim and her team will be walking on Saturday in Atlanta, and they want to walk for you too:

May we walk for you?

My team and I would like to collect names from you (first, or last, or even just your screen name - doesn't matter to us!). On the day of the Walk, we'll take this list of names and write them on our t-shirts before the walk begins. We'd love to represent you along with our own families of two, no matter where you are on your journey. We hope to have our t-shirts completely covered in the names of the many infertile families we wish to represent.
To particpate, simply leave your name (however you wish it to be listed) in a comment to Kim's post about their Walk of Hope project here. Once you've added your name - and I hope you will! - why not consider posting about it on Facebook or Twitter? Here's a sample tweet:

@liwbookclub will walk for me & my #infertility at ATL #WalkofHope. I added my name; will you add yours?

You can also help out Kim and her team out by making a donation; see their Ladies in Waiting Team Page for more details. They're only 30% away from their goal of raising $750. It would be amazing if Kim and the Ladies in Waiting Team could have their shirts filled with names, to represent the millions of us living with infertility.

In fact, I'll make this pledge:

If 100 names are added in the comments on Kim's post between now (10am on Wednesday, 5/10) and 10pm Friday night, 5/13: I will donate $50 to the Ladies in Waiting Team for the Walk of Hope. If they reach 500 names or more total, I will donate $100.

If there's anyone willing to match this pledge, let me know in the comments. Be sure to post on your blog, Facebook, and Twitter (hell, you can even just swipe this whole post, I have no shame) to advertise if you'll join me in this pledge.

So, have you left your name for The Ladies in Waiting Walk of Hope Team yet?

March 8, 2011

Let's Celebrate Women for International Women's Day

Hey everyone... it's International Women's Day. In fact, it's the 100th International Women's Day!

Women.... ROCK. We do! And we roll, we dance, we fall in love, we fall out of love, we climb mountains, we fly in space shuttles, we fight in wars, we run for president, we sing, we write, we knit, we do karate, we cook, we eat, we collect things that make us happy, we have babies, we adopt, we travel the world, we fight for freedom in the streets of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, we fight for the freedom of our own bodies in the streets of America, we fight to find the remains of our disappeared relatives in the deserts of Chile, we fight for our government to apologize for the use of Comfort Women at the embassies of Japan, we fight for the right to wear our headscarves in the streets of France.

Women's work is hard, people. And we do it because if we don't, who will?

. . .

At the Red Tent Temple last night, my hands were literally blessed by my friend Honeybee: "It is good work that you do, it is work that must be done. Bless these hands for the work that you do."

As Honeybee reminded us last night, we are each shooting stars. We blaze our own paths of womanhood, each of our experiences unique, valid, and purposeful.

. . .

Women have so much to teach the world (if folks would just listen once in a while!) - we have so much we can teach other, as women. We have so much we can teach each other as infertile women, as mothers, as daughters, as sisters, as aunts, as wives and partners.

There is no tome big enough to hold all of the things I have learned from all of the women in my life.

. . .

In honor of International Women's Day, let's celebrate women and womanhood. Tell me (pick one or all three):

1. What rocks about being a woman?
2. What women's work do you do?
3. Who is a special woman in your life and what is one thing she has taught you?

It's only fair I do the homework assignment, too, so here goes:

What rocks about being a woman?
Women rock because we are fundamentally vessels of creation. This creative power is one that many have tried to squash, take away, or subdue. But when we remember that we are the keepers of that creative power: we are a force to behold.

What women's work do I do?
Certainly not household chores, my heavens I'm a lazy one. But... I make tea. I stop to take pictures of random flowers. I write. I think about all the cool things I'm going to teach my niece and hopefully one day, my own children. I brush my cats and stroke their little furry chins. I cook and boy howdy do I eat. I volunteer. I make short films. I appreciate nature. I travel. I go to the Red Tent. I talk about other women's work.

