One Deadly Infection, Two Healthy Babies, and Three Broken Legs (or, how Government Healthcare Totally Saved My Behind)

Brace yourselves. I’m about to step on a soapbox.*

Much as I’d like to go all armchair-Constitutional-scholar and argue that access to affordable health care SHOULD be in the same category as education, fire-fighting, and law enforcement, I’m not going to.

I’m just going to tell you what has happened in MY family.

February, 2005, California

Pregnant with first child. Am on crappy private insurance that costs like $500 a month in premiums but covers almost nothing. Calculate that cost of having child will be approximately half our yearly income.

Freak out.

Find great California state government program that we buy into for 1% of our yearly salary, while they, in turn, cover all out-of-pocket healthcare costs, for me AND for the baby.


Except that the insurance carrier (thanks for nothing, Blue Cross of California!) dragged their feet so long in paying that the hospital called me when Aidan was 2 weeks old or something and said I owed like $10,000.

Freak out again. They eventually pay, but not until I have to wait hours on the phone while the recording assures me that Blue Cross cares about me.

April, 2008, Scotland

Living in Scotland. Have received excellent prenatal care under the NHS. On the 20th, I give birth under seriously ideal–though not fancy–conditions, conditions that are CLEARLY motivated by concern for good care, not over who’s gonna sue? Am given pot of tea and plate of toast once baby comes.

Depart hospital that evening (by my choice, I could’ve stayed) and am visited daily for 10 days by midwives who weigh the baby, check us both over, and ascertain that we’re doing well, physically and emotionally.

October, 2008, Scotland

Graeme, about 6 months old, is really sick. Bronchitis with a fever and endless vomiting. I take him to the doctor a number of times just to make sure he’s okay–he’s not. We get orders for admission to the pediatric ward. Semi-miraculously, he recovers.

June, 2009, Rome

We are in Rome on a business trip/holiday. Graeme, now a little more than 1 year, gets sick, maybe with heatstroke. Fever is high; he keeps vomiting, he’s barely waking up. We go to the hospital and try to make ourselves understood. Graeme is given an IV, and recovers splendidly.

August, 2009, France

We are in France on a scholarship. Aidan slips on a wet supermarket floor and fractures his leg badly. He is taken to the hospital to have his leg set, and has several follow-up visits while we’re there.

broken leg #1

October, 2009, Germany

We are living in Germany now. Aidan has his cast removed, but needs (and receives) physical therapy.

At the same time, Graeme cuts his head badly and needs stitches, which he gets.

At the same time, I get a really nasty case of mastitis (on the weekend OF COURSE) which sends me to the ER. Then I get a secondary infection from the antibiotics and have to go back to the doctor.

November, 2009, Germany

Graeme gets a really serious staph infection (MRSA) and is hospitalized for 8 days and needs several follow up visits with a doctor. THANK GOD, he recovers completely.

July, 2010, Germany

Graeme breaks his leg, and I am totally impressed by the ER/ortho team that x-rays, diagnoses, casts, and discharges Graeme in, like, an hour flat. Reminds me of the story my dad told of a fight breaking out at a beer fest in Germany. The whole thing was over and cleaned up in 10 minutes. Efficiency!

broken leg #2

October, 2010, New York

We are back in NY. Aidan breaks his leg. Thankfully, we are among the 1 in 3 or 4 New Yorkers that qualifies for some form of government-assisted health insurance. Nonetheless, I spent HOURS on the phone trying to find a doctor who will take our insurance. Finally, we have to take him to another emergency room to wait for hours until he can be seen.

broken leg #3

(Because what really gets in the way of the doctor-patient relationship? Not the government. Money, and The Insurance Mess.)

Believe me when I tell you I have also left out a lot of other things. These are just the highlights.

And I think you’ll believe me when I say that if I was in the US for all those things–or in less generous states like Texas–I probably would STILL be paying the bills. Or else filed for bankruptcy.

By dumb luck, that’s not what happened, and I’m grateful.

