Category Archives: Family

Parental notification about abortion – no thanks

Today some dipsticks called Right to Life called for the government to make parental notification for teenagers having abortions mandatory. They said cute things like “The Denial of Parental Notification is child Abuse” (weird capitalisation theirs). Well. I am of the considered opinion that this is bullshit.

I have reasons to have an opinion on this. I had a child when I was 17, and another when I was 20. Between those I had an abortion. The results of those two pregnancies were two wonderful girls, and the elder is almost a teenager. This is a topic highly relevant to me.

My twelve-year-old is a lovely girl, and she as every right to bodily autonomy. I think she’s too young for sex, and I hope she thinks so too, but if she were to end up pregnant and wanting an abortion, she should have access to it. Maybe questions should be asked, because I don’t want her to be a silent victim of rape or anything, but she should have that access. I hope she would be able to tell me – but if she can’t, her health and her body is much more important than my knowledge of what she’s up to.

She can trust me to be sensible about this – but she cannot trust her religious father, who could try and force her to keep the baby. Notifying him could be a complete disaster for her, and I am utterly against it. She’s also a sensitive soul, and she needs to be able to tell me when she’s ready, not because she’s forced to.

I had an abortion. I do not regret it for one moment. It was absolutely the right thing to do at the time, and having two children under two would have been catastrophic for my mental health.

My girls are their own people, even though they are young. I hope they trust me – but I care more about them making the best choices for themselves than I do about knowing about it. I want them to be able to trust their health care workers and counsellors to help them and give them good advice, not be scared that they will tell me or their fathers and drop them in a pile of shit.

 

Should parents be informed of their daughters’ abortions?

Or worse, should they have power of veto? The subject has been raised in New Zealand recently, and some of the things that are being said just utterly horrify me.

I was raised in a household where abortions were just absolutely off the table. So when I found myself pregnant at 16, it was never even an option. I carried my child, and I raised her. To be honest, I don’t really know what my parents would have wanted me to do – the strength of the religion that had been pounded into me meant that I went blindly forward with what I believed was God’s will, and damned if I was going to listen to anything that didn’t mesh with my ideas of right and wrong. I was the sort of person that I would be ashamed to raise – dogged and dogmatic and unthinking and narrow-minded. But that is then.

If I had elected to have an abortion, then I do not know if my father and stepmother, who were the only family I had around, would have approved. I strongly suspect that things would not have gone well for me had that been my choice (not that things went smoothly for me anyway, but that’s not the point). Mine is not a good example of what could go wrong for vulnerable pregnant girls, though. I was already responsible for myself, living out of home, and generally not supported by my family. Things were not going to get dramatically worse for me,

If I had been at home though, and relying on my very religious family, then them finding out about me making the hypothetical  decision to have an abortion could have landed me out of home. No, worse than that – if it was not already a done deal, I would have been pressured out of it, or outright forbidden to go through with it. My body was not my own, you see. It belonged to God and whoever God delegated his authority to. So in a religious setting, informing the parents is not a safe thing to do.

Parents like to think that they have a right to know what their teenage daughter does with her body. But they have to acknowledge that she has choices, and agency, and they cannot control her or dictate to her for the long-term, so letting go in the short term is necessary and healthy. Giving her knowledge, information, and power over her own body is the best thing they can do for their child.

One comment that just left me floored was “maybe the father of the baby should have a choice – he may want the baby” . . . I’m sorry, are you kidding me? It’s her body. Not his. Until he can be pregnant and give birth in her place, he doesn’t actually get a say in what she chooses to do unless she wants him to. Basic bodily autonomy 101 here, kids. It’s not the father’s choice. It’s not the parents’ choice. It’s up to the girl – and only the girl.

I have two daughters of my own, and one of them is just hitting puberty. I understand the impulse to control and to guard and to protect, but it’s impulse that does no one any justice. Build your relationship with your girl. Build trust and love and acceptance, so that she knows that if things go awry she can come to you. Let her know what you would do in such a situation – tell her up-front that you will support her in whatever way you see fit, whether that’s that you would support an abortion but not a baby or vice versa, or whether you would be there for her and do everything you can for her no matter what she chooses in a situation like that. Educate her so she knows how biology works, how to stay safe and healthy, and support her to get whatever contraceptives she needs.