Who is a special woman in your life and what is one thing she has taught you?
My sister Jasmine is amazing. She's my older sister, a loving wife, a kickass new mom, and quite literally, Teacher of the Year. So it only makes sense that yes, shes's taught me many, many things. I could go on for days about all the things she's taught me, but I'll tell you the one thing that's probably shaped my whole life: my sister taught me to love learning. I only ever did drama club because she used to do theatre crew. I only ever joined chorus because she did color guard. I wrote tragically awful poetry because she did the lit mag and took creative writing. I took French with Madame Venanzi (no matter how much we both hated her) because she took French; I went on the French Club trip to France because she had completed a semester abroad in England. My sister did all these awesome things that cultivated her mind in such creative ways that I learned from her that knowledge, creativity, and reading are profoundly important. So thanks, Sis. Thanks for teaching me that an intelligent mind is a beautiful, powerful thing.

So celebrate with me today for International Women's Day - share your celebrations in the comments!

November 3, 2010

In the Red Tent Temple

...I feel beautiful, vibrant, awakened, sexy, stress-free. I welcome the new moon with an open heart and a grateful smile.

"Welcome Woman, this place is made sacred with your presence."

In the Red Tent Temple, we are all Goddesses.

. . .

Last night, our Red Tent Temple was filmed for Isadora Leidenfrost's upcoming film, "Things We Don't Talk About." It was a magical, wonderful evening and I'm still left feeling like I'm walking just a few inches above the ground: our best Red Tent Temple to date.

I was interviewed individually on Monday night by Isadora at my dear friend Honeybee's home. It was strange to feel so exposed in front of her; I felt almost naked in the camera lens but I was just as open as if she hadn't been sitting there. Afterward, I felt exhilerated. Last night, I barely noticed the camera and lights, thankfully as Isadora literally "dressed up" her equipment in red dresses, fabric, boas, and tiaras. I didn't even notice she was filming most of the night and forgot she was there entirely until I was asked to wear a microphone for a few minutes.

So many beautiful women from all over came last night- many new faces or faces we hadn't seen in a while- and each woman brought her own unique voice, story, and talents to the group. There was drumming, singing, poetry reading, art displays, and just plain sharing and laughing and talking. We colored vulva coloring book pages, we drank tea (so much tea!), we ate chocolate chip cookies and tomato soup and sourdough bread and pomegranate seeds and apples and leftover Halloween candy.

Can you spot the pomegranate on my hand?
There was henna. I held the hands of dear friends and women I'd just met and painted intricate designs on their hands and mine. I'm usually shy about touching other people or being touched, but I dropped a boundary last night. There's something peaceful and calming about applying henna, watching the designs evolve on their own whimsy.

And ALisa Starkweather, the founder of the Red Tent Temple movement herself! - she stopped by and shared in our celebrations. I was star-struck and couldn't find the words to say much to her. But I was grateful and humbled by her appearance all the same.

We laughed, deep Baubo belly laughs. And our eyes brimmed with tears. Some cried openly. We talked about G-d, Goddess and women and sex and math class and chemotherapy and our husbands and birthdays and decision making and NOT making decisions if we don't want to and art and soup and our mothers and foremothers and the coming winter.

. . .

In the Red Tent Temple, it's the one place where I wear my infertility like a badge of honor, as if to say, "I am no less woman."

And if I so choose, I can leave that title at the door, too.

. . .

With a belly full of soup and tea and my heart filled with gladness and grace, I leave the Red Tent restored and whole again.

. . .

Every community needs a Red Tent Temple. We need to make Red Tent Temples for our teenaged girls. We need more Crones. We need to make room for trans voices and experiences. We need more women of color.

We need to reawaken the Dialogue of Women that whispers within each of us...

...and I firmly believe that the Red Tent Temple Movement is doing just that.

I am honored to be a part of this movement and thank you Honeybee, for opening the door to me and so many other women. We are each a part of something profoundly important to Women's Work.

November 1, 2010

NaBloPoMo: And so it begins.

30 posts. 30 days. It's NaBloPoMo time, people: National Blog Posting Month.

I think it's time to build off of my 7 posts in 7 days bit and move to something more advanced. I know I wrote recently that I should man up and do NaNoWriMo (also starting today) but I just don't have the energy. But blogging? Blogging for 30 days? I can do that. This is more attainable. I have to work my way up to NaNoWriMo.

