old mothers

So, mother’s day.

The farthest back I can trace my maternal line is six generations.

I give you  Rixte Margrethe Tjarcks born 1732 in East Friesland on the Dutch border, died June 1795 in the village of Aurich.

This is not a drawing of Rixte, but it could be. Right time period, right part of the world.  And yes, her name is unusual for us, but it was actually quite tame for her time and place.




Bubble-gum pink vanity, and karma

The one thing about menopause I did not anticipate was a bald spot. Yes. I have a small bald spot at the top of my head. Imagine a day-glow pink island surrounded by white hair. Keeping the damn thing  out of sight requires finagling, and I often fail. It’s a little bigger than a nickel. 
It’s as big as the continent of Asia.
If I mention this to other women my age, I don’t get the empathy I’m hoping for. They say “but you’ve got so much hair” and “only you notice it” and “wear a hat” or they just grin and shrug and sometimes there’s a smirk. Women my age can be merciless. Okay, everybody can be merciless, but women of my age are sharp sighted and willing to go for the pink spot.
I have never been beautiful. At my best I was attractive in a certain way. But I always, always had good hair. Thick to the point of driving hairdressers crazy, naturally curly/wavy. Shiny.
See this photo? Me at seven, an Italian Catholic kid on her way to First Communion. It took an hour to tame my hair so the veil would lie properly. You can see the bulk of it, and that it was doubled up.
Some women will tell you that the good part of menopause is that the hair on your legs thins down to nothing so you don’t have to shave anymore. Sure, except you need that extra time now to deal with your bald spot. Or your new mustache.
Here’s how serious I am: I’d rather have an old lady mustache to deal with than a bald spot.
Didn’t realize I was so vain, did you? In my defense: this was my one vanity. So now, a confession and a demonstration of how karma works.
When I was living in Austria I dated somebody for over a year. Tall, skinny, blond, thinning hair even then. Some years later I happened to go back for a visit just when he was getting married, and he invited me to the wedding. And I went and had a good time. He married a former student of his (yes, I know, bad juju), a very exuberant, very young woman with a beautiful complexion and gorgeous hair. Lots of hair. A lot like mine. She was proud of her hair, too, and she liked to toss it. I never tossed my hair. Honest.
A few years after that when I was back for a visit — and the former boyfriend had achieved complete balditude — I ran into her. She was pushing a baby carriage, and in it was her daughter, about a year old. A pretty baby, but bald as a boiled egg. So I said all the things you say about a healthy happy baby and then I said with an utterly straight face:
“Oh look, she’s got [her father’s] hair!”
The look on her face I will never forget.  I had zeroed in on the one thing about her baby that had to be a disappointment to her and she was shocked at my temerity. She was outraged. She was stymied. She sputtered something about how her daughter’s hair would come in, and marched off.
The day I noticed the bubble-gum pink island at the crown of my head, I truly understood karma.
So please don’t comment to tell me that I look GREAT, because that will only irritate me. Don’t tell me about the hair-in-a-can product that your great aunt Georgia loves. And please don’t tell me to grow old with dignity. There is a long list of things I’m being dignified about. I reserve the right to be emotional about this one thing that has been central to my identity for all my life.  Until ten years ago.
 On the other hand, if you have a magical cure for what’s ailing me, first, quick, get a patent because you are going to be filthy rich. Then tell me about it.

25 years ago just before Halloween

This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series Memoir

There’s a story on the Huffington Post today focusing on miscarriage: Six Women Remember the Babies They Lost. The timing on this story is particularly relevant to me, and the topic is personal.

Twenty-five years ago this weekend I had the first of four miscarriages. At that time there was even less support than there is today for women suffering such losses. I remember trying to talk to people — friends, family members — and being gently told to put it behind me. You’ll have another baby. Focus on the positive. The most common response I got was awkward silence.  I needed to tell someone what had happened, but no one wanted to hear. There were no support groups. There was very little in print. There was no internet and no way to find women who were as isolated as I was in my anger and sorrow.

It seems that finally this may be changing a little, and so I’m taking this chance. Here’s the story I didn’t get to tell.

