Tag Archives: pregnancy

Stop Assuming They Think Like Adults

A recent fight within the UK and between that nation and Turkey – a country that seeks admittance to the EU, even though only the small portion of it actually belongs in Europe; the majority is in Asia – has to do with teenage girls from Muslim families. Three of them left the UK the other day. The eldest had stolen her older sister’s passport. The UK does not keep track of who leaves the country. Although the rules state that minors may leave only when accompanied by a parent, the girls (one aged 16, the other two 15) were able to fly to Turkey all by themselves.

Why were they going? To cross Turkey into Syria, there to become the latest in a series of adolescent girls scammed and persuaded to become “jihadi brides”.

It appears now that they have entered Syria, despite their parents’ pleas and the Foreign Service tracking. Turkey, blamed for facilitating both female and male Isis devotees’ border crossing, has in turn become rather stroppy itself, complaining that the UK lost three days in informing Turkish officials of the girls’ intention.

Even the girls’ school has had to defend itself from finger-pointing, noting that it does not permit extremist doctrines and strives to teach its students to accept others. The three girls, it says, were not radicalized on its grounds.

That’s probably true. There are too many places online to read radical Islamist philosophy – who needs a brick-and-mortar school?

The parents, rather than accepting responsibility for teaching their daughters that what Muslim men want is more important than the desires of Muslim women, wants the UK to keep track of exits as well as entries. Not a bad idea.

The girls’ aim is to marry terrorists and murderers. Not the actions of sane, healthy women. And even Isis points out that jihadi brides must prepare to be jihadi widows – which means they will in turn be traded off, potentially sold into sexual enslavement, and almost certainly will die (of beatings, suicide, complications of pregnancy and childbirth) in Syria, probably within five years. The parents will never see their daughters again.

There may be good reasons for keeping them from the UK, as escapees from Isis have been indoctrinated in terrorism. Even when their primary role has been support and childbearing, creating more children to be molded into mini-terrorists.

But now comes the argument in The Guardian that the UK should let its adolescents leave because, well, look, they’ve made their decisions. Let them lie in it. Don’t stop them, even if they’re under 18 years old and legally minors to be protected. We’re better off without them. They want to support brutal and murderous regimes? Fine. They’re old enough to know better.

Except they’re not.

What that Guardian writer fails to understand is that although adolescents may look mature, inside they’re still growing. They certainly aren’t mature when it comes to childbearing, which is hugely more risky for teenagers than for women over 20. Even sex is risky, since their bodies have not finished developing. An immature vagina should not be entered by anyone’s engorged penis, including that of a jihadi “husband”.

And we have evidence that inside these girls’ brains, there is a whole lot of re-assembly going on. Dr. Jay Giedd of the US National Institutes of Health, among others, is engaged in longitudinal research on brain development. What he has found through fMRI examination of healthy people is that teenagers’ brains are entirely different from those of adults. The area really should be cordoned off with “Caution: Undergoing Construction” tape. Teens literally cannot think the way grown-ups do, and it’s wrong to blame them when they don’t.

As Giedd has said, “It’s sort of unfair to expect them to have adult levels of organizational skills or decision-making before their brains are finished being built.” Meaning, just because a brain has acquired adult size in terms of its weight does not mean it’s ready for full and complete use. That’s like saying a house that’s just been put under roof — meaning the slates or shingles are attached – is ready to be moved into. Wait a minute. What about walls? Plumbing? Electrical wiring, floor finishes, paint, all the other things we expect of a house? Not there! Well, it’s not freakin’ done, then, is it. Back to work!

No one in their right mind leaves to support Isis. We don’t see long lines of mature women ready to give up their freedom and families, do we? These girls are just the latest in a series from different Western countries who have been groomed and seduced online, who wish to exchange a fairly restrictive family existence for an entirely restrictive and ultimately painful and fatal one, while imagining they are more holy for doing what terrorists bid them do.

Prime Minister David Cameron has urged that more attention be paid to online radicalization by people promoting the “poisonous ideology” of terrorism, and Europol is enhancing cooperation among agencies to connect the dots between extremist recruiters and those who finance their activities.