If you don't feel like joining the official NaBloPoMo ranks, Suzy over at Not a Fertile Myrtle has a great blogroll of other NaBloPoMo participating IF bloggers up for the challenge. Check it out - let's keep each other motivated! More updates/news and a question after the cut.

Other updates in my life...

Tonight I'm being interviewed by Isadora Leidenfrost for her forthcoming film, Things We Don't Talk About. From her film website:
Things We Don’t Talk About is a groundbreaking documentary film about women’s healing narratives from the red rent that serves to empower women and girls. The Red Tent is a red textile space that is changing the way that women think about their bodies.
Tomorrow night, Isadora will be filming the Salem Red Tent Temple. I'm so excited! The Red Tent Temple has been such a joy in my life. When I stopped having periods, I missed my Woman's Blood Rhythm. Now that I meet near each new moon with other women in all stages of life and Blood Rhythm, it has brought that sense of monthly cycle back. I can't wait to talk and explore more about this with Isadora tonight.

Just had another thyroid panel done. I've had brain fog like whoa and my energy is pretty much non-existent. I'm starting to feel like I did in June/July of 2009, when my TSH was at its highest and thus my thyroid function at its lowest. Well, don't know what's going on then b/c my numbers came back normal: TSH is 1.027. I need to find a good endocrinologist up in the North Shore area. Anyone have any recommendations for a good North Shore, MA area endo?

And finally, it's just 5 days until the RESOLVE of New England Annual Conference! You can still register in advance. Come check out dozens of vendors, doctors, and other patients, and meet the Infertility Blogging Goddess, Melissa Ford, author of Stirrup Queens! Also, we have some pretty awesome raffles. I can't wait to meet folks there :)

Oh, and one other thing: my Fertile Fall Fundraiser is underway, so if you have a few dollars to spare, I'd love it if you could help out this special cause: $2000 for RESOLVE of New England by Christmas. We can totally make that goal with your help!

Happy blogging all.

1 post down. 29 to go.

PS. Get off your butts and VOTE tomorrow! (I don't care for whom you vote, just vote dagnabit!)

July 15, 2010

Quick Updates

Short and sweet today:

House hunt updates...
  • Inspection passed with flying colors last week.
  • We've hired a lawyer.
  • We're going with Wells Fargo for our mortgage.
  • Purchase and sale needs to be signed by tomorrow night.
  • Closing is set for August 12.
Other updates...
  • Red Tent Temple on Monday night was awesome. I love my RTT ladies.
  • A friend whom I'll call the Librarian Goddess from RTT was just diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma; please keep her in your thoughts.
  • I've got bursitis in my right shoulder; it's been bothering me for a couple of weeks and now the doc I saw today ordered an x-ray, 6 weeks of physical therapy and daily course of anti-inflammatories. Fun times. I love the feeling of falling apart one body part at a time.
  • Going on a long weekend vacation to a lake house in northern NJ this weekend with Larry and family friends of his. REALLY looking forward to the time to just veg.
See y'all next week.

May 27, 2010

Women's Health Matters: Period.

Sit tight: this post is a doozy.

I'm a Vagina Warrior.

I realize this is quite a startling way to begin my post, but being a Vagina Warrior drives me, it shapes the way I look at the world, and fuels my passion for women's health advocacy. What exactly is a Vagina Warrior? Well, it stems Eve Ensler's The Vagina MonologuesI performed in five productions of the show throughout college and two years after I graduated at the first college where I worked. The mission of the V-Day movement is near and dear to my heart, and a Vagina Warrior is someone who fights for women, women's rights both home and abroad, and for the safety and health of women and girls everywhere. My work in health advocacy, particularly around infertility, is how I assign my Warrior status (and when I say Warrior, think dorky Xena sporting Old Navy rather than leather-plated skirt).

So I've got three things my inner Vagina Warrior wants to cover in this post, all related to our periods: Tampons. The Red Tent. Project Vital Sign. Sound interesting? Read on.

So I was thrilled when I saw the new Kotex U commercials:

I am in no way being compensated for this. This was too damn awesome not to share.