It should be within every person’s ability to take care of their health, and that of their children, without going bankrupt…and I think the free market has had a fair shot at making that happen, and lost.

I have to chuckle when I hear reference to “the US healthcare system.” Because there isn’t one. There just isn’t.

Oh, wait. There is one. It works great. It’s more socialized than the system in Germany. It’s called the VA. It’s socialized medicine! And it works great! My dad says that military healthcare was a major incentive for enlistment and re-enlistment in his day–especially for people who were married with kids.

As far as partisan politics go, no less a Republican than Richard Nixon tried in 1974 to make a ‘Medicare for all’ move. You know who opposed it vocally? Ted Kennedy. Because he didn’t want Nixon to make a move that would be so popularly,well, popular. Because it would have been. And according to Ben Stein (Nixon’s speechwriter) the Nixon plan was much more “comprehensive” (yea, socialist?) than Obama’s. What is this about? Massive change in what each party stands for, or total partisan b.s. all ’round?

I really don’t care which initial is in parentheses after a politician’s name. I just like to see policies that are good for the people who don’t have enough money to buy a dental cleaning, MUCH LESS A SENATOR. Besides, didn’t Jesus expressly say something about doing good to those who CAN’T do anything in return?

No system is perfect. But the US doesn’t have a system, period.

I’m really hoping that yesterday’s decision means maybe we will.

(and now I will step off my soapbox.)

*Jana Riess advises that blogs are not soapboxes, and she’s right. </rant> =)

The “Christian” Objectification of Women

My friend Meg, who is a professor of Biblical Studies at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, told me this story from her trip to Bolivia last summer:

“I took an all-female team to work […] in a small mountain community […].  At first, I don’t think [the community] quite knew what to do with us.  […]  Over the week, we worked hard and even got a chance to lead their little Baptist church in service.  I preached, the girls sang and gave testimonies, and the people in the community got to know us and our hopes and dreams as we got to know theirs. 

At the end of our time together, one of the staff, by far the most educated man in the village, spoke about his experience with us.  He said that he had a four-year-old daughter and that watching all the women on our team who were studying to be doctors, nurses, nutritionists, teachers, etc. had opened his eyes to a whole other life that might be possible for his little girl that he’d never dreamed of before.”

As Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn explain in Half the Sky, lifting women and girls through education and economic empowerment lifts whole societies.

By contrast, the perpetuation of patriarchy and disempowerment of women tends to maintain cycles of poverty, abuse, and violence.

What upsets me when I hear stories like Meg’s is that there are increasingly vocal evangelicals who would openly critique what happened there in Bolivia. {They had a woman preach?}

{Heck, via Meg, I’ve even read a Christian attack on The Hunger Games which bemoaned Katniss’s ‘masculinity’ and Peeta’s ‘femininity’ as a reversal of ‘God’s design’ for manhood and womanhood.}

It seems to me that despite the insistence that such a perspective is Biblical, there is, in fact, an unwitting confirmation of consumer culture’s perspective of women, which is that women are not–or at least shouldn’t be–the subjects of their own lives but the objects of other people’s gazes and desires.  The “Bestselling Books for Christian Women” at include a disproportionate number of books that more or less argue that the way to be a really ‘Biblical’ or ‘true’ woman of God is to, essentially submit to the authority and control of men, because doing so is submitting to the authority of God.

As unlikely as it may seem–and as historically and culturally myopic as it is–there are churches that are once again insisting that a woman’s rightful place is in the home of her father until she’s married, and then in her husband’s home, and that for her to be the ‘breadwinner’ is against ‘God’s design,’ and, conversely, for a man to do housework is against ‘God’s design’ for him. Where it is pointed out that highly patriarchal cultures tend toward violence, abuse, and poverty, ‘Biblical’ patriarchalists insist that this is because such cultures aren’t ‘doing patriarchy well,’ not that there’s something inherently amiss with patriarchy itself.

