Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Old Gyno and My Life Decisions

Thanks for all the nice comments on the post about my grandma. I went back to work yesterday and am getting back into my routine and keeping myself busy. It certainly helps.

So I went to the gynecologist today and got quite an earful about my life decisions (i.e., the decision not to have children). The doctor was older, and she had some pretty old-fashioned and well-established opinions about a woman's place in the world (hint: it's not supposed to be spent traveling the world and learning more about yourself).

She had all kinds of opinions to impose upon me when I said that we weren't planning to have kids. Her basic argument was that there's no way that can be true and she was just gonna go ahead and keep treating me as if I were going to have kids. She gave me a pamphlet on folic acid and other vitamins I would need to take "when" I got pregnant and told me to read it, and she denied me the birth control that I wanted (the IUD, which the WHO and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend as a perfectly healthy method of contraception for all women, even teenagers and women who haven't had children, since the original propaganda against IUDs in childless women was mostly marketing based). She said, "lots of young gynecologists that I know get IUDs, but I don't put them in women who haven't already been pregnant!" OK, if women who are fully aware of all of the risks of a procedure trust it in their own bodies, what does that tell you? Oh, and she also tried to convince me that the IUD had contraindications by saying, "for example, prostitutes can't have IUDs." All right, so... I'm not a prostitute? Just in case that was implied somehow when I told her I've been in a monogamous relationship for over 6 years. When she recommended that I get tested for STDs, including syphilis and HIV, and that I get a blood type test even though I told her that I know what my blood type is, I began to wonder whether she just thinks all Americans (or all women? or all patients?) are slutty and stupid.

I don't know if these lectures that I often get from gynecologists (I've gone to 3 different ones in Brazil and 2 out of 3 have said these things) are because of my age or are a cultural difference. But my doctors in the US never insisted that I start thinking about having children. Maybe it was because they were American, and maybe it was because I was a single college student.

When I went back to the US last month, lots of people asked me when Alexandre and I were going to have kids. I politely explained that we didn't want them, and people gave me the same stupid responses that I get here in Brazil, so I think this reaction (at least from the general public - I wouldn't expect it from my doctor) is pretty universal.

I was complaining about my appointment on Facebook, and dear Rachel shared a link with me. It's to an article by another woman who said that she doesn't want to have kids. I could've written it myself, my experiences have been that similar. First, Alexandre asked me on our second night out together what my thoughts were about children. I didn't think it was a weird or possessive question, because my answer was, "if you're bent on having them, you want a different woman." I, too, wanted to get that out there ASAP. Here are my comments similar to what that woman wrote:

I get so, so irritated when people say, "you'll change your mind." The funny author jokes that people are declaring themselves to be either psychics or people that know the author better than she knows herself. I've always thought that it's really out of line for people to say that, even if they think it. For example, when I tell people that I don't like ketchup or that I have no desire to visit Yemen, no one says, "oh, you'll change your mind" in some condescending tone, even though, theoretically, I could very well change my mind about any of my opinions or life choices. They respect my words and take them for what they are. But somehow, the opinions of women who know (or may have felt that they've always known) that they were not interested in having children can't possibly be respected when it comes to that topic. Whenever a woman (whether she be a friend, a student, or a lady next to me at the doctor's office) gives me her opinions on her reproductive life choices, I find something supportive to say, because I am polite and I understand the concept of relativity. (If you don't know what "relativity" means in this case, I'm saying that what's good for me may not be good for someone else, and vice versa. Just because I personally don't want to have children doesn't mean I'm not happy for or supportive of people who do. I've been known to cry when meeting my friend's and family's children. Is it because I want one of my own? No, it's because I am overwhelmed by all the love and happiness that I have for my loved ones and that they have for each other and for their new baby. I'm still human.)

I also get irritated when people say that women who don't want to have children are "selfish" (notice that men who don't want to have children are never called "selfish." If they're called anything, it's "immature").  Maybe I'm wrong (after all, I'm just a language expert), but I've always understood that the concept of selfishness requires that someone else be prejudicado (negatively affected) by the selfish person's decision. If the child doesn't exist, who am I being selfish against? Who is suffering from my decision, especially if my partner and I made the decision together?

I don't feel that I need to defend myself or my personal reasons for not wanting children, but I'll tell you all a few of the main reasons anyway: 

1. I've never thought the idea of taking care of children to be interesting, i.e., something I wanted to spend my time doing. Even as a child, I was never interested in the world of babies or children. I didn't care when younger children were in the room. I never had baby dolls as toys. Instead, I had Barbies and they acted out dramatic adult conflicts that I learned from TV that I wasn't supposed to watch, like Melrose Place. At recess, I often hung out with the librarian or a teacher, not because I didn't have friends, but because I liked to talk to grown-ups. I have no willing suspension of disbelief. I've never been good at playing pretend or getting involved in fantasy worlds or games. I like living in a world with people who also have well-developed frontal lobes.

2. There are lots of other things I'd rather do. Every day, we make decisions about how we want to spend our time. I'd rather spend my time doing many other things before I'd like to spend it raising a child.