This was my second pregnancy, planned so that the new baby would come just about the time our daughter turned three in the spring of 1992. I got pregnant as soon as we started trying, and I remember thinking that maybe this time it wouldn’t be so traumatic. My first pregnancy was complicated when I went into labor at twenty six weeks and spent the next two and a half months on bed rest, rousing every three hours to take a medication to keep my contractions down to one every half hour, and shuttling back and forth between home and triage at the labor and delivery unit of the University of Michigan’s Women’s Hospital. In the end we went home with a healthy baby. Going into my second pregnancy I told myself I could handle it if it happened again.

At eleven weeks I got out of the shower and noticed an odd rash on my side. I drew a picture of it because it made me anxious.  

At twelve weeks the rash had almost faded away, and I began spotting. Two days later an ultrasound confirmed that the baby’s heart had stopped beating. They sent me home to wait, because they believed medical intervention was not strictly necessary. The standard line was something like your body will take care of it.

I asked about the rash, and showed them the drawing. They shrugged. No way to know, they said.  Nobody seemed to think it was relevant to the miscarriage. 

Halloween, age two
Halloween, age two

I did as I was told. This was right before Halloween, so for two days I waited and tried to function normally. A  two year old who was excited about her costume and trick-or-treating was a pretty good distraction, but not good enough. We went on a hayride and got a pumpkin. It was very cold in Michigan, so when I got teary I could put my gloves to good use and get rid of the evidence. At night I worked on an elf costume because I couldn’t sleep anyway. She came to sit on my lap in the morning and patted my face. She said, “Kiss it better?” 

hannah-hatI said, “Yes please,” and she kissed my cheek and went away to admire her costume. There was a Hannah Andersen cap — too costly, really, but I got it and added pointy felt ears and a pompom and bells. Very solemnly she considered this thing I had labored over for so long, and then politely declined to wear it. I remember thinking, I should be disappointed. But I couldn’t figure out how to feel anyway about it at all.  

Two days after Halloween I was still spotting, heavily.  I called my midwife and said I couldn’t stand it anymore, I wanted a D&C.  She promised she would talk to the doctor on call at the hospital.

A short while later that doctor called me back. She said, It would be better to let your body take care of it. I was hardly coherent at that point but I was beyond caring what kind of impression I made. Finally  she said, Oh, I get it. You want a D&C for your mind.  They scheduled a D&C for two days later. No, they couldn’t get me in any sooner. Did I want some medication to help me sleep in the meantime? I did not.

Then the next day, very suddenly, my body did in fact take care of it, and left us with a small being curled into itself, maybe two inches long, that I managed to catch before it landed in the toilet. I sat there for a long time considering. Then I went out and showed my husband, and he cried, and I cried, and in the end we buried that would-be child in the back yard of the house we were renting and I remember thinking, how will we ever move away? 

Six months later I had another miscarriage, this time at nine weeks.  I started treatment with a reproductive endocrinologist who specialized in secondary infertility. He looked at my drawing of the rash and shrugged. 

I had four miscarriages in all, and then I stopped trying. There were other treatments that might have worked, but I couldn’t face any more losses.  At home I sat down with a very serious four year old and told her that I couldn’t have any more children. She was very angry, and insisted I go back to the doctor and tell him he was wrong. As much as we tried to protect her from the trauma of the miscarriages and infertility treatment, she absorbed a great deal of it with repercussions that are still felt today. 

roseaOnce the internet became more user friendly for medical research, I started searching dermatology websites and databases for photos of my rash. It wasn’t until 2008 that I found what I was looking for in a medical journal article that came out that year:

Drago, F. et al. Pregnancy outcome in patients with pityriasis rosea. J Am Acad Dermatol 2008 May; 58:S78.

I had an outbreak of Pityriasis Rosea very early in my second pregnancy. The 2008 study:

demonstrates a high risk for fetal loss and for neonatal weakness and hypotonia in pregnancies affected by PR during the early weeks of gestation. Clinicians should alert women who develop PR in pregnancy about the potential risks of this presumed viral infection, although there is no known effective intervention to prevent these complications. Nor is there a clear way to avoid this illness. The detailed study of the miscarried fetus suggested reactivation of HHV-6, rather than primary infection, based on observation in the mother of specific serum IgG antibody but no IgM antibody.

