Letter to My Younger Self – It’s Not Perfect

medium_4698434786Hi, it’s me. Just thought I should check in. I know you’re busy right now. College classes, shows, activities, friends – you’re having a blast, aren’t you?

I know you’re thinking ahead – thinking about the “adult world” and having a family. Looks like a great plan, doesn’t it? Finish college. Get a job. Find the perfect husband. Have the perfect wedding. Buy the perfect house, and have 3 kids running around all while you keep your career, do your hair every morning, and all before you’re 30.

It won’t be perfect.
I’m not trying to shatter your dreams, because it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just want to warn you – It isn’t perfect. You can’t control who you fall in love with. The first house ends up being a lot more work than it seemed like it would. And you won’t get pregnant right when you want. In fact, it will end up being such an ordeal that you will almost be at the point of giving up. But don’t – it will happen. And when it finally happens, you’ll be a lot older than you hoped, but you’ll be ecstatic. You’ll treasure each moment so much more. You’ll be in complete awe of everything miraculous. Everything you will ever need in life will be wrapped in that little, tiny blanket in the hospital that day. But it still won’t be “perfect.”

You’ll be tired.
So. Very. Tired.
You’ll have feelings of extreme inadequacy. There will be many days that you won’t do your hair. Some days, you won’t even shower. It took so long to get the 1 kid, that the thought of 3 will go right out the window.

You are going to do a good job.
You’re a great mom and you find your way, but you will have moments of extreme Mommy guilt. You’ll feel like no matter how much time you spend with her, it won’t be enough. You’ll feel like this precious preschool time is just slipping away from you before you even get to experience it and you’ll want to hold on to each moment as tightly as you possibly can. You’ll try desperately to do anything you can to slow things down, to do it all right. You’ll make mistakes – you’re human – but you’ll do a lot of things right too. And you and her will have an incredible bond that will pull on your heart every time you look at her.

You won’t have the career you thought you would – at least not yet. You’ll feel torn by that one for a while – on one hand, you want to be home with her as much as possible to take full advantage of these precious first few years. On the other hand, you want to show her that women can do anything they set their minds to. They can be a great mom and still have a passion outside the home they can follow successfully. After a while struggling with it, you’ll realize that you’ll still have plenty of time to follow your outside passion later. For now, you’ll follow your heart’s passion and find a way to make it all about her.

You’ll be content knowing that you are doing all you can, but you will still feel like you’re making mistakes. Just remember that you’re doing a great job. Everyone can see what a fantastic kid she is. She’s so smart and playful. Imaginative, inquisitive, creative, strong, funny, and kind. And that’s because of you – she learned that from you! She doesn’t know that you’re making mistakes. She just knows that you’re mom – Super Mom in her eyes. You can see it every time she looks at you. And she’s happy and so full of love. Your heart will melt every time your eyes meet, and your soul will fly every time you hear her laugh.

No, it will not be perfect.

But the thing is, when you look at her,
It Is.

 

Photo Credit: Www.CourtneyCarmody.com/ via photopin cc

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Under-Prioritizing Families: American Exceptionalism at its Worst

FMLAI study American government, and I’ve spent years being told that America is exceptional in its politics, in its history, in its social, racial and intellectual diversity. But there’s another way that we’re exceptional, a way that we don’t learn about in school and that politicians don’t brag about for political capital.

There are 178 recognized countries in the world. 175 countries require employers to offer paid maternity leave to new mothers. The United States is one of the three exceptions, and the only first world country without a paid maternity leave law. (The other two countries are Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.)

Within the US, just two states offer paid family leave to men and women—New Jersey and California—but the statutes do not guarantee that employees who use their paid leave can’t be fired as a result.

Now, every state is required to follow the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), a piece of legislation that requires qualified employers to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to workers who need to deal with medical and family issues.

Twenty years ago, the passage of FMLA was rightly considered a huge victory for former president Bill Clinton; but the victory should have been considered the first step, not the last, toward ensuring that no one is ever forced to choose between their careers and their family.

FMLA cannot be the last step because if you work for a company that employs fewer than 50 people, or you work part-time, or you’ve worked for a company for less than a year, or you need to take care of extended family or grandparents, your leave isn’t protected under the law. In fact, a staggering 40 percent of the workforce isn’t protected.