Maybe I’m being idealistic, and maybe I’ll feel different about my girls as they grow, but I don’t think so. I want to trust them and empower them in a way that I never was, so they can make these sorts of decisions, about love and sex and abortion and parenthood and growing up, with their eyes wide open.

I was a teen mother. I also had an abortion when my daughter was less than a year old, because I couldn’t cope with two under two. I never told my husband that, because he was part of the religious tradition that condemned such things – but I did what was right for my physical and mental health. I have walked both roads, and I would hold my child’s hand down whichever one they chose, if it came to that.

Making good food choices

One of the themes that I’ve seen in the Ministry of Health literature that I’ve been looking at is the idea of healthy eating. It’s always framed as a choice – making good food choices for yourself and your family prevents obesity, protects their oral health, and promotes a healthy lifestyle. So why would anyone not make ‘good food choices’?

Shall we talk about how expensive it is? Fatty mince can be picked up for $8 a kilo – good lean mince can be up to $14. Chicken wings and drumsticks are much cheaper than lower-fat breast, and fatty chops are cheaper than steak. A good quality sausage will set you back $13/kilo, while crappy precooked horrors are less than $8. Just looking at meat, ‘good food choices’ are expensive, at out of reach for struggling families.

Spuds and onions are cheap, but peppers and tomatoes and greens can be very expensive. Eating a wide variety of vegetables just isn’t practical. Apples are often cheap enough, but that’s not a great variety on the fruit front. Maybe oranges for a change? If they’re in season, that is.

Milk is expensive, but coke is cheap. Cheese is expensive, but chips are cheap. Lean ham is expensive, but luncheon meat is cheap. Good food is expensive, but crap is cheap.

Personal tastes also come into it. If a kid is going to refuse broccoli and throw it on the floor, it’s a waste few poor people can absorb. Better to feed them food they will eat than waste the food we can’t afford, is the (very logical) thought going into this.

It’s not always about making good choices. It’s about making the choices you can with the resources you have.

Hearing aids – the good and the bad of funding

Today I came across a gofundme campaign for a 14-year-old girl who needs hearing aids. They need around $6000 to get her these, and there’s little to no funding available, partly because they’re just not poor enough, and partly because America is bloody ridiculous. She’s probably had hearing loss from birth, and hearing aids will change her world. I know, because I watched the day my daughter got hers.

My youngest has moderate hearing loss. It’s not extreme, she’s not deaf, but she doesn’t hear well at all. It’s more difficult than most moderate hearing because she has an unusual loss pattern – she can’t hear right in the middle of the vocal range, so the things she can’t hear aren’t necessarily quiet noises – she can hear some of them. What she can’t hear are people’s voices. The magic of turning her hearing aids on and seeing her hear me properly for the first time was absolute magic. The change in her coping ability was massive – she wasn’t constantly frustrated by not hearing things properly any more. The difference in her schooling – she can hear what’s going on, she can follow the instructions now that she hears them, she gets in trouble less because she’s not constantly frustrated and does what she’s told. Magic.

Her hearing aids come in at just under $4,000 for the pair, plus testing, fitting, and incidentals like batteries and repairs. How much have we paid so far? About $20 in parking fees for the local hospital. Every child under 16 in this country gets their hearing aids absolutely free (or up to age 21 if still in full-time schooling). It’s great.

Things get a little more difficult when a child leaves school and officially becomes an adult. At that point there are two schemes in place –  the Hearing Aid Subsidy Scheme and the Hearing Aid Funding Scheme. The Funding Scheme pays for hearing aids once every six years, plus repairs as needed. The Subsidy Scheme pays a certain amount toward the costs of hearing aids once every six years.

The Funding Scheme is for children who graduate into adulthood with severe hearing loss. My girl does not have severe hearing loss – she has only moderate hearing loss, but in a difficult way, as I said. So she does not qualify for Funding.

That leaves the Subsidy Scheme, which is available to anyone needing hearing aids. That’s kind of neat, too, that anyone can access some funding for a problem that can be disabling for many people. It interferes with work, with leisure, with family life – it’s a big deal, even when only mild or moderate. Unfortunately the amount is not ideal. It’s $511.11 per hearing aid, per six year period. you may remember that my girl’s hearing aids cost the best part of $4,000. The difference is staggering.

