0302016

Gifts

I’ve grown up watching both of my grandmothers sew dresses, knit, and crochet. It always amazed me so I taught myself how to knit and crochet, and when I got my first sewing machine at the age of 7, my creativity exploded. Since I was homeschooled, I spent all of my spare time making anything and everything. My grandmothers taught me how to read patterns and advance my skills in sewing, knitting and crocheting. Apparently, on my dad’s side, my great grandmother was a creative genius. She would crochet table runners and baby dresses, but she was “famous” for her angels. These angels were about the size of a fist and were gorgeous. She made these little angels for friends and family, and as decorations for the Christmas tree in the winter. I never got to meet this amazing woman but from every incredible thing i’ve heard about her, she is one of my art inspirations. Since then, people have invented machines that can crochet anything they are programmed to. In my opinion, this has taken away from the personal handmade gifts. Now, it’s just a ‘Oh look what I bought from a machine!’ . I want to go back to the time when people would spend hours making things to just give away, knowing that whoever got a hold of one of your creations would be holding hours of work in their hands. This is why i’ve created these stars, flowers, starfish, or whatever they look like to you. Enjoy!

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0292016

IVF, Personhood, and a Story of Infertility

I don’t have an exciting infertility story.  We had one kid easily. And then we couldn’t get pregnant again.  I took lots of medicines that made me a little fat and a lot crazy, I pee’d on a lot of sticks, I cried a lot, I had a minor surgery, we had 6 failed IUI’s (intrauterine insemination, where they place the sperm directly in the uterus and hope for fertilization), I prayed a lot, I was finally diagnosed with crappy egg quality, and that left us with our best option being IVF (In Vitro Fertilization, where an egg is fertilized in a petri dish, and then a healthy embryo–or two, depending on your odds of implantation–is placed into the uterus).

So yes, I love my 4 frozen little embryos and I think about them a lot. But do I believe they’re alive? No. They need me–or another willing mother–for that. Do I believe they have the same rights that my living children have? No. But those who proposed the Personhood Bill seem to feel otherwise. They would lead you to believe that it’s just about abortion, but it’s not. The language of the bill would make IVF virtually impossible.

If you support the Personhood Bill, you are against the very thing that allowed my children to be born.

Read the whole story at https://cabernetandbreastmilk.com

0262016

Steady As She Flows

A few years ago, I moved to New York City and began a whole new life. I never lived in a particularly large city and was intrigued. Shorty after arriving, my periods got quite heavy. My menstrual cycle has always been uncomplicated so this was slightly alarming. It got to the point where I was bleeding heavily not just on my period week but every single day. I worried about leaking through a regular sized tampon if I was stuck underground for more than an hour in the subway. Menstrual cups do not work well for me and the amount of tampons I was going through got to be kind of crazy. My income was low but I was lucky enough to have a new, patient boyfriend that had access to an endless supply of free tampons at his college.

Working as a nanny with no health insurance, before the Affordable Care Act came into effect, I turned to Planned Parenthood. They had me sign up for Medicaid in order to be a able to help. I had no idea how long it would take to get an appointment but should have assumed just as much with a city of eight million people, almost half of which are living below the poverty line. After multiple visits to different Planned Parenthood physicians, I was sent to a specialist for a vaginal ultrasound. The results showed nothing abnormal and I was diagnosed with menorrhagia without a cause.

I was advised to get back on the birth control pill in order to control the periods, which I did, but it took some trial and error. The dose I needed was a stronger one, and the whole process of the first appointment to finally getting the correct amount of hormones took about a year. That year was stressful, as I was still learning how to get around the city, scrambling to find jobs, and taking care of this new, bloody issue.

To complicate things even further, I was repeatedly kicked off Medicaid every two months for no reason. Constantly re-applying and attempting to get ahold of someone at the Medicaid office was a complete nightmare, finally escalating to me appealing in front of a judge. My income had stayed the same and I was definitely eligible for the care I was receiving. I presented the judge with a two-inch thick, stack of paperwork I had collected from Medicaid disputes. I was extremely luck in getting a female judge. She asked me why it was so important for me to be on this insurance and I showed her a note from a gynecologist, stating that I have menorrhagia. She took one look at it and immediately dismissed my case, allowing me to stay on the insurance with no more issues, at least for the next year.

