Monday, May 24, 2010

Dying in childbirth...in 2010???

I read the Sunday LA Times yesterday and was beyond shocked to come across an article that discussed the alarming trend in American maternal deaths. Each day in The U.S., two women die of problems related to pregnancy. Black maternal deaths are four times higher. The numbers are rising for reasons which are unknown, and in California alone the rates have tripled since 1999. One third of these deaths are preventable, say experts. What's even more alarming is that the U.S. spends more per birth than any other nation, yet the mortality rate is higher here than in 40 other industrialized countries, and is double that of Canada and Western Europe. That's tough to make sense of. Which is why the human rights organization, Amnesty International, released a report this year calling for sweeping changes in our maternal healthcare.

Experts are weighing in and giving some opinions and their reasons for the rise. It seems there's a mismatch between the way American medicine delivers babies and the changing profile of the American mother. We are getting pregnant older, with more of us are giving birth in our 30's and 40's when risks of complications can occur. And almost 25% of women of childbearing age are obese and thus at higher risk for complications. The bottom line is physicians haven't adapted their approach to childbirth to accommodate these new risks.

We as mothers need to educate ourselves to certain trends in childbirth and the risks they carry with their seeming benefits. Experts are implicating the rise in rates of cesarean sections - which account for one third of all births (I can't believe this stat) - also up from 1999, playing a part. Although some are done to save the life of a mother and her baby, half of them are elective, and therefore, unnecessary. After one C-section, they are typically recommended for subsequent pregnancies. Yet, we should remember,these are major operations and should not be taken lightly because each additional C-section can increase the risk of placental complications and threaten the lives of mother and baby. Also a trend in childbirth is the induction or prompting of labor by medication (pitocin), which is sometimes necessary, but more often than not just elective for a doctor's or patient's convenience. When did childbirth become a convenience? That has climbed by 22% in the last decade! The problem with induced labor is the uterus may not be ready, leading to prolonged labor. After delivery, the exhausted muscle may not contract properly to stop bleeding. Then blood can no longer clot and can lead to hemorrhaging which obviously elevates the risk of death. Another culprit is the widespread use of electronically monitoring women in early labor which keeps staff passive, the patient neglected, and warning signs may be missed.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hatin' on Facebook: the pressures of social networking

Am I the only person who hates Facebook?

Friends and family encouraged me to sign up for Facebook, but I held out, refusing for some intuitive reason. People Twittering "I just had the best mocha Frappuccino of my life!" and others summing their current complicated state of affairs into clever one liners depressed me somehow. The information superhighway felt lonely with all its banal generalities - no real, deep human connection it seemed from from the outside looking in. I finally capitulated despite my reservations, under the guise of social networking for this blog and the book I've been writing (forever it seems). And now that I am a full-fledged Facebook member I realize how crazy that rationalization was. Because at the end of the day, I am the least self-promoting person there is...I never advertise my posts! Ever. I send these blogs out into the blogosphere thinking I'm writing letters to my close friends and that feels much more grounded and authentic, as opposed to advertising and therefore implying "Hey, check out my musings. I'm a writing genius." I'll obviously have to cultivate a more self-propagating attitude if I'm at all interested in having more readers down the line!!

My mom, who predominantly pushed FB, has a huge following of Friends herself. She said "It's OK if you don't want to be Friends with someone, you can politely decline their request. No big deal." She assured me they'd never know I'd snubbed them...and I naively believed her. So I signed up and people came out of the woodwork in droves. I've had the privilege, thanks to my mom's line of work, of going to many schools in exotic places while I grew up, so lots of classmates, teachers, friends and acquaintances came forward... Some were both amazing and startling to hear from, but once the novelty wore off, I realized I was expected to stoke these friendships to keep them going. People wanted news and personal banter, not just a quick update and then head back into obscurity. I was reminded how nutty I actually am when I'd feel panic that I might be letting these new Friends down when I didn't answer their questions; or that I might hurt others if i didn't press "Accept." I am decidedly way too Codependent for FB; I worry way too much about others' feelings...to a fault. "How's your life? How was your public divorce? What have you been doing for the last 20 years?" I want to type back "Oh go crawl back under your rock. There's a reason we didn't stay in touch way back when..." I know , it doesn't sound "friendly" at all, in fact, it's downright hostile.