Families need to make their children’s passports unobtainable. In a deposit box or held by a non-Muslim friend or colleague. In addition, they must have serious chats with their children in order to teach them of the risks of extremism. Also, the UK ought to be keeping track of the people who leave its shores, especially where they look young.

Because kids and adolescents do not, cannot, think like adults.

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The Freudian Slip of “It”

 

The English language is a fascinating one. It changes, morphs, takes in words from everywhere on earth, adapts, discards, plows on. Its spelling is challenging, because words’ spellings reflect their origins and the journeys they’ve made to reach modern English. Sites like World Wide Words offer a plethora of information and odd facts (and free weekly e-newsletter).

 

What haven’t changed for many centuries, however, are the pronouns English speakers use to describe human beings in the singular: she and he. We don’t vary that. In Sweden, there’s a small movement to popularize a gender-neutral pronoun that still indicates humanity (“hen” in addition to hon which applies to females, and han for males), but in English-speaking countries, we’re a long way from that. She, he, that’s it.

 

Not it, that is. We don’t use “it” to refer to humans.

 

Which makes the use of “it” perplexing in pro-life, anti-choice writings. If you really believe that a fertilized egg is a human being from the moment of conception, then why are you using “it” to describe said zygote? She, or he, or s/he, or even he or she. If you really believe.

 

Anti-choice text writers struggle with this. They tend to repeat “fertilized egg” or “zygote” or “embryo” in order to avoid the use of “it”, but so far – I’ve searched online – they have yet to use the correct personal pronouns. Once the embryo reaches the fetal stage, then it’s “baby” and “he” or “she”, but rarely – never? – before then.

 

Look, I don’t believe that life begins at conception. Potential human life, yes, but only potential; especially since 15% of known human zygotes do not make it to birth. Many more zygotes fail to implant in the uterine wall before a woman even knows a fertilized egg exists, which raises the rate of miscarriage to at least 33% and perhaps much higher. (Medically speaking, miscarriage is called spontaneous abortion and is usually caused by a genetic flaw in the fertilized egg.)

 

So I have no trouble using “it” to describe a zygote, embryo or fetus.

 

But if you do believe that human life – not potential, but life – is created when the head of a sperm cell penetrates an egg cell, then you ought to align your language with your belief. Shake off the shackles of “it” and use the English pronouns she and he.

 

Unless, of course, your use of “it” is a Freudian slip.

 

 

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To Slice Or Not To Slice

Waiting to contract

 

If you are pregnant in the US, if you know someone who is, or who wants to be, read this. It will give you some idea how much Caesarean section – heavy-duty abdominal surgery designed to help a baby live when the mother cannot give birth vaginally – depends, not on medical emergency or advice, but on culture. Yes, within America.

 

In order to avoid “but the patient wanted it” whingeing, let’s first take a look at who has the power in childbirth and Caesarean sections.

 

One can give birth by oneself. Alone in the woods, within an earthquake-devastated building, in a cave while fleeing rapacious soldiers. All have been done. On the other hand, no one can perform a Caesarean section on herself. Not one person. With that kind of surgery, there must be a practitioner. That puts that second person in charge. No one is holding an IED to physicians’ heads to demand that they slice. Obstetricians (obstetrics is a surgical specialty; historically, few female medical students have been encouraged to specialize in surgery) have the power to just say “no” to a medically unnecessary request or demand for Caesarean section. They have every right to do so – pointing out that the patient shows no risk factors to indicate it – and they have the power. They alone.

 

That takes care of the whinge. Now:

 

Recently, much has been made of the fact that the American C-section rate is quite high. This nation is #15 from the top in global high section rates, and its rate of 30.3 is significantly higher than in other first-world nations.

