Archive for January, 2011

Education – a right or a privilege?

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

First – just a note that I am featured today on in an interview about food, family and all those wonderful things!  Yay for the great blog over there; I’m very excited to be featured.

Next – the real subject of this entry: Education. Or lack thereof.

As many of you know I hail from the only mildly diverse suburbia of Long Island.  I grew up in an upper-middle class home where there was money (not a lot, but some) for extras like vacations, some name brand clothes and accessories, all the extracurricular activities a child could want, and lots of recreation like movies, day trips and the like.  And for those of you who don’t know Long Island very well… it’s… well… let’s just say its pretty posh overall.  It has its icky spots (like Hempstead and Roosevelt.  Hempstead has the distinction of having the first public school named after President Obama – they have about a 98% African American population – and Roosevelt School District was taken over years ago by the state for performing way under failing) but generally, when you think Long Island, you think Great Gatsby, Billy Joel, the Hamptons, rich white Jewish kids with expensive cars, and the usual ethnic mix of middle class communities.

Then I moved to Cleveland where there is a whole other universe.

I like to think that I don’t live in a suburban community so unlike my parents’ and where I grew up.  However, the truth is that it IS quite different.  In our community, the houses might be similar but the population is quite different.  But even more of a contrast is the town/city/community that’s right up the road.  Sure if you head southeast you’ll end up in an area filled with million dollar mansions and ritzy parks and shops (Shaker Heights).

But if you head northeast about 10 mins you’ll find what I consider the worst urban blight I’ve ever seen.

Broken windows, dilapidated buildings, boarded up houses.  Rows and rows of commercial buildings vacant and depressed.  Even on the sunniest day with the most upbeat music on in the car, you can’t help but feel the greatest empathy and compassion for your fellow citizens forced to live in such a bleak environment.  Is there hope for anyone or anything there?

Well the neighborhood is East Cleveland and my exposure to it came in two forms.  One, through a drive on my way to visit a local charter school as part of my work on School Choice and two, through a Harvard alumni interview I did with an aspiring Harvard student from there.

Both experiences left me hopeful, if not seriously contemplating the future for the majority of the residents there are society’s responsibility to them.

My interviewee – let’s call him Will – grew up in a house with just his mom, surrounded by the poverty, drugs and miscreants that inhabit his community.  His mom, through tremendous foresight and sacrifice, got him involved in dramatic performance, and honestly I think that saved his life.  He went on to attend an arts magnet high school and has above a 4.0 gpa and obviously enough talent that he was recommended to apply to Harvard.  He knows what a tremendous opportunity college will be for him.  The most wrenching part of the interview – when he told me that he doesn’t want to be stuck in East Cleveland forever. I want to get out of there and make a better life for myself, he told me.

That broke my heart.  I hope this kid gets into college, Harvard or any other, and really rises up to the top.  This is a kid who has really struggled.

Then there’s my tour of E Prep and Village Prep Academies, smack in the middle of blight-city.  They are charter schools, public schools run by private companies and supplemented by donations to offer children an education that far exceeds what their public school can offer in a million years.

These kids enter school sometimes as much as three grade levels below where they should be in reading and math.  The school has a beautiful way of tracking progress.  Every 6 weeks every child is assessed.  Each child has a gumball on a hallway bulletin board.  When you’re below your grade level, the gumball is on the border of the board.  Then there are four gumball machines.  One for the kids current grade level and one for each grade level higher up to three grade levels.  After every assessment, the hope is that the child’s gumball moves one machine more to the right – and their chance for success in the world gets a little bit brighter.  By the end of one year in this school, every gumball is in a machine.  And every child is in their element.

At the public schools in East Cleveland, failure is the only thing that’s in the lesson plan.