The truth is, these days I feel pulled in so many directions. It's a full plate with kids, girlfriends, family - and I am a big time communicator. I love nothing more than sitting down with my circle of people and connecting by sharing from the heart. I just can't do soundbites and I am ultimately disinterested in widening my immediate circle and taking time away from those that matter to share platitudes.

I am clearly not a good Facebook candidate. I never update or upload new photos. And I have over 100 people waiting to hear back from me. It doesn't make me feel popular, it's just that I've covered some terrain in my day and met a lot of people on the journey. So I remain passive. With an open page that is neglected. Maybe one day I'll delete myself entirely or maybe one day I'll feel a surge of ambition and I'll use that page to direct traffic to my humble blog, "The M.I.L.K."

Oh, and by the way Mom, I've had at least eight people come to me at the gym, the grocery store, and the park and ask me point blank why I have not agreed to be their Friend on Facebook. Each time I'd try my best to explain (and backpedal)and they'd give me a look that I read as 'slightly hurt with a trace of suspicion.' So they do take it personally...just as I had suspected!! And people are keeping track of who says yes and who says no. Total nightmare for me, so of course, I'd dutifully head home after those exchanges and "befriend" them... Like I said, total Codependent.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Crap! I'm a Stage Mom!


I’ve grown up around show business my whole life. With my mom being a renowned model and actress, I was pretty much exposed to both industries from birth. I later married an actor and had kids with him, then remarried another actor again years later. I have seen enough of the business from the inside out to feel somewhat sophisticated about it, and dare I say, jaded by the flash and illusions that that world propagates. I can give or a take a red carpet these days and with all the celebrity sightings and run-ins in my Hollywood community, I am rarely phased by any of it. So I like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t subscribe to the shenanigans Tinseltown cultivates. But isn’t it true that once you espouse a belief about yourself and really take it on as your truth, the Universe challenges it…and in my case, often in the form of my children.
My rude awakening was at Halloween when Eliana was loaned a Marie Antoinette costume that had come all the way from Versailles itself. Thankfully, for the integrity of my daughter’s and my relationship, she was game to wear it. Otherwise I had already built a case in my mind that if she refused and instead lobbied to be pedestrian Gabrielle from High School Musical, we were definitely going to have a throw-down. I immediately went to work and located the 'de rigeur' special white face powder from a professional makeup artist’s store; borrowed a fabulous fake emerald tiara from a friend; ordered a white, piled high wig online and dug through decorations to find a little stuffed bird (Marie Antoinette often put unusual objects in her ornate hairstyles). And finally, together we watched Sofia Coppola’s sumptuous biographical movie in preparation for the big night of trick-or-treating.
And she did look perfect. My husband shook his head watching me in a flurry of activity primping Eliana to within an inch of her life. To say I was ‘into it,’ was a gross understatement. Later that night, when she won First Prize for Best Costume at a creatively competitive costume party, beating out a hundred other kids, I whooped and high-fived everyone around me. I startled my husband and son, with my unusual display of public enthusiasm, instead of my usually socially reserved self. I kept repeating loudly, “She won! She won!” to anyone and everyone around me. Peripherally, I could see my husband and son inching away from me, and even my daughter, from the makeshift stage, I could tell was mortally embarrassed. I surprised myself, and acknowledged inwardly right then and there, “I’m a Stage Mom…who knew?’
I began embracing it. When casting announcements were made for her first school play last year, I was hugely disappointed when she was given a made-up part in High School Musical: “a friend of Sharpay’s.” But I hid it well with “That’s great honey! You bring all your personality to it and you’ll shine out there no matter how small your part.” Props to me! I sat through that painfully low budget performance with its requisite wooden acting, and I silently cursed the director for not highlighting my super-talented daughter’s abilities by not giving her a meatier role. In the car ride on the way home, I ‘constructively’ pointed out to Eliana that she was downstage and profile the entire show. “But that’s how Miss Amanda told me stand, Mommy.” And here it comes, the ultimate Stage Mom-standing-in-the-wings stage direction, “Ellie, you always face the audience, Honey. Doesn’t matter what the director tells you. You can always just turn your head to face the audience and your body stays on your mark to keep the director happy, OK? Otherwise no one gets to see you and your beautiful face up there.” Yikes! The car was silent for a moment, as I took stock of my own advice. My husband looked over at me - a man who does this for a living, mind you - and rolled his eyes, “OK simmer down Mrs. Ramsey… We don’t want to create a monster, here. Ellie, you did great. Don’t listen to your mom right now, she’s under the influence of her own insane, twisted ambition!” We laughed heartily at my newly developing persona… It seems I was the one becoming a monster!
This year, when casting for the production of Hairspray went into effect, I just knew in my heart Eliana was going to get chosen for the plum role of Tracy - the lead in the musical. She knew every song (and sang it beautifully, I might add). Physically she was perfect; she looked exactly like a miniature version of John Waters’ original movie character, Tracy. I told Ellie to raise her hand when Miss Amanda asked everyone if they wanted central parts in the show, and to make sure during the weeks leading up to Miss Amanda’s decision, that she sang directly into the mike and stayed focused during rehearsals. I must tell you that Ellie is naturally an outgoing, unbelievably charismatic little person who dances and sings wherever she goes. It’s in her nature to perform, always has been from birth. Not to mention she is a bonafide Leo through and through -- the most attention seeking sign in the Zodiac. So this was not a tall request of her I reasoned.
But in the end, after much anticipation for the starring role, she did not get that part. Kudos to me for keeping a stoic face as she cried in the backseat of the car at pickup time… And the bitter pill, yet again, was her assignment of a small part: the diminutive little sister that doesn’t even exist in the real production. We both took it hard. I did a flash forward in my mind to opening night, watching myself arm her with the seemingly supportive, but ultimately freakishly subversive pre-show pep talk backstage: “Now honey, don’t be afraid to take up space; try to sing louder than everyone else; face the audience no matter what you’ve been told; enunciate and sing from your belly; follow through on all your dancing moves with pointed toes and outstretched fingers…”
But I think, for my own progress as a balanced, well-adjusted human being, I will sit this one out and just passively watch the homegrown production that’s sometimes tough to enjoy when your own kid’s not on the stage. Because ultimately, I will encourage her to just relish being a part of a production and developing a love of the craft, not just the showmanship of it. All the more important for me to pass on to her now, as my intuition tells me she will one day follow in both her dads’ footsteps in some capacity in their industry. I coach myself into understanding these are significant lessons for her to know: the value of being a worker amongst workers; that all parts big or small create an inspired collective and a successful production both on the stage and in life. It’s a vital piece of her foundation as an artist, and as a young woman for her to grow towards.
That’ll work for this round of Hairspray, but make no mistake: this summer she’ll be enrolled in a professional theater company… Come the Fall, she’ll be fully equipped to try out again for Miss Amanda and at long last, maybe land the coveted lead in her school play.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bullies and Best Friends