 

It has been observed that of the top 10 countries worldwide, in terms of high C-section rates, eight have Roman Catholic majorities. (The remaining two high blade users are Iran and South Korea.) Eighty percent of the nations where a person is most likely to undergo C-section with its attendant risks – shock and sepsis; developmental harm to newborns; longer maternal recovery – and extra expense, have high or very high populations identified as Roman Catholic. Clearly, then, that religion and/or its physician adherents are somehow driving the C-section rate to much higher levels than the 15% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). In Brazil, which stands at #1 in the world, the rate is an alarming 45.9; nearly half of Brazilian births happen under the knife.

 

The C-section rate in the United States varies up to 15-fold. Some states have very low rates. Yet some – see this graph – have rates that rival the highest global rates (New Jersey’s extraordinary C-section rate is nearly equivalent to #2 Dominican Republic and #3 Iran, where over 41% of people in labor are cut). Those states pull the US average up.

 

From the graph, there are 19 states (plus the District of Columbia, making 20 data-specific areas in all; they are listed in order at the end of this article) whose rates exceed the American average. As noted above, that US average is already high compared to other first-world nations. I wondered what cultural effects could be driving these very high rates of abdominal surgery, so I examined graphs and maps.

 

What I found is this:

 

Of those 20 areas with high C-section rates, three states also hold high percentages of residents who are Roman Catholic (3 million people or more): California, New York, and, as mentioned above, New Jersey. Only three. How, then, do we account for the remaining areas? Is there some distinguishing cultural “mark” common to them?

 

There is indeed. If we examine the pre-Civil War slave status of these high C-section districts – where legal ownership of human beings was permitted – we find that 14 of them were slave-holding at the start of hostilities in 1861. From lower percentage of C-sections to highest, bearing in mind that all these states’ rates surpass the US average, they are: Tennessee, Georgia, District of Columbia, Virginia, Arkansas, Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, West Virginia (which broke from Virginia during the Civil War, but prior to it had been the western portion of that “slave” state), Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.

 

Note that Maryland and Kentucky were among four “slave states” that remained in the Union. Nonetheless, both permitted the ownership of human beings in 1861.

 

That is an extraordinary commonality.

 

There are, however, three states remaining of the 20 with higher-than-US-average rates of Caesarean sections, and these three – from lower to higher C-section rates they are Nevada, Oklahoma and Connecticut – seem to have nothing in common.

 

However, each of these three high C-section states borders at least one state noted above.

 

Nevada shares along border with California (with a high Roman Catholic population). Oklahoma borders both Arkansas and Texas (both former slave-holding states). Connecticut’s western border runs along New York State (with a high proportion of Roman Catholics).

 

It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that high C-section rates  in Nevada, Oklahoma and Connecticut are due in part to the cultural influence of their neighbors. It is worth noting that California has an outsize cultural influence on Nevada; New York impacts the most populous areas of Connecticut, in the southwestern section of that state, where many commuters live; and despite sports rivalries between Oklahoma and Texas, the latter sends thousands of its residents north to the former.

 

As others are doing, we can speculate what it is about Roman Catholicism that encourages, absent medical emergency, slicing into a laboring person rather than allowing her to labor and give birth vaginally. It could be institutional disrespect. Women are not yet allowed to be RC priests and are permitted only minor roles in the church. It could be a continuation of the cult of Eve-like and Marian suffering. A Caesarean section is so painful it requires anesthetic, and the recovery period is long and arduous – these new mothers must struggle to rebuild their abdominal muscles. It could be that Roman Catholicism encourages a mindset that rewards male intervention (nearly all obstetricians are male) and denies female bodily integrity and power.

 

What of the former slave states? There, too, we see a history of power inequities. Pre-Civil War, the dichotomy between the influential and those who had little say in their lives was much starker than in states where slavery had been abolished. It takes little effort to note the transition from imposing on vulnerable people who were black to imposing on vulnerable people – the hours of childbirth put one at risk – who are female. It puts the obstetrician in control of a process he normally would simply observe. He inserts himself into the labor and is thus in control of a person’s life and health, just as slave owners were in 1860.