Thank you, Kotex, for keepin' it real. I haven't had a "real" period in months, technically years if you count that fact that while on birth control, it's not an actual period as a result of ovulation, rather, it's withdrawal bleeding from a drop in hormones. I'm still experiencing breakthrough bleeding on my HRT (the pill), and I had to use a tampon for the first time in over a year last month. I stared at it like, "You want that to go where?" amazed at how quickly I had forgotten all about this strange feminine product. So when I saw this commercial I appreciated that it wasn't trying to sell me this flowered up idea but was like, "Hey. Hey you, you with the XX chromosomes. You're of menstruating age and you need a practical solution to your monthly biological phenomenon. Here, have a tampon." 

I appreciate Kotex's candor, because women don't like to talk about our periods. It's something society doesn't talk about... like infertility. (Funny how women's problems are marginalized into silence.) Which brings me to my next Vagina Warrior subject: the Red Tent Temple Movement and the forthcoming documentary: Things We Don't Talk About. 

 Anita Diamant's The Red Tent is an inspiring fictional retelling of the story of Dinah, Jacob's only named daughter in the Bible. The Red Tent was where the women of Jacob's tribe gathered for their monthly cycles, for births, miscarriages, and shared sisterhood. (If you haven't read it, go do that this summer. And keep a box of tissues handy when you do.) 

ALisa Starkweather has taken the fundamental ideas of The Red Tent and translated them into a movement of women gathering in sacred spaces to share in each other's sisterhood. Our temples are bedecked in red fabrics and welcome to women of all ages, menstruating or otherwise; the Red Tent Temple Movement is about restoring women's dialogue and celebrating the feminine life experience. The Red Tent Temple has allowed me to restore what I felt was lost- my sense of monthly cycles. While I may not bleed every month, I gather with my friends, my sisters near each new moon at the Salem RTT, and that sense of womanly rhythm has returned to my life. Isadora Leidenfrost will be exploring this movement in her forthcoming film, Things We Don't Talk About: Healing Narratives from the Red Tent. I get the sense that this is going to be an important film, and wanted to put this on folks' radars.

Still with me as I talk about all these "woman" problems? You are? Great. Because my biggest problem is calling Aunt Flo a problem. She should be a welcome guest, not a nuisance! CNN recently published an  article online about women's attitudes toward their periods. The article is (fairly) balanced, but the thing that got me was the general tone that "Ewww! Periods are icky and gross and cumbersome." (Yes, I know for some women, they dread their period: heavy flows, debilitating cramps, nausea, and worse.) It was the title that got me: Periods - who needs them anyway?

Who needs periods? Every woman does, that's who! This leads me to my third and final soapbox moment of this post: Project Vital Sign. Sponsored by Rachel's Well, a non-profit women's health organization, Project Vital Sign is working to create a national movement for educators and health professionals to recognize menstruation is just as much of a vital sign as heart rate, blood pressure, or temperature.

Allow me this divergence... I'm still reconciling my feelings on hormonal birth control pills. On one hand, it kept my ovarian cysts at bay all throughout college, after I had already lost an ovary to a torsioned cyst. On the other, it masked my POI for what could have been years. Now they replace the hormones my body cannot produce naturally. I've had this weird give-take relationship with hormonal birth control, so I'm still not sure where my allegiance lies. The point of this brief divergence is to say that eliminating our periods or masking them is a dangerous game, as we lose a basic sign of our reproductive health. My personal thoughts on birth control aside...

Our periods give us a clear picture of our reproductive health and even our overall health. The fact that the media and society paint our periods as nuisance, gross or insignificant is infuriating: it sends the message that we should do away with them entirely, reinforcing broader social constructs of shame, embarrassment, and silence surrounding women's health issues. I know I'm not going to change society, but I'll be damned if I don't try. And look, don't take my word for it (cue Reading Rainbow music) - Dr. Lawrence Nelson at the NIH/NICHD agrees in a recent piece on NPR:

"There's this disconnect," says Nelson. "The menstrual cycle is just seen more as a nuisance by many women. But actually, [when periods are regular] it's the sign that the ovaries and the whole endocrine system related to reproduction is working the way it should."

My points, after this whole long, ranting post?