Low-end hearing aids can cost as little as $800 each, but they’re called low-end for a reason. Mid-range cost up to about $1,500, and they’re a bit better, but for an active young person who goes to cafes and pubs, who goes to group meetings and is generally in complex aural situations, a high-end device can cost up to $3,000 – per ear. (Figures are from a government document that I cannot locate at this time). The shortfall is massive.

We are lucky, in that at this time and probably in the future we will be able to help her pay for such a huge investment, the way we pay for her sister’s glasses at the moment. What if we were not so lucky? What if I hadn’t found a decent job and was living on minimum wage – or a benefit? Hearing loss is a reality for families at all income levels, and graduating from a free service to suddenly being left with almost nothing means the end of good hearing for many people, with the social and workplace handicaps that entails. This prevents those with moderate hearing loss from achieving and earning at their highest potential.

I know that in the end it comes down to budget, and budget is something that I would struggle to allocate. Surely this, though, is something that would provide a net gain on investment due to the increased ability to pay tax on better jobs acquired through better hearing? Perhaps I am naive, but it would seem to me to be a decent investment.

National Standards and the non-standard child

Today was the ‘warning! National Standard garbage ahead’ edition of the school newsletter. The principal (a wonderful man, who does not deserve the garbage that our education system throws at school teachers and administrators) wrote a long and comforting spiel about how interim reporting is coming up next term, and for several reasons we as parents should not get wound up about the contents of these reports.

He raised some good points. Importantly, a standard is designed to be measured just once, at the end of the year, but is mandated to be reported on twice, once half-way through the year and again at the end. Thus, the mid-year report often shows a child as underachieving because they’re only half-way through the learning set for the year. Of course they’re not at standard! They haven’t yet learned all the things they need to know to achieve standard, and more than that, they’re not supposed to have yet. But yay, let’s worry parents into believing their child isn’t doing as well as they are.

Another point was the sheer bluntness of the standard being measured. There are only four levels. Above, At, Below. or Well Below Standard. There are no layers of excellence, but there are dire levels of inadequacy. Worse, a teacher is expected to make an overall judgement on the level the student is achieving at – I have no idea how that works with a math whiz who can’t spell to save their life.

Finally, there is the issue that we crash into, about twice a year, every year. Right about reporting day. That’s the one where the standard changes. Every year the standard shifts a little higher, so a child that sits below standard can improve hugely, do really well when measured against themselves, but still be below standard at the end of the year.

How painfully demoralising! To get better and better and still be told that you’re not good enough! To continually improve, but to never measure up to the standard expected of people your age. There’s no shades of meaning or sense of achievement for being better than you’ve ever been before.

My younger daughter is borderline intellectually disabled. She will always struggle in school. Her teachers tell us every year that they hate writing her standardised report, because it just pigeonholes her as ‘Well Below Standard’. It says nothing about the gains she has made, nothing of how much they’ve seen her grow, and absolutely nothing about how very hard she’s worked.

It more than erases her efforts though. In using this ugly club of a ‘tool’, the task of actually assessing and expressing where she stands is pounded under the pile of horseshit known as ‘Well Below’. It’s taken me a long time to work out how far behind she is, because I’ve never thought to ask. I’ve been accepting ‘Well Below’ without questioning. Now, for my own sanity, I need to know – how far below? How well is she progressing? Is she falling further behind? Catching up? Just puttering along the same trajectory as everyone else, just with a lower start point? National Standards don’t tell me any of this.

National Standards are a signal failure. They do not tell the average parent much about how their child is doing, and they utterly fail the parent of a non-standard child. They add to teachers’ workloads, without providing meaningful information to parents. I do not remember what it was like pre-National Standards – but it had to be better than it is now.

Seeing her in a new way

I went to see my younger daughter’s end-of-term drama performance today. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen! The oldest kid there couldn’t have been more than nine or ten, and they had all learned their lines so well and performed wonderfully. Of course there were the expected number of slip-ups and forgotten lines, but every parent there could be legitimately proud of the work their kids had done. No false ‘oh my kid is the wonderfullest thing ever!’, they really all did well.