I think it is important to point out that since this issue, I still have not been offered health insurance by a company that I have worked for on the books. Many people may not realize the Affordable Care Act states that small businesses with less than fifty employees do not have to offer health insurance. In New York City, ninety percent of all businesses are those that have less than fifty employees. It is almost impossible to receive health insurance or any benefits while working in this city. The Affordable Care Act is definitely a necessary step in order to provide care to those in need, but it needs to be revised, and quickly

0252016

I started my art project after working at an abortion fund, where I learned firsthand how abortion restrictions like the Hyde Amendment, which blocks people from using Medicaid to pay for abortions, can impact people. There were and are so many politicians who will stop at nothing to erode reproductive rights. Working in abortion care made me realize that the act of having an abortion, especially having an abortion in the context of politicians trying to deliberately make it impossible, and in the face of so many intersecting oppression (like poverty, racism, etc), is a revolutionary act. I felt like I wanted to do more to further dialogue about abortion access, and also wanted to create something that talked about abortion in a way that honored peoples’ experiences and their resistance.

The Hyde Amendment is so connected to many parts of our lives. Sometimes when I describe my project to people for the first time, they ask me, “Wait, your whole project is about one amendment?” And I have to explain to them that yes, it’s one amendment with giant consequences, and its reach doesn’t just extend to denying poor folks reproductive autonomy. Hyde means that people put off paying rent and bills and buying food to come up the money for an abortion. Hyde is food security. Hyde is devaluing women of color. Hyde is making value judgments and dictating the reproductive futures for poor people. After I say that they start to realize the connections that abortion restrictions have to people’s lives. I try to do that with my art too – to make people think about abortion not just as a singular event in people’s lives – because that’s not what politicians are saying when they try to stop us from having abortions.

 

I hope that (through the project) people feel welcomed into a conversation about what abortion access is and conceptualize things differently. I also hope that people see messages that affirm their value and self-worth. I make this work for people I love. I try to reflect that love back into the universe for others to receive. That’s the way we will win.

0242016

The Challenges of a Breastfeeding Mother

In the early, sleep deprived days of being a new mother, I faced many challenges. The first big one came about pretty early on. One day my milk was leaking like crazy, a couple of weeks later my milk supply had nearly dried up. My daughter was very slow to gain weight because of the breastfeeding challenges, and she was diagnosed with “failure to thrive”. A pediatrician basically gave us two days to show significant weight gain, or we were heading back to the hospital and they were going to tube feed my daughter. We had already been supplementing with formula, but apparently not enough. My partner and I started to keep a log of how many ounces we were feeding. The doctor suggested 24-30oz of formula to get her weight up to an acceptable level and prevent hospitalization. My midwife suspected tongue tie and referred me to a lactation consultant. We started working closely with the LC to try to bring my supply back up. My daughter’s Frenulum was clipped, and we saw some significant changes with the latch, but my supply was still really low. I tried all the recommended herbs and galactalgouges (a food or drug that promotes or increases the flow of a mother’s milk), until I smelled of a pancake house. Fenugreek, one of the highly recommended herbs causes you to smell like maple syrup. None of the herbs really seemed to be helping enough. I also pumped like crazy to try to increase my supply, and the results were so depressing. My lactation consultant informed be of a few pharmaceuticals that have the side effect of “increased milk supply”. In my state of grief and anxiety, the one she suggested as the most effective, with the least negative side effects and lowest transfer rate was called Domperidone. Domperidone had been recently banned by the FDA, because it caused cardiac issues in people in the seventies that were predisposed to cardiac issues. There were no negative side effect for healthy lactating women, except increased milk supply, which is exactly what I needed. Reglan, which IS FDA approved, had side effects of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and a much higher transfer rate. Definitely not side effects that a new mother needs to endure. I recently read a story of a mother that had been prescribed Reglan, committed suicide, leaving behind her partner and 4 month old child. Just heartbreaking. Because of the FDA ban, my lactation consultant, told me that I had to obtain the medication from England, Australia, or Canada. She gave me that address of an online pharmacy that carried the medication and told me I would need a prescription from my midwife. I got all the necessary things in order and placed my order. The drug took two weeks to arrive, and after about a week or less I started to notice an increase in my milk supply. I was still pumping like crazy, the increase was gradual, but eventually I was able to decrease the amount I was supplementing until I no longer needed to supplement. The Domperidone was my last hope and it worked wonders. Many tears later I was able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter like I had planned all along. I’m not saying it is the miracle drug that works for everyone, but it worked wonders for me. During the first sleep deprived months, I thought why would the FDA deny this medicine to a healthy lactating woman? I had all kind of hair-brained conspiracy theories running through my head. To this day I still believe that the formula lobbyists, and the politicians that seek to control women’s bodies, are partially behind the ban. For one, the drug is cheaper than supplementing with formula. Perhaps there is no connection, but a big part of me still believes there is. I feel fortunate that I had the resources in my community to gain access to the medication I needed to breastfeed my daughter. She just turned one approximately a month ago and we are still nursing. Our nursing relationship is mutually comforting. My daughter will be fussy or upset, and I will nurse her and she will be comforted almost instantly. My partner and I call it checking in. If my story can help any mother struggling with the challenges of breastfeeding, I will be a happy mama. Oh yeah, regardless of if you supplement or breastfeed, please never forget that you are an incredible mama! Being a mother is the most challenging and rewarding job I have ever had. I wish it were more valued in our society, we are only raising the future generation!