Love your period. 

Celebrate your womanhood. 

Advocate for women's health issues.

Because women's health matters. Period.

April 5, 2010

Baubo, The Belly Laugh, and Spring Awakenings

It's been officially spring for a couple of weeks and I've been loving this warm weather across much of MA this week. It's been nearly three years since Ari and I moved to Boston, and these New England winters have made me appreciate the first signs of spring that much more so. I've been doing a lot of reading and a lot of thinking lately... I've felt as though I'm poised on the edge of decision-making with regards to family building, and I think I'm just about there. In these last couple of days of Passover, I've also been drawn closer to my faith. It's a holy season for everyone, really. Whether it's the pull of faith or perhaps the buzzing of the birds and the bees this time of year, there is certainly this feeling of energy, this vibrational hum pulsing just beneath the surface of things. Perhaps it's merely our skin delighting in all that sunshine, turning light into some much needed vitamin D.

I just finished Ellen Frankel's The Five Books of Miriam. This is a must-read for any Jewish woman (just short of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent- in fact, I call that required reading for every woman, Jewish or otherwise). It bills itself as a woman's commentary on the Torah. With it's highly conversational structure not unlike you might find in the margins of Torah midrashim, it is both feminist and traditional, forging new patterns of thought and interpretation while contextualizing the Torah into a feminist modernity from the lenses of our daughters, mothers, bubbes, and the women prophets and stars of the Bible itself. It is an incredibly empowering read for any Jewish woman coping with infertility, as it speaks so beautifully and painfully honest from the perspectives of so many barren Matriarchs.

In this rather empowered mindset, as I tap into that spring hum that seems to be buzzing all around me, I am reminded of a story that my dear friend Honeybee shared at one of the Red Tent Temples from a few months back. It's the legend of Baubo, a little known tale in the greater story of Demetre and her daughter Persephone's dark descent into Hades.

Demetre, the Greek goddess of the harvest and fertility of the soil, had a daughter, Persephone, who was wickedly abducted by Hades, the Lord of the Underworld. He tricks Persephone into eating the seeds of a pomegranate, and by consuming any food or drink while in the Underworld, she has sealed her fate for eternity: she may never leave. Demetre is understandably distraught, in fact, so much so, her grief plunges her into a dark, cold despair. She retreats from the World: the earth cannot bear crops, the land stricken with barrenness as she grieves the loss of her precious Persephone.

So much of Demetre's pain resonates within the ALI community.

Enter Baubo: descriptions vary from a woman with voluminous skirts to a talking vulva. Baubo sits in front of Demetre and lifts her skirts before her, telling raucous, bawdy jokes, inspiring a fountain of joy in the form of the deepest belly laugh, from our solar plexus and radiating outward. Baubo is the only one who ends Demetre's grieving, whose tears dry and face contorts into laughter. Through her bawdy jokes and brazen presentation, Baubo encourages Demetre to return to the World and to once again bear fertile fields. Baubo gives Demetre the courage to recover, to move on, to find joy and laughter in life again. And with that, the World awakens from the darkest Winter into the first Spring.

What can we in the ALI community learn from the legend of Baubo?

That after darkness, after pain, after loss: there is joy again. That we must encourage ourselves to laugh fully and completely, to laugh from the bottoms of our bellies, and by laughing we truly live in the moment. Even in our journeys to parenthood frought with worries, needles, tests, inconsiderate remarks and daily reminders of our struggles: there is still laughter to be found- there will always be a Spring to follow the Winter.

I have been feeling my own Spring Awakening as our path to family building comes into focus, and I wanted to share this energy, this inspiration: to laugh, to give ourselves permission to laugh, to feel joy, and to live in the moment. Here are some places I'd like to point folks in their IF journey, to take a moment to pause and laugh a deep belly laugh with Baubo herself:

Infertile Naomi is finding 999 Reasons to Laugh at Infertility. In addition to her blog, she has a Facebook page of the same name. Always hilarious, painfully honest - she is worth a read when you need to laugh at the absurdity of IF.

In the same vein as Infertile Naomi's blog, there's the YouTube video "Aunt Jane Knows More Than My RE."