My daughter is seven, and there were two girls her age, and a few others that may have been younger than her. But she was the youngest brain there. It hit me, more than it ever has before, that she is different.

She has a (finally confirmed) condition called Valproate Syndrome, which is a result of the sodium valproate (Epilim) I was on during my pregnancy to control epilepsy. I’ve suspected it for a long time, but I’m not that keen on letting Dr Google diagnose something that important, so we have been waiting on results from genetic testing and paediatrics. Just before Christmas, her paediatrician confirmed that it was valproate syndrome that they had been considering, and that the testing that we had been through had eliminated other genetic disorders, leaving valproate syndrome as the last one standing. It was good to finally have a name for everything that has been going on.

To be honest, I don’t know a hell of a lot about the syndrome. I have spoken to an organisation about getting more information, and I might consult Dr Google now that I have a diagnosis. What I do know is that it causes a very specific facial phenotype, which she fits very well (this particular phenotype makes kids with the syndrome very cute. It’s a bonus). Other key features are hearing difficulties (yup) and mental retardation, as one friendly website described it. There will be more, but those are the ones that have affected us so far.

Until today, I had accepted that she was different from other kids, but I’ve seen her in isolation. I don’t really see her hanging out with other kids or interacting with them. Today was eye-opening.

She’s seven, but she would have fitted right in with some of the kindy kids in the audience. Her mind is just very young. I’ve known it academically for a long time, but it’s only now that I’ve known it viscerally.

I know that she is always making progress against her own standard (we threw away National Standards as something to measure her by a long time ago), but I don’t even know if she’s progressing at the same rate as everyone else, just with a lower starting point, or whether she is falling further behind. I don’t know what her limitations will end up being, whether she’ll be able to move out of home but on a later schedule, or whether as some point she will stop developing and remain dependent to some degree. I just don’t know. She’s only seven, so I guess it’s all just about watching and waiting.

I went to a morning tea with a group of women with disabled children, and at the time I felt out of place. They all had children that had so many more issues! But today I realised, she is in a similar boat to children with Down Syndrome – except that her disabilities are less known and understood. I’ve walked a road not dissimilar to the one many of these women have, with the endless hospital appointments and dealing with the difficulties of raising a ‘different’ child.

The road ahead of us is murky. Paediatrics couldn’t tell us a lot – I suspect that we might be one of a very small group of kids with valproate syndrome that they deal with – maybe even a group of one. There’s not a hell of a lot of easily accessed information on the internet – much of it will require some decoding. I haven’t found anything talking about the features of growing up with valproate syndrome and life histories of people that have it – despite the first cases being identified in the 1980s. There must be people my age with it – but I know nothing about them. I will have to dig deeper, I think.

My dream has been to kick the kids out of home by the time I’m about forty and go live the life I didn’t have as a young adult. I don’t know how to modify my dream, because I have no idea what shape her life will take, and I’m struggling with that. I’m not wedded to the dream, but I’m not good with uncertainty, at all.

Meanwhile, she’s happy, healthy, friendly, cute, popular, and has all the features of a good, happy child’s life. She does not suffer for her disabilities, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Depressed brains are jerks

So you see a post on social media, tagging a bunch of your friends but not you. It’s a group thing, but they’re not deliberately excluding you. You just weren’t around much, or weren’t there at the time, or whatever. It’s just a bunch of your friends having a group smile over something. You smile and scroll on.

Or, if you’re prone to depression, it weighs on you. They don’t want you around, your depressed brain says. You’re not really part of the group. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you’re just not one of them. It doesn’t matter what they say, you can tell that it’s just words to cover up the fact that they just don’t like you that much.

Depressed brains are jerks. They lie to you, all the time. Even when you’re ‘well’, they taunt you with this kind of garbage. Even if you’re well enough to know that it’s not true, the thoughts come anyway, and you have to actively deal with them in various ways, to stop yourself sinking back into depression.

Depressed brains are jerks. They steal away your peace of mind in favour of whatever turmoil they can conjure up. They affect every part of your life – these kind of thoughts come up around work, home life, friendships and family relationships, anything and everything gets caught up. It gets exhausting actively fighting off these thoughts when they infect your entire world.

Depressed brains are jerks.