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Claudia’s Story

I came to the US about 9 years ago to work as an intern at my home country consulate. On paper, it was the perfect setting. I got to explore a new city, Philadelphia, and I loved life beyond every possible boundary. From the moment I moved in with some friends that lived in the area, I had my mind set on moving and working in the US, since it was clear that there were so many more opportunities for me compared to what my small countryside town in rural Europe had to offer. As my visa was about to expire, and I did want to do everything by the book, I consulted with a few immigration attorneys.

The results were disappointing: back in the day, the only (realistic) ways to move here legally involved either getting a job -not an internship- that would sponsor my green card, or get married to an American citizen. At the time I happened to have started dating someone I met on a dating website, and things were going very well. However, never once in my mind I thought I’d get married to a man I’d only known for 3 or 4 months, but that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t something I did, like many suggested, only to get a green card: I was truly in love with him.

My job search was not going anywhere, and I desperately wanted a better life for myself: I didn’t want any handouts or any pity, but I wanted a chance to live my American Dream and live, study and work in this country while paying taxes, supporting my community, following the law and generally be a productive member of society. Eventually I found good job at a prestigious university, one that could have possibly sponsored me and get me a green card, but there would have been many months’ worth of waiting, back home in Europe, not sure whether I could come back or not, and they made it very clear during the interview that they’d much rather not get involved with immigration proceedings and that the odds of me getting hired were much higher if I handled that whole mess myself (I later found out that it’s illegal, but I was a very young 23-year old back then).

So my boyfriend and I got married, and everything changed. Looking back, there were many red flags that popped up while we were dating, but either I didn’t see them, or didn’t want to admit it to myself, and they were ignored. My 5-year “sentence” officially started about a week after our wedding.

Gone were the long, sweet phone calls, the small gestures that only those who are madly in love do or think of, the unexpected roses for no reason at all, and the feeling that I was safe, part of a team, me and him against the world, for better or for worse.

The verbal violence started right away, and the physical, sexual, financial and emotional ones all followed in very rapid succession. He’d snap out of the blue, blamed every personal problem he had on me and, of course, reminded me every day that all it would have taken him was a phone call to Immigration, stating that our marriage was a scam, to have me on the first plane home, banned from coming back to the United States or, worse still, arrested for immigration fraud, then deported. Once again, I didn’t know any better. His threats, however horrifying, would have been very hard for him to put into practice, so to speak. The truth was, our marriage wasn’t a scam, it was a very real, very bad, violent marriage. Immigration doesn’t require you to be happily married, only to be married for purposes other than to get a green card; if things turned out not to work out between you and your spouse, well, that was your problem, not theirs, because in spite of the good faith you had when you signed the wedding certificate, you couldn’t really expect to even think about divorce papers until the time to get a temporary, then permanent green card (about 5 years) was up.

Believe me when I say I tried. I got counseling, I talked to lawyers, reached out to various programs designed to help battered women or rape victims (I was both), but the answer was always the same:

I was “too white, too educated, too smart, and too qualified” for anyone to help me. Yes, there was a law called “Violence Against Women Act” that was supposed to be in place to protect foreign partners of American spouses that got married in good faith but realized they were nothing but punching bags for criminally insane psychopaths. At that point, I’d already applied for a green card because of marriage and every single attorney told me that, sure, I could try to file a petition by myself, citing the abuse perpetrated by my spouse as grounds for a fault divorce and for asking Uncle Sam to protect me from further torture. However, I was advised, my chances of winning in court were extremely low. I wasn’t even a permanent resident yet, so I better suck it up or pack my bags.

Sounds like something that would never happen in America? Think again. The rationale behind the laws that allow a foreign national to become a permanent resident and, if they so choose, a citizen, after they marry an American partner is twofold: Immigration would really prefer if you didn’t move to the US at all, but they have to deal with the rights of American citizens to marry who they want. In order to make sure that Americans aren’t inconvenienced forever by having to support their foreign spouse (who can’t work or go to school or even volunteer without proper papers), the government must allow the foreign party to get a green card, a social security number etc. In theory, I don’t have a problem with that. I’ve never wanted to be a “kept woman”, a “lady of leisure”, who gets expensive manicures on her way to brunch with her friends, and who relies on her hard working husband to provide for her everything. In fact, I wanted to go to school, I wanted to work, and I wanted nothing more than to be independent-or at least an equal contributor to my household.