My daughter Eliana came home from school one afternoon in tears: it seems "Mean Girls" starts in 3rd Grade these days... The little girls that had been friends with her since Pre-Kindergarden had now collectively agreed that Eliana was somehow not cool anymore, and befriending her equaled social suicide. She's 8 years old for God's sake! This feeling of betrayal had been a slow build since the beginning of the school year. I noticed something was off when I'd suggest a playdate with a tried-and-true friend and Eliana would say, "Oh we just don't get along anymore." I just chalked that up to kids growing and having different interests. Then I heard rumblings of trouble in casual conversations, when she'd say so-and-so took her lunch, but she "had wanted to share it anyway and wasn't hungry." Red flag: time for motherly intervention. I talked to the teachers and they weren't observing any bullyish behavior, but made an announcement lunches were not to be shared amongst the students.
The day the tears flowed was the day I understood the extent to which Ellie had been holding in the taunting, the ostracizing and the just plain mean behavior with girls shouting around her: "Everyone run from Eliana! Eliana's fat." And if, God forbid, one of the group was "caught" playing with her, the leader of the pack would say right in front of her, "Why are you talking to Eliana? Don't be friends with HER!"
I listened, in shock, trying to make out the details through her great hiccuping tears, unbiasedly thinking to myself what a great person my daughter is: smart, funny, and years ahead of her peers in maturity. Was that it? Was that why she was a target? "Honey, why wouldn't you tell me this has been going on all this time? That's a terrible thing to hold inside and not talk about." She looked at me sheepishly and said, "I didn't want you to call their moms." I looked at her earnest tear-stained face and said gently, "They need to know, honey. I'd want to know if you were behaving that way too, right? It's totally fine for me to try and work this out. Don't be embarrassed, OK?" She looked me square in the face, "Mom, it's Marisa." I recoiled in horror. "Marisa?! No, it can't be." I could feel myself backpedaling already...not my best friend's daughter!!! Ugh! Not the call you want to make. Her daughter and mine had spent many years together, many overnights, and even holidays away. Her daughter was the only child-guest we'd invited to our wedding last summer and they'd flown across the country for it. I reassured Ellie I'd handle it, and in the meantime, I tried to emphasize that this is not what friendship looks like. That these girls were not behaving in a way that real friends do. And as hard as it is to turn the other cheek, she should focus on her other friends right now. I put her to bed, and with my heart hammering away in my chest, I speed dialed Marisa's mom. Who wants to tell their close friend their kid's a bully? What parent wouldn't get defensive hearing that? I love my girlfriend like a sister and that's exactly how I started the conversation. I then told her how uncomfortable I felt, but that this was what was happening to my Ellie throughout the day, spearheaded by her Marisa... And I was reminded why she's such a special person in my life: "Oh that's awful. Marisa can be a real little bitch sometimes. You know what's happening? She's trying out this new persona right now, and I don't like it. I'm going to sit her down and clear this up. Poor Ellie."
I exhaled a huge sigh of relief: for me obviously, but more importantly for my daughter, who had a protector in her frenemy's mom. And the next morning, like every morning, Eliana was grumpy getting out of bed. But halfway through her cream of wheat, she was singing and chatting and being her optimistic, all-accepting self. We should all be so resilient!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ageing through the eyes of babes

