The hidden stress on female caregivers.

So many people are embarrassed to admit that being a caregiver is not part of who they are. That makes the whole experience that much harder. They labor along under the expectations of society, meanwhile taking care of someone who is very ill.

Women are expected to selflessly drop everything to take care of a sick relative, regardless of ability, interest, or skill. Simply being female doesn’t mean that you are also a cook, a nurse, a counselor. These are skills that must be learned. You don’t suddenly know how to care for someone who is terminally ill. Nor do you suddenly have the desire to, just because it is expected of you.

What about your income in the meantime? You don’t still get to take in a paycheck when you quit your job to care for a relative. There is the Family Leave Act – but that only ensures that your job can’t fire you for going on leave. They have to give you a job back. It may not be the job that you had, however. It also does not mean that you will get paid in the meantime. It is leave without pay.

The caregiver’s closeness to their relative is irrelevant. The mother is abusive? Father raped her? Brother stole, lied to her? Mother and father in law are dismissive and treat her like she is stupid? Doesn’t matter – your duty is to tend them, because you are a woman.

This is unreasonable.

There is a reason that my “Death Guilt” post always gets a lot of hits. People don’t talk about this stuff. We should.

When a man is well enough to go home from the hospital but not well enough to take care of himself, he’s sent home if he has a wife there. When the same thing happens with a woman, she’s sent to a nursing home to recuperate. It is assumed that the wife will know how – and be able to (mentally and emotionally) take care of him. It is assumed that a man will not. This is insulting to both sexes.

I’ve heard from people who work in nursing homes that they judge a family that doesn’t visit. They think they are selfish. They don’t know the history of the relationship. They have no way of knowing how abusive (mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically) the person was to their family members. The effects of this abuse remain even when (if) the abuse stops. They may never go away.

Sometimes the abuse stops because the person is no longer able to be abusive – not because they don’t want to. It is far harder to hit someone when you have Parkinson’s disease. It is far harder to insult your children when you have dementia and can’t even remember that they ARE your children.

Being a caregiver should be a gift, not a demand. It should be because you want to, not because it is expected.

Just because your parents gave you life does not mean that you have to take them into your home and care for them when they get old. They chose to have you. You did not choose to have them. This is an unequal relationship.

When you marry, you marry that person – not their family. You make a legal statement that you will stay with them regardless of their health. You do not make the same promises to their parents. There is nothing about the marriage vows that obligates you to sacrifice yourself to take care of them. This is an unspoken assumption that is damaging and must be called out.

Little Red Riding Hood

red-riding2

This is not a simple fairy tale. This is a story designed to control young girls. The moral – stay on the path, or else you will get hurt. This is victim blaming at the core. It teaches that it is Little Red Riding Hood’s fault that she and her grandmother got eaten by the wolf.

The wolf is every single male she ever encounters in her life. The “being eaten” is everything from getting a lesser job to getting raped or killed. This story teaches girls – and only girls – that if we don’t stay in our defined roles then we deserve everything bad that happens to us.

Notice she isn’t even named. Her “name” is what she wears – exterior only. She isn’t even real, just a placeholder. She isn’t a person, but a thing. People look at her outside only.

Notice that it is a strong male who saves her – the hunter comes by and hears the grandmother snoring and decides to investigate. Why is snoring loudly seen as a sign that something is wrong? Do women not snore? Are we expected to maintain control over ourselves at all times – even while unconscious?

Notice that the townspeople don’t send the hunters into the forest to clear it of dangerous animals. They don’t make it safe for her or others.

red-riding

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Art made on a Strathmore art journal – mixed media paper, using various pens and painted using Distress Ink. Words are photocopied from a book about Little Red Riding Hood and then dyed/stamped/inked.

One step back

The “pro-life” and “pro-choice” conversation isn’t getting us anywhere. The most recent election has devolved into counterproductive arguments. It is time to think about the topic from different perspectives. Perhaps we need to take one step back from the conversation in order to see it better. Then we will be able to look at the real problems behind the problem.