The problem with immigration laws is that they have been abused so much (or so the government claims), that they have to set a minimum length of time before the foreign national can in fact look for work, go to school and so on. If you were told that you wouldn’t be able to work for a number of months (usually about a year or so) after getting married, and that you would have to rely either on personal savings, or on your spouse, for anything from food to shelter to entertainment and travel, to small luxuries like a new pair of pants that fit you or a tasty meal in a restaurant you loved -all that because the government doesn’t want you to work- you would probably be so upset that you’d organize protests, you’d invoke your rights of any kind, and you may even consider suing Uncle Sam. One thing is choosing, in agreement with your spouse, to stay at home, maybe raise your children, and be a housewife (a very difficult job that I respect very much, but that was not what I wanted to do). Another is to be your spouse’s defendant and property. Sure that’s not something that is not only encouraged, but forced upon, foreign women (and men, too) who marry an American. The home of the free and the land of the brave isn’t the kind of barbaric country that sanctions this sick dynamic. Expect it is. Until you’re a permanent resident, you are a beta-minus person. You don’t have very many civil rights, and you can try and fight for your independence, but the good old “Violence against Women Act” is so rarely enforced that your best bet is leave the country or pick the right spouse. If you choose to stay, and made the unfortunate mistake of marrying an abuser, you have to serve time in your own home, in bed with them, stuck there hoping they don’t get ahold of a deadly weapon and take the violence to the extreme.

 

I survived. I took up martial arts, I went to the doctor or the ER every time he hurt me to document the extent of my injuries and create a paper trail (I still have the folder, and it’s about 1.5 inches thick). I learned who my friends really were when I called for help, usually to be escorted to the hospital in the middle of the night. I had strong female friends and a few male friends become what I used to call “my bodyguards”. I confided in a couple who lived in the same building as my husband and I, and they gave me a key to their apartment so that I could go hide somewhere in case of an emergency. I also learned that the police doesn’t really like to respond to 911 calls about domestic disturbances because, among other reasons, the abused partner tends to act very hostile toward law enforcement once they show up, and those calls are the ones after which most officers get injured or killed. At one point I filed for a restraining order against my husband and I was granted a temporary one that stated that he’d have to be evicted from the apartment we shared, among other clauses. I feared for my life, I’d told the judge, who didn’t hesitate to sign the piece of paper that was supposed to be my way out to safety. Except a restraining order has to be served, and my spouse was nowhere to be found at that particular time, and by the same order, I couldn’t contact him in any way. This resulted in me having to be forced out of my house, with my cat and a small suitcase, and seek emergency shelter. Until the order was served, I couldn’t leave my “safe location”, unless escorted by police officers. That looks very good when you’re a week away from starting a teaching job and you envision going to class in the back of a police car. In the end, unable to serve the restraining order to my ex, I had to go back home or risk losing my home, my job, and yes, my temporary green card, too.

My ex was finally arrested when he showed up at my office -I had just started a new job, funnily enough, in law enforcement- and made death threats to me and to my colleagues. The trial lasted 2 very long years, and I wasn’t allowed to file for divorce until it was over. By then, though, I had taken my oath and was an American citizen. Boy, was it good to finally be able to call the police if my ex tried to intimidate me (eventually he was remanded). I had rights. I could travel. I could go home to my parents and not worried about being sent back because a TSA agent felt like it.

 

“If I cannot be a good example, I’ll be horrible warning”: I read this quote somewhere and always thought it was very appropriate to describe my order (it’s been attributed to too many authors for me to give you an exact citation). So be it. My ex is in prison and not getting out anytime soon. This is good news, in a way, but he’s doing time for the incident during which he threatened my colleagues and I, not for any of the instances of abuse, rape, and violence he perpetrated during our 5-year marriage. I’ll take it. It’s not right, but it’s ok, at least he’s behind bars and won’t be able to hurt anyone else.

I wish I had a good pun, or a grandiose happy ending to my story, but I don’t. The only thing I can say is that, if you are in a situation like I was, you’re not alone. Please be safe. Please think twice before risking your life. I’m warning you now, but one day I hope I won’t have to. In an election year where civil rights are very much the topic of the day, please remember of those people whose rights don’t exist, by law, because they happen to be born somewhere else. Immigrants are the invisible slaves and it happens every day.