And stories reported by those that are covered indicate that the law is loosely enforced and often inattentive to the actual needs of employees: a new mother will take her three months of leave to care for a newborn, only to return to the workforce with a decreased salary, a demotion, or an office half the size of her old one. A mother put on bed rest prior to the birth of her child is fired for not returning to work when her leave is technically up but her child is only 12 days old. A man is fired for just requesting leave in order to care for his ailing, elderly parent. Another is fired for requesting time off to take his dying father to the hospital.

Where are our priorities?

After all, the Department of Labor, the administrative body responsible for overseeing FMLA, has stated that the law is intended “to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families,” but it sounds like the demands of the workplace, specifically the demands of employers, are being prioritized over families.

When the law was first under review, lobbyists for the business community demanded that any legally mandated leave be unpaid. Their reasoning? Monetary benefits, they said, would encourage employees to abuse the leave policies.  And of course, they also argued that paid leave would economically punish the employers while rewarding the employees.

But if the purpose of the law is, in fact, to help balance the demands of the workplace with the demands of families, is unpaid leave really enough?

The types of situations that warrant leave under the FMLA are all costly: a new baby, a close family member in the hospital, an employee’s own medical needs. Unpaid leave might guarantee that these people don’t lose their jobs as the result of a pregnancy or unforeseen medical issue, but it certainly doesn’t help cover the costs of supporting the very families they’ve taken time off for.

Let’s go back to maternity leave as an example, and let’s think of the average middle class American woman. 12 weeks of leave might give her enough leeway to prepare for a new baby, recover from delivery, and bond with the newborn. Maybe. But what if she’d previously provided 47% of her family’s income, as so many middle class women do? In all likelihood, that family is going to be severely impacted by three months with only half of the earnings it’s used to. Is that family’s needs really being met?

All of this isn’t to say that FMLA is a bad law. According to government estimates, 100 million workers have taken advantage of government-guaranteed family leave. The problem is that FMLA doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t prioritize families. As a country, we’re not doing as much as we can to ensure that people who work hard every day are never asked to choose between putting food on the table or being with a sick loved one in the hospital.

We must put pressure on our politicians to reevaluate family leave laws. Call your congressmen. Write to your senators. Share your stories. Insist that your lawmakers listen to your stories, that they know how your family is impacted by a lack of useful family legislation. Tell them that this is an area of public policy where America can no longer stand to be exceptional. As Best for Babes co-founder Danielle Riggs puts it, “[Family and maternity leave] is very serious. This is not a woman’s issue; this is not a sideline issue. This is a front and center issue, a human rights issue.”

Lets stand up for our human rights, and for our families.

-Jean-Ann Kubler

Photo Credit: babasteve via photopin cc

The Infertility Injustice

Insurance-money

Both the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have classified infertility as a disease affecting the functioning of the reproductive systems, although many couples have no actual disease or explained reason for their infertility issues. Over 7 million people, or 1 in 7 couples of reproductive age, are afflicted with infertility issues. Yet, in the United States, only 15 states require insurance companies to offer any coverage for fertility treatments. And in many of the states that do require some coverage, insurance companies are able to use loopholes and restrictions to make access nearly unattainable anyway.

The result of these often arbitrary insurance guidelines is that for many couples and individuals coverage for infertility issues is as hard to come by as coverage for elective procedures, if not harder. Most insurance companies site cost as a reason to limit coverage; others argue that fertility treatment is elective because the inability to conceive does not threaten the overall health of the patient. But both arguments ignore the very tangible negative effects a battle with infertility can cause.

The effects of infertility reach beyond the inability to conceive. Infertility has been connected with increased rates of stress, depression, and anxiety, as well as strained relationships with partners, family, friends, and employers. For many, the inability to conceive has the same detrimental impact on psychological health as a sudden traumatic experience.

Yet despite the overwhelming evidence that infertility is a psychologically and physically debilitating problem for many, when the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an independent medical advisory board, met in 2011 to offer advice for the new state-by-state coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act, their report made no mention of fertility treatments.

The report does emphasize the need for required maternity and newborn services, mental health services, preventative and wellness services, as well as chronic disease management. But the report also encourages insurers to weigh treatment costs with their effectiveness before providing coverage. Most companies cite costs as their primary reason for not currently offering coverage, and though the success rate of fertility treatments range from 59 to 85%, insurers could still argue that the costs outweigh the risk of ineffectiveness.

The potential for this report to further hinder the coverage of infertility treatments is especially tragic in light of some additional data: over 90% of insurers that cover fertility treatments (including fertility drugs and, in some cases, in vitro) report no additional overall health care costs.