For weeks after I found this — and similar articles — I told my husband, but otherwise kept it to myself. I wasn’t in therapy at the time, but I doubt I would have brought it up to a therapist even if I had been seeing one.  Nobody wanted to talk to me about the miscarriages when they happened, I told myself. They probably forgot all about them. So why raise this subject? 

I’m interpreting the article in the Huffington Post as a cosmic push to record my experience for myself, for my daughter, and for other women who have been or will be in this situation. There’s no way to predict or prevent Pityriasis Rosea, but at least now a woman who loses her child because of it will not be left with questions nobody want to hear, and nobody can answer. I’m telling the story because while other people forget, I remember every one of my losses. I remember the day the bleeding started, the day the heartbeat stopped, and the empty birthday. I remember the look on the ultrasound technician’s face when she didn’t find what she was looking for. I remember my husband saying, what are we looking at? I remember thinking, nothing. We are looking at nothing. The absence of a heartbeat.

I remember that on the due date for that first loss, the most traumatic of them all, my sister-in-law called to say that she was pregnant.  I remember that I started spotting for the fourth and last loss on my daughter’s fourth birthday.  Every Halloween I remember that elf costume and the red cap that I bought, and how I planned to put it aside and use it for the next baby. 

Tomorrow is Halloween. We are out in the county on a dead-end road and never see any trick-or-treaters. And that’s a relief.



HRC: Why not.

I don’t usually use this weblog for political statements, but in this particular instance there’s nowhere else to post this in its entirely, with intact links. So feel free to ignore it, I won’t be offended. 

Foreword.  Please remember that information about any and every presidential candidate — information that you should be able to find — may not be as accessible as you think it is. Nor is information necessary reliable, no matter how creditable the source may seem. According to the World Press Freedom Index the U.S. is no higher than 49th in terms of freedom of press. Remember too that television networks and newspapers are owned by for-profit corporations, and corporations have a vested interested in what news you hear.

The following are the issues that concern me. Taken together they add up to a simple fact: I cannot support HRC’s bid for the presidency. These issues are not all equal; they are not presented in any particular order, and most important, there is better documentation for some than others. Some allegations are just that — suspicions that have yet to be proven. I only include those allegations which I believe to be creditable enough to raise serious doubts. Where I have a link to what I consider a good source of information/documentation on a particular subject I have included it.

Edited to add: If I had to point to one thing that turned me against HRC, it is her unwillingness to take responsibility for the Honduras coup in 2009 and its horrific aftermath.  From The Nation: “Cáceres was a vocal and brave indigenous leader, an opponent of the 2009 Honduran coup that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, made possible. In The Nation, Dana Frank and I covered that coup as it unfolded. Later, as Clinton’s emails were released, others, such as Robert Naiman, Mark Weisbrot, and Alex Main, revealed the central role she played in undercutting Manuel Zelaya, the deposed president, and undercutting the opposition movement demanding his restoration. In so doing, Clinton allied with the worst sectors of Honduran society.”