The other night, I was putting my son to bed, leaning over him for a kiss goodnight.
"Mom, don't do that," he said sternly.
"What, sweetie? Do what? Kiss you goodnight?"
"No mom, don't lean over me: you look old."
I recoiled in horror and shrieked inwardly, but maintained my cool (the last thing I want is for him to know he has something on me). Jaden has always been obsessed with beauty and perfection: specifically focused on me and my looks. When he was a toddler, before he could speak, he would point at my teeth and grunt emphatically if I had something caught in them to the point where he would even start trying to dig the offending thing out with his pudgy finger. And it was like he couldn't relax until I was restored back to my perfect mommy-self. It became a running gag for many years, when I'd deliberately put a giant leaf of lettuce in my mouth, and playfully torture him, by saying "Hey Jaden do I have anything in my teeth?" And we'd all laugh as he pointed and furrowed his brow intently. The prank ended one day when he looked at me with a mix of boredom and embarrassment, "Mom, stop it. You look dumb."
I continued to notice his magnified focus on my imperfection as he got older, as he began to notice the prematurely gray hair I'm blessed with. If he saw some growth, he'd tell me I looked like Nana, his great-grandmother of 80, and once he even cried, saying I was old and was I going to die soon??!!! I dealt with that by explaining I could fix it thanks to the magic of haircolor. And ever since, he tells me bluntly, "Mom, you have to go to the hairdresser." Brutal, right? Please know, that I am raising the son of a single mom, and we look out for each other, at least that's how I've reframed his observations.
But this latest one, about me leaning over and seeing the wrinkles around my eyes accentuated, made me have to have a talk with him out of fear for his romantic future. I didn't want to send him out in the World in pursuit of the impossibly perfect beauty ideal in a partner. We all know men that criticize their women; men who highlight women's insecurities by holding them up to impossible standards. My boy will not be like that if I have a say in it - and I do. So I told Jaden that ageing is part of living. That beauty changes shape, and faces shift over time; and that a life well-lived filled with laughter, tears and joy is like a road map of our human experience on or souls and faces. He listened intently, and nodded with understanding, then said earnestly, "I get it Mom, but then why does Mina (my mom) look better than you?" Gasp! I smiled stoically, shrugged with seeming indifference, tucked him in (with my head upright!) and promptly booked a facial with my dermatologist the very next morning!! Ah, the insights of our beloved children!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Super Bowl, Dads and Divorce

This weekend, my son's going off to the Super Bowl with his dad - my ex husband - who's not historically been a sports-fan. It's a nice father-son moment for them. When my almost-ten year old passionately yells at fouls the referee calls against The Steelers, his dad will marvel at how much his son has picked up... from my fiance, an avid Steelers fan since childhood. It's one of those reality checks for me, that with my divorce, my children's lives are not as shattered and as broken as I feared they would be when that decision was made, almost four years ago.