It makes sense that health care costs would remain relatively stagnant despite coverage of fertility treatments. First, the availability of coverage does not negate the psychological and physical toll conception through IVF or similar treatments usually requires. For most people, the decision to go through treatment will still be a tough one, and the likelihood of a sudden, exponential increase in the use of fertility treatments seems slim.

Second, the availability of treatment for those who have spent years navigating the heart-wrenching waters of failed attempts at conceptions—weighing the deep, unshakeable desire to have a child with the potential of a string of physically taxing procedures, financial instability, and further disappointments—may lead to decreased use of mental and physical health services down the line. Much of the psychological stress (and resultant physical stress) fertility patients experience is directly related to the financial difficulties many face in trying to pay for treatment. Subsidized or fully insured coverage could relieve a lot of the stress-related medical costs associated with fertility treatments. And, in the face of something as emotionally and physically taxing as an infertility crisis, medical bills should not have to be an added stressor.

In light of the available information, resistance to fertility treatment coverage seems to have little grounding in medical or economic research. Yet we don’t seem to be any closer to guaranteeing access for the 7 million people suffering from infertility issues. One light at the end of the tunnel might exist, however: the same IOM report suggests that the coverage guidelines be reworked every year to fit the changing demands of the medical industry.

As responsibility for insurance guidelines shifts to the states in the aftermath of the Affordable Care Act, the issue of infertility coverage will become increasingly political. And in this case, the politicization of an issue could be beneficial—because political means public, and public means public-influenced.

So now, it’s time to rally for the cause. Join (or start) a support group; write to your congressmen, state representatives, and senators; attend a National Infertility Awareness Week event; encourage your friends and family to learn about infertility. Whatever you do, make it clear to your local and national leaders that infertility treatments need to be covered, that those afflicted need support, not added costs and stress. Let’s spread the word, spread awareness, and make sure the next IOM report provides a little more justice.

-Jean-Ann Kubler

Photo Credit: 401(K) 2013 via photopin cc

New Features

As this blog gets rolling, you will see some new features popping up. Here are a few of the upcoming features we have to look forward to seeing soon:

  • From Your Personal Trainer – This section will feature articles directly from trainers and consultants. They will offer expert advice and tips on fitness, nutrition, and general wellness.
  • Recipe Corner – We will periodically post tried and true nutritious recipes that are good for the whole family.  Yum!
  • The Doctor’s Corner – Articles from licensed physicians regarding all kinds of topics for your personal and family health.
  • Activity Corner – Fun activities for the whole family!

Stay tuned – lots of fun things coming your way on The IF Factor! Plus, more articles and personal posts on the usual infertility, adoption, pregnancy, parenting, and family topics as well as new contributor posts as well.

Have a great week!

“Just Relax!”

You know that nails on a chalkboard, animated steam coming out of your beet red ears as the sound of a runaway train barreling towards a cliff blares in the background feeling? It’s amazing how a simple phrase can sometimes send you instantly to that spot. That phrase for me is, “Just relax!” If you want to see me climb the wall, then please, tell me to relax.

It seems like such an innocent phrase. Never really bothered me back in the day, but once it started to take us a little longer than “normal” to get pregnant, I started to hear that phrase a lot, and it ANNOYED THE CRAP out of me. Even if I was in a perfectly relaxed state, I still heard about it:

“Oh, it’s probably just because you do so much, you need to slow down and relax.” “Don’t get stressed out it hasn’t happened yet. You just need to relax.” Fast forward a couple of years and a fertility clinic later and it turned into, “Just relax! As soon as you stop thinking about it, it will happen.” “You don’t need to go to that clinic, you just need to relax.” “All you need is one quiet night and a bottle of champagne. Just relax and Voila!”

Are you effing kidding me?!? Don’t you think if I wasn’t so hopped up on drugs and hormones that I wouldn’t love to down a bottle of wine right now?!? I was relaxed when we started trying. Are you, with all of your medical degrees, seriously telling me to just relax when my life is nothing but hormones, needles, pills, stirrups, temperature charts, doctors, and timed sex like it is a 9-5 job? Just relax, huh….

I get that they are all very well-meaning statements. But, at least in my case, that was the last thing I wanted to hear from anyone. It always so annoyed me that people (who, of course, had no problems at all having kids of their own) felt like they knew so much about me, my body, and our lives as a couple that they really thought that “relaxing” was the only problem. Been there, done that, DIDN’T WORK.