{And this position is supported by the insistence that God is, if not male, exactly, then certainly masculine.}

Could being in the US in the 21st century blind us a bit to what’s really at stake when we talk about women’s equality and women’s rights or what is always disparagingly referred (by all those men and not a few of the women authors of bestselling Christian books) as “feminism.”

It’s easy to forget that we’re not even a hundred years removed from the time when women couldn’t vote and maternal mortality was high. Worldwide, maternal mortality still claims one woman per minute. There are still honor killings–where a woman must throw herself on the funeral pyre, for example, to demonstrate her commitment to her husband.

But when women hold the purse-strings–when they are empowered to start businesses–when they have some capital and some say–things get better for everyone.

Meg said:

“Sometimes cross-cultural interchanges are great examples of cross-pollination.  We just have to be careful about what type of seeds we’re sowing.”

I am glad that most women in America have a choice about what they’re going to do, and it’s fine and wonderful when some choose to stay home (as I do). I consider it a privilege to be able to make that choice. But stamping that choice with the term ‘Biblical’?

I don’t think so.

{And, besides? Aren’t we supposed to care more about being like Jesus than about performing culturally coded gender roles?}

My Favorite Kind of Listicle

You know the word “listicle,” right?

It’s an article–or post–that’s really just a fleshed-out list. A listicle.

And as you may already know, one of my very favorite kinds of listicle is one that peeks at the search terms people enter to find this site.

Here are my favorites from the last 30 days:

“how to respond to the human needs by umbrella”

Well, there are a good number of human needs that aren’t met by an umbrella, but something tells me that if you’re Googling how to respond to ‘human needs’ generally, a search engine can’t offer the kind of help you may need.

“how long of overeating before noticing a difference?”

If you eat one pound of chocolate and then step on a scale, you’ll weigh one pound more than you did before you ate the chocolate. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.

“my little pony talking mushrooms”

What?! There are talking mushrooms in My Little Pony!?

“painting man woman in red dress under umbrella”

What is it with umbrellas landing people here? Have I ever written about umbrellas?

“my kid is so untidy”

Well, of course. Kids are untidy. That’s what ‘clean up time’ (for them) and glasses of wine (for you) are for.

“bath salts face eating disease”

geez, that does NOT sound good. Wish I could help…

“dead dad tattoos”

what’s with this? Is it as creepy as it sounds?

“how to read a pregnancy test”

that’s what is for. You’re welcome.

“illegal skittles”

You mean the kind with acid acid instead of citric acid? Or what? How could a Skittle be illegal?

“peaceful drawings”

Mmm, sorry. Definitely wrong place for that. Haven’t I shown you my dad’s idea of “precious”?

The Writing Mama (Part 2 of Many)

There’s a kind of a myth of the stay-at-home (homeschooling optional) mom as the perfect homemaker who more or less singlehandedly cooks, cleans, sews, bakes, knits, gardens, preserves her own food and creates beautiful, Pinterest-worthy scenes of domestic bliss. Oh, and writes her own homeschooling curriculum (or at least curates the best) and teaches the kids Latin.

Also, she has many babies and fits into her jeans right away and captures everything in perfect blurry edged photographs.

(She may or may not make her own soap, lotion, bath salts, and lip balm.)

And she writes.

For all her many and varied perfections she’s rewarded with sainthood and/or thousands of fan-followers who kind of simultaneously love and hate her for being so amazing while at the same time wanting to BE her and hating themselves for not being able to come close.

It’s this Perfect Woman who, we think, has something to say to the rest of us. Regular women, the kind who forget to make dinner and dress kids directly from the clean clothes in the dryer, don’t have it in us to write things that other people will read.

sometimes the writing mama will ignore the mess and continue writing with poor body posture.

The truth is that life doesn’t unfold in photgraphable moments and everyone, everyone, everyone has messes in their lives. Once upon a time, I idolized Edith Schaeffer and the way she woke up at 4 to pray and hike and make criossants and put fresh flowers on the table always and stay thing and look pretty and cheerfully serve her husband and children and whatever greasy hippies were passing through while managing to write whole piles of books, sew her own clothes, garden, and–you get the idea.