Here’s one issue – if we had better contraception then we wouldn’t have a need to even talk about abortion for the vast majority of unwanted pregnancies. Our unwanted pregnancy rate in America, a developed nation, is astounding and embarrassing. If we had safe and effective ways to ensure that women did not get pregnant when they don’t want to, we wouldn’t have to debate pro-choice.

And that is what it is – choice. The very words we use are important. It doesn’t have to be a polarizing discussion of Life versus Death. Choice is something else. It means that women have a choice, a legal and safe option, if they find themselves unintentionally pregnant. The way the discussion is set up, it is White versus Black, with no option for Grey. It is Morning versus Evening with no option for Afternoon.

We’ll never get anywhere when we keep having this conversation this way.

Choice is important. Nobody has the right to force their belief system on someone else. I will not stand by while others attempt to force their beliefs on others by removing their choices in how to live. While I personally don’t want to undergo the difficult decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term, I feel it is not my place to make that decision more difficult than it already is for a woman who finds herself pregnant at a time when she is unable to financially raise a child. It is not just or right to force a woman to become a mother because her options have been taken away from her. Taking this further, it is a form of institutionalized rape to insist that a woman have a child that she does not want. This is what happens when a woman no longer has access to a safe way to end her pregnancy.

Here’s another idea – rather than put all the focus on women, how about we make men accountable for their actions? How about we as a culture insist that men not have sex unless they are willing to raise the child they produce? Men must have an equal burden of responsibility for their actions. As for right now, women are stuck with the short end of the stick.

Men can leave. Women can’t. Women are stuck with the results. A one-night stand can change a woman’s life forever. A man can walk away. Sure, the woman can attempt to sue for child support, but there’s no guarantee she’ll get it. Then she is stuck with a child she didn’t expect or plan for. Having a child raises your expenses dramatically. That money doesn’t appear out of thin air.

To everyone who wants abortion to be made legal – are you willing to personally adopt every child who is conceived unintentionally? Of if not that, are you willing to pay for the food, housing, and education of every child who is conceived unintentionally?

Barring that, let us work towards reducing the rate of unintentional pregnancies. If women don’t get pregnant unless they are planning on it, then we won’t even have to worry about abortions.

Sexism works both ways

To vote for someone because of their gender is just as sexist as voting against someone because of their gender.

Women may think that they are being feminist by voting for Hillary Clinton because she is female, but by default they are choosing to vote against Donald Trump because he is male. To make a decision based on gender is sexist even if you think that your decision is positive. People who voted for men in the past didn’t think that they were voting against women, but by default they were. You have to choose one or another. But if your main criteria for selection is gender, then that is sexist.

The same thing happens when women decide to make their God female. When they worship the Goddess they are making God in their own image. They are making God into something that looks like them.

When we have hiring policies that force employers to hire people based on their gender or their race in order to make up a difference from the past we are again being sexist or racist. They don’t appear so because we are making up for a previous deficiency. We are righting a wrong.

But when you select someone in the positive you by default are leaving out someone in the negative. In choosing a black woman over a white man for a job purely because of gender or race rather than ability you are by default not choosing the other as an employee because of his gender and race. You may think that you are making a positive choice but by your seemingly positive choice you are by default leaving out someone else.

We need to vote for and hire people, not packages. We need to vote for and hire what is inside rather than what is outside.

The real problem with Trump

I rarely discuss politics, but this topic has reached a head and it is time to say something.

Trump is not saying anything new. But by his position of authority he is validating it.

He is saying that it is OK, and even praiseworthy, to be violent against women and others. He pretends that it is seen as manly. That is the problem.

He and his followers represent the very worst of our society. They are people who put down women, the handicapped, immigrants, veterans with PTSD – in short, anyone that they see as weaker than themselves. This is bully mentality.

I had hoped that by 2016 we would be past this kind of thinking, but it turns out that the mean people just went quiet for a while – just long enough for their champion to crawl out from the woodwork.

All the rights of the disenfranchised are at risk if he wins.  All the civil rights progress that has been made in the past century are on the table.  Marriage for all – questionable. The Americans with Disabilities Act – questionable. Do we really need to go backwards in being kind and accommodating and inclusive?