These two experiences just brought up so many different emotions for me – gratitude for where and in what socioeconomic class I was born, and even MORE gratitude for the Harvard education I was able to receive.  I also felt an overwhelming sense of shock and confusion that in this day and age people still have to struggle to raise their children out of poverty and poor public education – something I thought had ended when my grandparents were raising their family, in a time when every subsequent generation got a little bit smarter, a little bit richer and a little bit higher in the class of opportunity America offered.  How is it part of the American dream that the free and glorious education these East Clevelanders are receiving is really worth absolutely nothing at all because the majority of students are failing and/or dropping out?

The fact that there was such a place like East Cleveland still boggles my mind.  Even more perplexing, is what responsibility I have for that community and its residents, after all it’s practically in my backyard, I’m just 10 mins up the road.  But then again, shouldn’t we think of every fellow American, nay, every global citizen as being our neighbor?

What can we do? What should we do?  Must we do anything at all?

Categories: Life in General, Work

Something that is uniquely female

January 11, 2011 1 comment

What is it about childbirth that raises women’s hackles and brings out the momma bird in us all?

A recent post on Motherlode brought up a debate on another website between homebirthers (not to be confused with the Obama-0pposed birthers) and those that believe the hospital is the ideal place to birth (can we call them hospiters? ok maybe not).

This was in addition to a recent CNN article about a woman who chose to give birth at home with a midwife after having three (3!) cesarean sections.

I have a lot of my own thoughts on this, being that I found myself with my own childbirth approach that was surprisingly quite different from how I perceived my general philosophy on life.

Those who knew me as a teenager and college student, wouldn’t say that I was the “crunchy, granola-y” type. In fact, most people would maintain that I was quite the opposite.  I had some friends in college who would literally always follow my name with “Lawng Island” as if my origin clearly conveyed my personality.  The insinuation was that being from Long Island meant high maintenance with a hefty dose of materialism.  And I guess I kinda played that for what it was worth – using it to excuse my extreme phobia of bugs and my general wariness of any outdoorsy type activities.

I mocked those who hugged trees and those that only ate organic.  That just wasn’t me.

Then, I got pregnant with Munchkin #1.  And while I wasn’t running to go camping (much to the dismay of my very outdoorsy husband), I started thinking about childbirth and realized that I was more “granola-y” than I thought.  For some reason, my vision of childbirth hearkened back to the days of ole, where a woman bravely endures the trials of labor, surrounded by women of similar strength and fortitude.

Ok ok… so the tad bit of Long Island in me wouldn’t allow myself to really, sincerely, entertain the idea of giving birth at home, or without the assistance of an OB/GYN (i mean, hey, I went to Harvard. Those degrees mean something to me…!)  But I really wanted to have my baby, as they say, “naturally.”

I went all out – the books, the videos… I practiced squatting (every book says that squatting is the ideal way to birth  your baby, even though i have YET to meet someone who actually delivered that way.), I did my breathing exercises, i even roped my husband into breathing with me. (it worked until i started laughing hysterically, ruining my oh-so-perfect rhythm.

I hired a doula (check out if you have never heard of a doula) and made it very clear to my dr – NO PAIN MEDS.  I am superwoman.  no epidural. no narcotics. I shall birth my baby using inner strength alone, relying on the fact that surely G-d will spare me the excruciating pain others seem to describe.

Right.  If ever a bubble was popped, it was this one.

In what, looking back, I believe to be a very mismanaged birth there was barely anything natural about it. Things started to go wrong from the beginning.  My doctor was on vacation, the doula we hired came straight from her husband’s birthday party (at a bar), we went in right after Shabbos on no sleep and having not eaten, oh and I never actually went into labor – they broke my water because I was 10 days overdue and then let me labor all night long.

To make a long story short, I was 8.5 cm dilated, they told me to push and I ended up having a c-section after 3 hours of pushing and absolutely no progress.  Official diagnosis: Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD). Translation: my baby was too big for my pelvis.