And then when her cheeky son goes ahead and writes some ‘tell-alls’ we find out that Francis Sr. wasn’t all that nice to Edith, that she may or may not have been slightly unbalanced or at least partially insomniac and enabling of her husband’s rageaholicism, and so forth.

(This isn’t to cast aspersion on dear old Edith. I think she’s a bright, creative and interesting woman, and, moreover, I would be furious if my sons wrote some kind of tell-all about me while I’m still alive. Point is, she had issues. AS DO WE ALL.)

Which, I think, is why so many people love writers like Anne Lamott, who makes no bones about perfection and lets her unbalanced, self-absorbed nutcase flag FLY in a way that makes people feel less alone and so loved and chosen in God’s eyes.

In other words, she offers the reader grace.

But what does this have to do with the writing mama? Just this: your life, writing mama, is allowed to look messy. Your home is too. You CAN serve cereal for dinner once in awhile, you can and should rely on help if help’s available, and your kids don’t need a sanitized home nor one that looks like it would make Martha Stewart proud, because if you want to write, you should, and NO ONE can really do it all.

(If it looks like they can, don’t be awed. Be concerned.*)

And think about your writing as just another part of the work YOU MUST DO.

You think Ma Ingalls left off the butter churning or hoeing because one of the children needed quality time? She didn’t really have that option. She had important work to do at home, so she gave that tiny girl a job, or else tied her to a picket line so she wouldn’t disappear on the prairie and she did her work. If it’s in you to write, then you need to write. Think of it as your necessary work, just as necessary as growing crops, and don’t feel bad when you need to insist that the children play on their own for a while or even (heavens!) watch a DVD while you scratch something out in the fertile soil of your mind. That kind of pioneering sustains your life, too.

*none of this should be taken to mean that in order to let everyone know how ‘authentic’ you are you need to make a full confession before/after/during your writing. Not everyone writes in the confessional mode and, let’s face it, most readers probably don’t care that much to hear all the messy details, unless you manage to make it redemptive, even if only ‘redemption by humor.’ But once upon a time I thought no one would read my writing until I had reached some authentic pinnacle of excellence or something. Somehow or other I figured out that pretty much no one has it together, even and perhaps especially those who most seem like they do.

Starting a New Chapter…

In some recent posts, I’ve let slip a little bit of news that I have yet to make “Facebook public”–

my family and I are moving to Malawi.

Yes,Malawi–the Warm Heart of Africa and one of the poorest countries in the world.

My husband, Tim, and I–along with our two sons, of course!–will leave for Malawi sometime in the next six months or so. Next month, we’ll be attending orientations and trainings with the Presbyterian Church (USA)–whose mission arm, GAMC, is sending us–to prepare.

Why Malawi?

Well, it’s like this.

Ten years ago, a friend from college went to a country that was so beautiful despite its terrible poverty and found great satisfaction working there.

Five years ago, I found myself bursting into tears one night after dinner telling Tim about a story I’d read on a midwife’s blog, where a woman had died giving birth because she hadn’t had enough to eat during her pregnancy.

Two years ago, I read with interest about a boy who managed to build a working windmill out of scraps and provide electricity to his village.

And a few months ago, a friend sent us the link to an advertisement asking for an Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Ph.D. to teach at Zomba Theological College…inMalawi–the place where the boy built a windmill, where the midwife blogged her stories, where our friend went almost on a whim.

And so we applied…and so we are going.

While in some ways I’m beginning to feel all the mix of feelings anyone feels when facing transition, the truth is that I’m really looking forward to going. I have loved working with the folks at GAMC/World Mission and eagerly look forward to knowing them better, and to meeting our neighbors in Zomba.

As for what I’ll be doing in Malawi (besides all the same things I do right here, like write, take care of my kids, cook, garden, and eat…), well, I’d very much like to stretch my little doula wings and attend as many births as possible, to learn what birth is like in that culture.

I suspect I have much to learn. And I’m looking forward to learning it.

Now, dear regular readers, you probably have questions. Fire away!