 

To those who protest – “hey, what about all those obstetricians who aren’t Roman Catholic, who aren’t descended from families that owned other human beings?” – you’re right. However, when one enters into a culture, and wants to fit in, one adapts. One adopts the customs and traditions of the culture. Fail to do that, and you risk being considered a dangerous renegade. Of course there are physicians in all areas who are not Roman Catholic; likewise, some obstetricians in former slave-holding areas are descended from ancestors who never lived there.

 

To get along, go along. There is pressure on obstetricians. Patients apply some, but there is  more from the culture they work in. If fellow obstetricians are posting high C-section rates, and you’d rather not, how do you become what Australians call the tall poppy – reducing your section rate to the WHO-recommended 15%, or lower – without getting cut down and criticized?

 

Probably, you don’t. Most likely, you make excuses to yourself. You look for aspects of the labor, or the pregnant person, to blame. You form a foundation on sand before you slice.

 

That’s unethical and unnecessary. It harms both the patient and the new child.

 

As a society, we need to make Caesarean sections dependent not on culture but on true medical necessity. That means insisting on all levels – grassroots to hospital to national watchdogs – that obstetricians just say no to cultures that encourage appallingly high C-section rates.

 

Note: The 19 states (plus District of Columbia) whose C-section rates exceed the already high US average are (from lower to highest): California, Tennessee, Georgia, Nevada, District of Columbia, Virginia, Oklahoma, New York, Arkansas, Maryland, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Connecticut, Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey.

 

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Really, Chile?

Sebastian Pinera, making life-and-death decisions one 11-year-old at a time.

 

If a child is too young to adequately consent to sex, with all its emotional and physical ramifications, then surely she is too young to make life-or-death decisions, right?

 

Not in Chile.

 

An 11-year-old girl repeatedly raped and impregnated by her stepfather has been praised by Sebastián Piñera,  the nation’s president, for her “mature” decision not to seek an abortion. (Note that this scenario occurs all over the world. A recent case in China involved an abused 12-year-old.)

 

Now, leaving aside questions of what abortion options would be available to this young girl in Chile (few), the amount of pressure a Catholic country’s therapists and families might place on a vulnerable child (huge), and the fact that the girl’s mother is obviously not the person who should be raising her (the mother initially called the rapes “consensual”), how is a child whose frontal lobe is still under construction to be regarded as mature enough to decide to continue a process that can easily kill her?

 

Two things: first, the age of menarche — a girl’s first menses — has been dropping since 1840, as has boys’ sexual maturity since 1750, even though mentally and emotionally they are still children; and, second, the brain research being carried out at the National Institute of Health (NIH) by Dr. Jay Giedd and by other researchers in other countries, clearly indicates that even in healthy humans, a child’s brain differs from an adolescent’s brain differs from an adult’s brain.

 

This 11-year-old is therefore two whole steps away from having an adult brain. She should not be asked to make an adult decision, since she does not yet possess the frontal lobe capacity to do so.

 

In addition, pregnancy and childbirth are risky. Even in wealthy nations with excellent healthcare and follow-up, grown women die during fetal growth and delivery. The US is hardly at the top of the list for maternal mortality (that’s where people die as a result of pregnancy or delivery, including within several days after a birth), but US statistics demonstrate that overall, maternal mortality is 8 per 100,000. In Chile, the figure is almost three times higher: 23 per 100,000. In both countries, that is an average. In certain geographical areas and among certain populations, death rates soar.

 

That is especially true of people who are pregnant before they reach age 20. Among teenagers, pregnancy is horribly dangerous. Imagine what the risk will be for an 11-year-old who can only picture a baby being like a doll to “take care of”.

 

Amnesty International asserts that this child must be provided with an abortion in order to save her life. While Chile stalls, an evasive scenario is likely to happen. Because the young girl’s body is immature, something is almost certain to go wrong with the pregnancy. At that point, doctors can intervene and decide to “deliver early” in order to keep the 11-year-old alive. Early enough, and the fetus will not survive.

 

That’s what you call prevarication. In a society where a raped child is praised for “maturity”, that’s what happens.

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Filed under Chile, Grooming, Jay Giedd, Menarche, Menstruation, Misogyny, NIH, Pregnancy, Rape, Sexual assault