  • HRC both claims credit for  her husband’s presidency and rejects responsibility, depending on the impression she wants to make. She promoted Bill Clinton’s punitive crime bill and disastrous ‘three strike’ legislation; supported his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act which gutted welfare and aid to dependent families; referred  callously to gang-related youth as ‘super-predators’ and used racist imagery to describe black youth as unruly dogs that need to be ‘brought to heel’  (video). See Michelle Alexanders’s “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote: From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.” and Cornel West’s editorial on her effects on the African American community. The New Jim Crow
  • When HRC was Secretary of State there was a pattern of arms sales to countries who also made large contributions to the Clinton Foundation. State Department favors and Clinton Foundation scandal “…. the unethical mixing of Mrs. Clinton’s public work and her personal fundraising/speech-giving/favor-doing. The more evidence that comes out, the more it looks as if that server was set up to provide an off-the-grid means for those two worlds to interact.”  From Salon: “As the International Business Times (IBT) reported, under Clinton the State Department signed off on $316 billion in arms sales to countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation. Now the Clinton campaign has received vastly more support from arms manufacturers than any other candidate of either party.” The Washington Post.
  • HRC said she would release transcripts of her speeches to the big banks, but still has not. If there is nothing to be worried about, she should do as promised and release them. Her refusal signals either a counter-productive, paranoid and frightening inflexibility or fear of repercussions.
  • Campaign Finance. Wasserman-Schultz rather sneakily rolled back Obama’s DNC ban on unlimited campaign contributions from lobbyist and super PACs; Hillary remained (and still remains) quiet on this. The Nation.
  • There are also questions about how much of the money she raises for the DNC actually goes to the DNC
  • She has  abandoned the pursuit of single payer health care and takes large contributions from the insurance industry — according to public disclosures, from 2013 to 2015,  she made $2,847,000 from 13 paid speeches to the health industry. She claims that at the time she did not intend to run for president. I find this to be less than plausible.
  • A disconcertingly close relationship to the banking industry and her insistence that billions of dollars of contributions from that sector do not mean that she is beholden to them is something I find both suspect and patronizing. (See in particular this interview with Elizabeth Warren in which she describes the way Clinton changed her view on the bankruptcy bill after Wall Street money got her elected to the Senate.) More on this
  • Example: HRC has many business relationships with big banks that are ethically very suspect, for example, with UBS.  The Atlantic 
  •  Opposition to the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall act,  
  • The same is true of the financial contributions she has accepted from the pharmaceutical, oil (her position and history on fracking is especially troubling as is her continued acceptance of support from that industry), and prison industries. 
  • She has repeatedly and forcefully argued for TPP. Her sudden turn around is more than slightly suspect. See The Washington Post on the objections to TPP and Jake Tapper/CNN on HRC’s support of it. Her  constant hedging on these issues is less than convincing.
  • In the slow emergence of information from the Panama Papers, questions about her own finances.
  • Her ridiculously late and unconvincing reversal on LGBTQ rights. 
  • Her support/voting for the Patriot Act, and for renewal of the Patriot Act, and her enthusiasm for domestic spying.
  • What I find most disturbing, the thing that solidifies my strong opinion that she is not fit for office is her hawkishness. Note: I would not claim that she alone is responsible for anything mentioned here. But she has been the designer, advocate and executioner of  many interventions that were unnecessary. It might be enough to say that she considers Henry Kissinger a role model, but then there’s the hard evidence of how seriously she means that.  Failures as Secretary of State (in particular)  LibyaSyriaenthusiasm for military intervention and a militaristic stance on Israel/Palestine (as a senator defended Israel’s effort to establish colonies on the West Bank and criticized the UN when it attempted to enforce international humanitarian law.) See also Salon;  NYT.
  • Example of a specific intervention with long-term tragic repercussions:  Honduras; the denial of any responsibility for the resulting human rights violations. The Nation, Alternet, Democracy Now
  • She publicly condemns over-incarceration while playing a significant role in promoting it, and taking financial donations from the private prison industry.
  • She continues to support the death penalty.
  • Her stance on immigration and exportation are destructive and anything but humanitarian. Latin Times.
  • She has supported faith-based initiatives
  • She has shown a remarkable lack of concern about evidence of election tampering and voter suppression. 
  • In addition to questions about contribution to the Clinton Foundation that may be linked to her role as Secretary of State, her emails have raised questions about her ties to the controversial for-profit colleges. As an academic and former professor I consider these institutions to be fraudulent, and in the majority of cases, designed to do nothing more than extort money from vulnerable students.

Please note that in all of this I have not addressed the primary season in any detail, though I believe that there is good reason to question the way voting has been conducted and tallied.  

These are most (but not all) of the reasons I do not and will not support HRC. Please don’t comment just to tell me that by not voting for Hillary I will be supporting Trump. If Hillary is the nominee and she loses, she alone is responsible for that loss. She has conducted a terrible campaign hampered by lies, misdirection, and disdain for those who disagree with her.