Excuse me??? Have they seen my hips? I have said for years that my extra wide hips were perfect for childbirth. but oh did they fail me.  This was far from the natural, primal, pain breeds endurance labor I was hoping for. I was pretty devastated. And I kept wondering – maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to handle the pain. Maybe if I pushed for another hour I would have had the birth I dreamed about…

Second time around, I prepared like never before.  I read Ina May Gaskin like she was the Federalist Papers and I was in my Sophomore Seminar.   I read Jennifer Block’s Pushed, about the medical take over of childbirth and the horrific consequences.  I was armed with knowledge, informed, ready to negotiate my next birth experience.

But as much as I talked to people and thought that an epidural or a narcotic like nubane would help me relax and ease the whole process, I kept feeling the undeniable pull towards doing the whole thing naturally. It was like a craving, or an instinctual  desire.

Why? Why did I feel like that? I still wonder!

Meanwhile, my second birth experience was a dream come true.  If you discount the fact that the doctor on call when I went in on Friday morning told me I must be continuously monitored because attempting a VBAC puts me at a higher risk for uterine rupture and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends continuous monitoring. (Meanwhile, I had talked about this extensively with MY doctor who said I could be monitored every hour, no problem.) AND THEN, this doctor asked me why I had a c-section the last time. I gave her the whole shpiel and ended with, I’m pretty sure that they told me to push too early.

Oh no… she said. This sounds like a clear case of CPD.  Well fast forward to the end: Munchkin #2 was the EXACT same size as Munchkin #1 (ok, .5 oz bigger!) and same length and same head circumference!  Lady, your CPD theory is totally disproved.  See? I told you my hips were childbearing hips.

(Aside: I wanted to call this doctor afterwards to tell her about my proof that for sure it was not CPD the first time around, but my husband told me I couldn’t, it would be too mean.  But every once in a while, I still want to tell her!)

Anyway, back to my dream birth.  My labor stopped Friday night and every single doctor and nurse I saw refused to induce me back into labor overnight – so I slept!  it was great!  Then 7:30 a.m. MY doctor arrived at the hospital on her day off (this was Saturday remember) to break my water, which put me right back into labor in just a few hours.  I labored beautifully, had a substitute doula with me who had a 100% VBAC rate and was a dream of an expert, and handled the pain great.

At 8 cm, it was getting kind of rough and I was pretty terrified of another c-section.  I decided to go with the first defense, the nubane, a narcotic – whoo was that interesting!  I walked around, entered transition and started talking about an epidural.

At this point, I knew I wanted to do it without pain meds, but at the same time, I kept thinking, in the moment, if they have something that can take my pain away, why shouldn’t I take advantage of it?

So, I did.

At 9 cm I got my epidural, much to the amazement of the anesthesiologist who could not believe I was at nine centimeters.  And then i slept for an hour.  That’s right – I slept!  it was amazing. My doctor by the way had come back to the hospital with her kids (because she couldn’t find a babysitter) to deliver me because that’s how fantastic she is.

My epidural was fantastic, I was able to feel the “urge to push” everyone always talks about (never felt that the first time by the way) and even squatted to deliver!  That’s right, I ended up with a walking epidural (which many say could never be done).  Munchkin #2 was born completely peacefully and didn’t even cry he was so content.  (Finally the nurse nudged him enough that he did cry, but what a beautiful way to enter the world!)

I was truly amazed at the wonder of birth and extremely pleased with the entire experience.  Yet, it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned.  I had medical intervention and really liked it!  So what is the disconnect between what I wanted and how satisfied I was with what I got?

I came to the conclusion that it’s the doctor.  These stories that make medicine out to be the bad guy, don’t have a doctor like I do who embraces the natural side of birth (and yes, she’s a board-certified ACOG member too!).  Too often, birth is either all or nothing.  Medicated or primal.  But I think the glory of it all is somewhere in between.

And more than anything, it’s the core of what a woman is; every woman being different, so is every birth.


Categories: Me