WiseGuy over at Woman Anyone? is now on CD2 after "Agendy Fugnimimi" showed up. Always an interesting read, WiseGuy has a myriad of names she calls our dear Aunt Flo. Her post reminded me of a site I stumbled upon with a list of international phrases for good ol' AF - I make no vouchers if these are in fact true colloquialisms, but they are hilarious just the same.

And I always recommend People of Walmart when you need to feel better about yourself. Ok, so maybe it's not exactly politically correct to laugh at others' expense to feel better about yourself, but at least click over and check out the hilarity. Other photo blogs good for a laugh: This is Why You're Fat, LATFH (nsfw), Awkward Family Photos, Cake Wrecks, and Lamebook (occasionally nsfw). Honorable mention, for all you LOST fans: Never Seen Lost, a blog recapping each episode of Season 6 by someone who's never watched a second of the show prior to this season.

The moral of today's post: take a moment to pause and laugh, to laugh so hard and so deep from within your belly and womb that your tears are out of joy, of being fully in the moment. Let Spring awaken within each of you.

"At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities." 

December 20, 2009


You read that right: tonight marks Cycle Day 365... it's officially been a year since the start of my last period. I can't believe it's been a whole year already. CDs 1-4 were regular heavy flow and then... nothing. I thought for sure on CD15 I was ovulating - mittelschmerz and everything but alas, the end of January came and went... nothing. February... nothing. By mid-March I figured maybe I should have the doc take a look. Dr. E (aka, Dr. Skinny Bitch) assured me it was stress. Oh, and being overweight. Something about excess estrogen being stored in my fat cells. "But if you're really worried, go see Dr. G (my current RE) b/c I don't really see anything wrong. It's perfectly normal for periods not to return for several months following the cessation of birth control."

So I met with Dr. G and he ordered 7 vials of blood to be drawn. We both thought it was PCOS and a nasty hypothyroid problem. Turns out it was POF and Hashi's. March 18 of next year will be a year since my diagnosis. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Right now, I'm mostly buzzed, from 2 beers and a Snickers-tini from a bar downtown.

. . .

Tonight we celebrated Ari's 28th birthday. It's actually tomorrow (my lil Solstice baby) but he has a Mason's meeting and I have Red Tent Temple, so we braved the foot or so of snow downtown and went out for drinks and wings. A lot of people bailed, but understandably so - the snow and freezing temps nearly kept us at home.

We spent a night this weekend in Stockbridge, MA, at the Red Lion Inn. A picturesque little town, home of Norman Rockwell... it was a nice one-night getaway just to take us away from everything. We spent time visiting family friends of Ari's (they go to the Red Lion every Christmas) and they got us a room. We had a lovely dinner (I had the maple braised pork lion, Ari had the elk tenderloin), and enjoyed an evening of experimental jazz funk in the bar downstairs. (Surprisingly, the band was actually really neat.) We slept in the most comfortable bed ever, and managed to avoid even a single flake fall on the town of Stockbridge - a narrow strip of western MA managed to avoid this entire nor'easter. By the time we got home today, we didn't hit any snow falling and the roads were all cleared.

. . .

On the eve of the new moon, Rosh Chodesh, and more importantly, the Winter Solstice... I'm left contemplative.

November 20, 2009

Is the chalice is half empty or half full?

Allow me to indulge in a little tarot and my inner Goddess. This past Monday I went to the Salem Red Tent Temple. I've been a few times, and a good friend of mine (let's call her Honeybee) is one of the organizers. The concept is simple: mirror the ancient practice of women gathering for their monthly cycle a la The Red Tent (a must read for every woman. A brilliant, moving, amazing work of literature). All women are welcomed, young, old, single, married, divorced, widowed, fertile, barren, red green blue or purple - you get the idea. Coinciding with the new moon each month, we sit, we lounge, we have soup, we make offerings to the Goddess*, we share stories, we cry, we laugh, we create art and meditate, nap, and support. It is a wonderful, wonderful gathering.