He even talks about taking away the right of women to vote.  People say he’s joking – surely he can’t be serious. But I’m sure they said that in Iran before the government changed ideologies.  Women used to be able to dress however they wanted.  They could be doctors, teachers, lawyers.   Now, they are almost invisible.  It can happen here too.

I wonder what fear motivates Trump and his followers?  Are they afraid that by including more people at the table, there won’t be enough for them?  Are they afraid that granting rights to more people will take away their own rights?

Inclusion doesn’t work like that.  When we grant civil rights to people, we open up more opportunity, rather than take away.  Allowing gay people to marry doesn’t threaten the rights of straight people to marry.  This isn’t a game of musical chairs.  We can all win.  There isn’t a limited amount of freedom available.  Nothing is getting taken away.

But perhaps that is their fear, because make no doubt about it – fear is the motivator here.  They’ve been in power for so long, they are afraid that they will lose it by granting freedom to others.

Think of it this way – Buddha once said “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Civil rights are the same.  Granting civil rights to others doesn’t take away from anyone.  It expands, not contracts.  Nobody is losing anything.

 

Perhaps the poet Edwin Markham has the answer –

He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle and took him In!”

 

Uncomfortable tale

(Trigger warning – sexual abuse)

After his 34-year-old wife Laura Levis suffered a devastating asthma attack and later died, the Boston writer Peter DeMarco wrote the following letter to the ICU staff of CHA Cambridge Hospital who cared for her and helped him cope.

His letter, published online in the New York Times on October 6th, went viral.  It goes on for quite a long time in detail about the incredibly kind and compassionate care that the nurses gave him and his wife.

Here is the part that I have a huge problem with. This occurred in the hour just before she was to go into organ donor surgery – where her organs were to be what is euphemistically termed as “harvested”.

These are his words.

“I nestled my body against hers. She looked so beautiful, and I told her so, stroking her hair and face. Pulling her gown down slightly, I kissed her breasts, and laid my head on her chest, feeling it rise and fall with each breath, her heartbeat in my ear. It was our last tender moment as a husband and a wife, and it was more natural and pure and comforting than anything I’ve ever felt. And then I fell asleep.”

This is from the same person who observed earlier in his letter, in talking about the nurses –  “When you listened to her heart and lungs through your stethoscopes, and her gown began to slip, you pulled it up to respectfully cover her.”

His wife was comatose and dying.  Yet he found it acceptable to engage in a sexual act on her  – obviously without her consent.  It wasn’t “with” her – she was present in body only.  She did not participate.

He thought it was respectful for the staff to cover her up – yet he felt it was OK for him to uncover her.

And then he felt it was OK to write about it in a public way.

I am sickened by this man.

I’m sorry that his wife died, but I’m more sorry for her spirit that he felt it was OK to violate her dignity by his action – and then again by publicizing it.

Let’s make this clear –

Just because he is married doesn’t mean he has full access to her body, at all times.  It is still her body, and her decision as to what happens to her.  It is never OK to perform a sexual act on anyone if they are unconscious – even if they are married to you.

 

 

Docility through culture

We’ve slowly developed a culture that tells women that they deserve to drink – that it is a sign of being a mature woman. This is simply another way of getting us to be submissive and docile. A drunk woman doesn’t stand up when she’s being pushed around. She just goes and refills her glass.

Just because alcohol is legal doesn’t make it safe. It may be culturally acceptable to have a drink but that doesn’t mean that regularly doing so is good for our well-being.

When I finally decided to stop smoking pot, I learned I was a very angry person. I had a lot of learning to do – learning that I stopped doing when I started smoking to “enjoy” life. I had to learn how to stand up for myself and set boundaries and decide how I wanted to live my life on my terms. I’d been covering up my pain with pot all those years.

Now that drinking is something that our culture says adult women do, we need to step back and examine the repercussions. If more women drink, then more women will accept that the way things are is the way things should be. We will become numb to our own pain, rather than working to change it.

Now more than ever is a time to be awake. Being conscious and involved in life isn’t easy, but sleeping through it is wasteful and sad.