At the height of my drug regimen, I seriously thought I would rip a tree right out of the ground and jam it down the next person’s throat who told me to relax. It got so bad that I didn’t even want to be around “normal” people anymore. It just took up too much energy to try to stay polite, smile and nod my head like this was the most genius advice I had ever heard and certainly why hadn’t I thought of that before? It was just too draining. I didn’t have enough energy left in me to deal with that too. And if I wasn’t supposed to be getting stressed out, then certainly removing myself from that stressful situation must be the way to go.

I was lucky enough to finally be blessed with my baby, but that phrase can still drive me up the wall. Now it tends to gear more toward other aspects of my life. Apparently, my happiness isn’t enough – I seem to be much too busy for other people’s comfort. And if I happen to admit that I’m tired, it certainly couldn’t be because I’ve been chasing after a 2-year-old all day. It must be because I just need to relax. Not quite sure how that works with a toddler around, one that I just want to soak up every second with, but apparently that’s what I need.

Maybe I do, but please, leave it to my yoga teacher to say it.
Deep breath….

Structure Change

This blog was originally started to be specifically about infertility and all of the craziness that surrounds it. Unfortunately, soon after it started, we had to put production on hold for a while. This hiatus, however, also gave me the time to realize that focusing on infertility was not the right way to go. I wanted the blog to be a place that could offer some hope for others in this situation, and to provide a place that could offer not only advice and information, but just plain ole companionship too. Sometimes a couple can get so caught up in the world of IF that you begin to feel isolated. You feel like the only people in the world in that situation.

I realized that real hope is believing your life can move on from infertility in one way or another. The blog needed to reflect that. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere. So I have changed the structure of this blog. Besides the new design and formatting, we will now offer topics that not only include infertility, but pregnancy, adoption, parenting, family health, and all of life’s little IFs. There will always be uncertainties and fears in any situation, but there is joy too. Hope and determination can move us on to the next step at any time. The IF may always be there, but so will the light. We just have to keep moving forward…

More Sunshine = More Babies??

As amazing as modern medicine and science is, sometimes it really does just take something natural to make (or break) a miracle. And when you really think about it, it does make sense.

Take the sunshine, for instance. We know that on the one hand, it can make us burn and peel and feel miserable. And worst case scenario, it can give us cancer. On the other hand, we can’t survive without it.  It affects everything around us. Sunshine helps all the plants and animals to grow. It keeps our planet at just the right temperature so we can survive. It helps us differentiate between day and night. It is literally the center of the universe. So why shouldn’t it play a part in our own body cycles as well?

There has been increasing findings that the sun and the natural Vitamin D it provides can play a factor in diseases like Multiple Sclerosis and even the body’s natural immunity. But what about fertility? Studies on the role of light in both women’s and men’s cycles started back in the 1960s. But not until recently are these multidisciplinary studies showing that yes, light does play a factor in fertility – perhaps a major factor.

In terms of the body, light keeps the “circadian pacemaker” (basically the body’s master clock) on track with the usual 24 hour day. If we don’t get the right kinds of light, our bodies go out of synch with the world, and our body systems go out of synch with our bodies. We need to have a very clear distinction between the light of day and the dark of night for our bodies to perform at its top notch potential. But in a world of increasing technology where many of us spend the majority of our week working inside with artificial lights and the glow of computer screens, and our nights surrounded by more artificial lights, blinking screens, glows from charging cell phones, IPODs, digital clocks, etc., how are we supposed to help our bodies stay on track?

Ann Douglas offers several tips in the winter issue of Conceive Magazine

1. Try to keep your body in synch with the solar day. To cue your body to stop producing the nighttime hormone, melatonin, take a walk in the morning (outside).
2. Enjoy the sunshine – That whole Vitamin D thing is currently believed to affect at least 1000 different genes in our bodies that control every tissue. Studies are showing that melatonin may act directly on the reproductive tissues – meaning that women are more fertile during the time of year when there is the most daylight.
3. Don’t leave out your man! Vitamin D is very important in male fertility as well.  Light also boosts the luteinizing hormone which raises testosterone levels in men.
4. Try to keep a regular schedule not only in your everyday life, but in travels as well. Flying across time zones can really throw off your body too.
5. If you’re in an area where you just can’t get enough sunlight, consider using alternative light therapies. There are devices to block blue light, to increase light exposure, and to mimic the natural rhythm of moonlight which can help regulate ovulation.

For more info on some of these options, check: lowbluelights.com and luness.com

Source: Douglas, Ann. Light and Fertility. Conceive Magazine Winter 09/10 Vol. 6 Issue 4 pp. 46-49.