*Through these Red Tent Temples, I have come to terms with exploring the Divine Feminine, or Shekinah, in Judaism. At this point in my spiritual journey, I'm not looking to a Divine Masculine/Father figure: I'm looking to the Malkah Ha-Olam (Queen of the Universe). So while there's lots of Goddess talk, I'm not Pagan. I'm a Jew through and through, but I see Adonai in her feminine context right now as opposed to the more traditional Avinu Malkenu (Our Father, Our King).

There are a couple of decks of tarot cards and this week, someone brought Goddess cards. I asked my Honeybee to do a reading for me. Here's what I pulled from the Goddess Tarot deck:

While we didn't necessarily do this with the intent of a past-present-future spread, it certainly reads that way. The Princess of Swords (commonly known as the Knight of Swords) wades through the reeds, her blade ever-ready to strike. Honeybee noted how it seems as though she presents one face forward, looking rather dainty as she gathers up her skirts, but the back of her hair is disheveled, her sword drawn. In a way, it's putting forward one face while keeping a high level of defensiveness up; but she is again, ready to strike and thus able to do what she has to do to survive. My other friend, a High Priestess (let's call her HP for short), and I both noticed how much this card reminded us of the Egyptian Princess who recovers Moses from the reeds.

The second card I drew was an inverted Queen of Cups. A symbol of fertility, its inverted meaning was painfully obvious. The suit of Cups also draws heavily on emotion, and her inverted chalice represents an outpouring of emotion. HP seems to think it's not so much that I'm empty, but perhaps I've given too much of my self lately, and that perhaps I need others to fill my cup. In its normal position, the Queen looks quite stable in the tumultuous sea around her, but inverted, it's clearly a symbol of instability.

The final card I drew was Justice (VIII in the Major Arcana). In other decks, Justice is XI; typically VIII is Strength. She is represented by Athena, who as HP noted, is often associated with war and decked out in her armor. Here she is presented as the Weaver Goddess in flowing robes. Athena is actually the Goddess of Wisdom, and is a brilliant strategist. HP felt that Justice does not necessarily mean "winning" but a sense of victory all the same. What I was surprised to see was the element of water reflected in all of my cards: the Princess in the reeds, the Queen in her sea, and if you look closely, there is an aqueduct in the background of Justice. As HP noted, Athena is a strategist, so perhaps I will find solutions that I don't necessarily come to mind at first. It's a little of bit thinking outside the box. I also noted that an aqueduct has the ability to sustain whole populations and cities for generations to come. I also saw Masonic imagery with the two columns in the card image as well (Ari is a Mason).

So, to put it simply: my guard is up but I put forward an "everything is just peachy!" face, I'm an emotional wreck in a sea of infertile instability, and my sense of Justice will come through non-traditional solutions and through careful research. That's pretty spot on, I would think.

I also pulled three cards from the Goddess Oracle deck, and the first one I pulled was Artemis, pictured below:

The card represents Selfhood. I thought the image of the huntress with her hunted was quite powerful. She is bare-breasted, confident, patient. I also thought it was funny that she had her hair up (I often wear mine in a ponytail or up in a clip). She clearly has her sights set on her target, and there is an assuredness about her that she will obtain that hunt. Quite simply, I need to aim my sights on what it is that I really want out of life, and go for it.
. . .

Today it's been exactly 11 months since my last period. I have often said, over this last almost-year, that I have missed the tampons, the cramps, the bleeding. I've lost my sense of marking time. The Red Tent Temple I go to has given me back a sense of this cycle. There is power and comfort to be found in gatherings of women. I take this same philosophy back with me to the IF community: we need to share our stories, cry our tears together, laugh and celebrate together. It is vital to our survival, and ultimately, to the fundamental sisterhood we share. I could go on about this, but I recommend heading over to Sonja's blog for more on thoughts on sisterhood, community, and support.

Closing thoughts: I am reminded of an opening psalm often sung before Friday night Shabbos services:

הִנֵּה מַה טוֹב וּמַה נָּעִים שֶׁבֶת אָחִים גַּם יַחַד
Hinei ma tov u’manayim shevet akh-im gam ya-khad.
How good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity.

To all my sisters in the IF community, and all my sisters everywhere: I hope you find peace and unity this weekend.

Shabbat Shalom.