Lara Freidenfelds, PhD, is a historian of health, reproduction, and parenting in America. She is the author of The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: a History of Miscarriage in America and The Modern Period: Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America. Sign up for her newsletter and find links to her op-eds and blog essays at www.larafreidenfelds.com.
“You have multiple sclerosis? My cousin cured her MS with a gluten-free diet and qi gong — you should really try it!”
Since I was diagnosed with MS 17 years ago, I have heard many, many versions of this story, though with a rotating cast of miracle cures in the starring role. Some involve mainstream pharmaceuticals; many more are from the world of alternative medicine. I usually politely say, “Thanks for letting me know,” and let it drop. Everyone who tells me a story like this wishes for my good health, and I do appreciate that.
When you were 14, if you had your period, but your parents couldn’t buy you pads or tampons, would you have gone to school? It’s unimaginable, right? It would have been too gross and humiliating to even consider. Better to pretend to be sick, and deal with the missed work and the bad grades.
In many parts of the world, that’s exactly what happens. And that means that girls don’t get educated, even where they have access to schools.
What would you do if you desperately wanted to have a baby, and your spouse had HIV? In the mid-1990s, the introduction of highly-effective HIV drug regimens turned HIV from a death sentence into a chronic condition. People with HIV and their life partners could begin to imagine creating families and living to see their children grow up. But it was not until 2014 that researchers and policy-makers approved a prophylactic regimen that effectively protects against HIV-transmission even without condom use. (It still is not officially condoned for family-building purposes, but some physicians are willing to prescribe it for that purpose.) For almost two decades, HIV-discordant couples faced a special kind of infertility: it was childlessness caused by the threat of illness, by fear, and by a traumatized, cautious public health and medical community that could not move beyond its initial message, that “only condoms prevent HIV transmission.”
A new e-book, Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science’s Surprising Victory over HIV, takes us into the lives of two couples who lived this history.
Recently, a Canadian fertility clinic made the news because it refused to allow a white client to be impregnated with sperm from a donor of color. The clinic director told the media, “I’m not sure that we should be creating rainbow families just because some single woman decides that that’s what she wants.”
When I first read this, I felt offended. Personally. My husband and I are different races, and our kids are bi-racial. I guess I had never proclaimed us a “rainbow family,” but ok. The clinic’s decision to avoid creating bi-racial children seemed like a judgment on my family. Like, my family’s not terrible or anything, but as a society we wouldn’t want to go making extra families like mine if we can stick to normal, uni-racial families. Am I a bad mother because I ignored race when I chose my spouse? Would it have been more responsible of me to have my kids with a white father?
When I was little, I copied my dad and took off my shirt on hot summer days. He would be doing yard work, and I would be running around doing something or other that was sweaty and active. It felt great. A cool breeze works much better when it hits your skin directly. He encouraged me to ditch the shirt, and my sister and brother followed suit.
The dentist peered in my child’s mouth, then turned to me. “Hey, Mom, you did a good job, no cavities!” I brought my kids for a check-up recently, and our wonderful pediatric dentist warmly complemented me. But why on earth did he call me that? And why did it irk me?
When I criticized Hobby Lobby for its attempts to evade the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, a friend of mine thoughtfully replied, “Lara, I don’t think the Hobby Lobby case has anything to do with the daily birth control pill — it is only dealing with not wanting to cover drugs and medical devices that actually “end”… Read more →
As we wait for the Supreme Court to render a decision on the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage case, I have been pondering the historical relationship between contraception and health care. Is it obvious that contraception should be considered part of “health care?” And would it be possible to decide that it isn’t, but still make it affordable and available? This case seems, to me, to rest largely on whether we think contraception counts as health care. The justices are wary of an outcome that would allow employers to decline to pay for blood transfusions or routine vaccinations, even if an employer might genuinely have religious reservations about those procedures. Those are clearly health care. Contraception, though, seems different. It is prescribed for healthy people, and it does not cure or prevent disease (at least not directly).
Last week, Momsrising.org and others excoriated sportscasters Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton for obnoxiously opining that baseball player Daniel Murphy should have told his wife to have an elective cesarean section, so that the birth would be done before the season started. Boomer and Carton were annoyed that Murphy missed two games to take 3 days’ paternity leave, to be with his wife after the birth of their child.
Miscarriage rarely makes the news, except in tabloids. But last year, Virginia state Senator Mark Obenshain’s ill-advised attempt to require Virginia women to report all miscarriages to the police contributed to his failure to become Virginia’s state attorney general. The bill, introduced in 2009, haunted his race for the position. Obenshain was trying to demonstrate his moral outrage over the case of a frightened teenager who had given birth to a premature stillborn baby, and disposed of it in a dumpster. It was a tragic case, to all observers. But instead of asking how his state could better provide sex education and contraception, or provide support to teens who get pregnant, he wrote a bill aimed at surveillance and punishment. On penalty of up to a year in prison, women would be required to report all incidences of fetal demise occurring outside a physician’s supervision to the police. They were to report the pregnant woman’s name and the location of the remains, and would not be allowed to dispose of them without police supervision.