3. Many times, I meet really cool, interesting, engaging women who I really admire. I've noticed that almost all of them have something in common: they've chosen not to have children (I'm talking to you, Jennifer, Kristin, and Karina). I like the way they spend their time. Similarly, many of the women for whom I feel the most pity are women who are trying to deal with the stress of having children.

Sure, something may happen to me (hormonal or otherwise, though it is more likely to be some kind of life experience) and I may change my mind. But in the meantime, why do people feel the need to argue with me or try to invalidate my decisions? I believe that I live a decent, successful, happy life based on the other decisions I've made -- why should this one be any different?

Rio friend Nicole made an excellent point when I was complaining on Facebook. I'll post her comment here in an attempt to preemtively dismiss self-centered comments on this post:

"I think when you tell many Brazilian women that you don`t want kids, they feel like you are criticizing possibly their most significant life choice (even though they are actually criticizing you). When you give reasons why you don't want to (especially reasons like money or time, which make it seem like a big sacrifice) the woman ends up feeling like a hero and you confirm her choice. In the second case, they are more likely to drop that argument for good and retain a favorable opinion of you, which is important if you are going to have to deal with them again." 

(Based on the commentary I read on a Carolyn Hax post about this topic, I think Nicole's opinion is true for women from most countries, not just from Brazil.)

Just to reiterate, my decision not to have kids has nothing to do with anyone else's decision to have or not to have kids.

I guess the reason I'm writing all this out is that I hope that, in the future, a reader will have a conversation with someone else who says that she doesn't want children, and the reader will remember this post and will stop themselves from saying something idiotic or inconsiderate.

In the meantime, I'm gonna look for a new (younger and more open-minded) gynecologist. I hope I find one like Rachel's.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nanny. (That's British for "Grandma.")

Barbecue ribs.
Pineapple juice.
Green smoothies.
Orange smoothies.
Four types of stir-fry.
A whole roasted chicken.
Chicken stock from the roasted chicken parts.
Chicken and dumplings.
Steamed Carrots.
Mashed potatoes.

That's what I cooked this week.

You see, my grandmother died ten days ago. My twin sister got married two days after that. It was a beautiful wedding. She was surrounded by people she loved, and that means I was, too. I ate a lot of amazing food. I was so lucky to have already been in the US on the day my grandmother died unexpectedly. I'm not religious so I call it luck, but I'm OK if others call it a blessing, or others still call it logical, like that my Nanny knew everything and everyone was in place, that her husband's ashes had finally reached their final resting place back in England the month before and she was ready to move on.

I tried to do the math of the chances that I would be in the US when she passed away, but who can calculate those kinds of things? Who knows the probability of someone's death if they are only old and with a relatively weak heart? Who can think about that too much about someone they love?

Two days after the wedding (which were spent in Las Vegas with said loved ones), I made the 20-hour door-to-door trip back to Brazil. I took an extra four days off work to give myself time to process what happened. Many of you know that my grandparents largely raised my sister and me. I feel so, so grateful for them. It's a gratitude that is adequately expressed only through the words "thank you" repeated through sobs until I am fatigued, or through being patient and generous with others the way my grandparents were with me, and, this week, through cooking my grandmother's recipes in her 1979 slow cooker. I lugged that thing back with me as a carry-on because I didn't trust the airlines to give it the care it deserved. She kept it in immaculate condition, and that means I will, too.

My first days back, I was eager to eat well after the havoc I'd wreaked upon my body in the US with the fast food and alcohol and late-night spicy carne asada quesadillas. Also, cooking was pretty much the only thing I had energy for. So I cooked, and cooked, and cooked some more.

When I started to "come down" from that (i.e., tire of washing dishes), and when my new reality started to sink in, my eagerness waned. I didn't want to be awake in a world that my Nanny wasn't in anymore. So I slept, and slept, and slept some more. And then I kept myself up at night with torturous thoughts and Google searches on arrhythmia and arterial fibrillation, and trying to comfort myself with the new-found knowledge that sudden cardiac death usually takes only 90 seconds to 5 minutes at most. I woke up the doctor husfriend a couple of times. "Do you think she woke up from a loss of breath, or was it more like sleeping but conscious and then suddenly unconscious?" He hugged me and told me "she didn't suffer" until I could fall asleep.

Today I slept in until noon. I woke up because Alexandre called me from work to see if I'd woken up. It was a beautiful day outside and I could see it shining in under the bedroom door. My cat was cuddling with me patiently.

I said, out loud, to Gatinha but also to myself, "OK. We're going to do four things today, now. We're going to get out of bed. I'm going to do the dishes. I'm going to take out the trash, and I'm going to take a shower. If those things are tiring and we need a break, that's OK. But if those things give us some momentum to do more, that's OK, too." Gatinha was cool with it. She ate some breakfast, lay in the sun shining in on the dining room floor, and even enticed me to play with her a little.

Those things did build up some momentum. I worked on a translation, and I read a book on the balcony in the sun, and didn't go back to bed.

I'm in a new place now: one where I can't call my Nanny to ask her again how to correctly use flour to make thicker stew broth, and one where she doesn't call me to ask me sincerely how my life is going and to be willing to hear any kind of answer. I'm pushing myself to get used to it, slowly.

when I taught my grandma how to make Brazilian coxinhas

us and my Nanny, with the clothes she made us. I'm on the right.
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