When Jaden was seven, he started showing interest in football. As I knew nothing about the game, I asked a sporty guy I was seeing at the time, for tips on teaching him myself. Every day after school we'd practice in the backyard, the two of us, running football drills and plays, while my daughter, Eliana, just 5, twirled and danced around us doing ballet... of course. I felt pretty cool: I was becoming the mom-who-could-be-dad, hurling a beautiful spiral through the air, but who couldn't catch for beans for fear of breaking a nail - which always happened, by the way. Jaden would laugh and watch me curse under my breath, hopping around squeezing my finger, trying to pretend it was no biggie.

He outgrew me as his coach in a short span, and I put him in Little League where he was a natural amongst his peers: a strong arm, a fast runner, and good with plays. He became the darling of the team's coach, Peter Berg, the creator of the iconic football movie and TV show, 'Friday Night Lights'... You can imagine the competitiveness and drive to win on that field: it was next level coaching, and Jaden loved it.

I'd never watched a game before in my life, so I knew that I'd have to educate myself right quick to the rules of NFL football, seeing as Jaden was "planning on becoming a quarterback star" in that league! I sat through the first quarter of a game mid-way through football season, by myself, and I almost burst into tears, overwhelmed with the verbiage: "Third down conversion? Ten-yard penalty? QB rating? Unnecessary roughness? Three/four defense? Blitzing the corners?" And I promptly switched channels to soothing reruns of Top Chef to relieve my rising hysteria. At the kids' school, Rodney Peete, the legendary quarterback's son was in my daughter's class. I told his wife, actress and avid-football fan Holly Robinson, of my dilemma. She knew us ladies (or moms of boys trying to decipher the game) were out there. She wrote a book for us called, "Get your own damn beer! I'm watching the game." I spent the next weekends curled up on the couch, like a total geek, looking from screen to index page in the book, figuring out referee calls, players' positions, defense/ offense language, etc... I felt like I was back in college cramming. I sat triumphantly with Jaden for 2007 Super Bowl with the Colts and Bears, with him looking expectantly at me. I did my best, but I eventually had to pull out my trusty manual/ book. As soon as he saw that, his face fell, crestfallen, like, "Mom needs a cheat-sheet. Mom's fronting. Mom's got no game." He smiled at me generously, and said, "It's Ok, Mom. I just want to watch, anyway." We sat together 'til Half-Time, then he ran outside and played with his action figures. It's just not that fun when you don't know what's going on...

Cut to a few years later: my fiance, sitting on the couch with Jaden watching the AFC and the NFC, with the two of them screaming their a#@es off, yelling at the screen and debating ref calls. My fiance knows players' histories, their strengths, their backgrounds and Jaden is his worthy student. This is stuff I couldn't learn in any book, because it's years of passionate and dedicated football television viewing.

I think the reason, I worked so much at the football thing with my son was because I didn't want him to miss out, and the divorce made me feel guilty enough that he wasn't getting the day-to-day of having a dad living at home, other boys had. I wanted to balance the touchy feely-ness of mothering with the rough-and-tumble and that makes up a boys' DNA. I did my best back then, I like that I stretched myself out of my comfort zone. And meeting a man I fell in love with for the right reasons, who's good to my children, and who happens to be a sports buff too... well, that's a pretty great bonus! I'm also happy what he's picked up with his soon-to-be step-dad is something he can share with his other dad - it's something that helps bring them together, too. A seamless twist of events reminding you everything falls into place... Go Steelers!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Mommy Group


I stumbled into my Mommy Group when my son Jaden was just 6 months-old and I was a panicked new mom who felt isolated and unsure, having just moved from NY to LA... This group of fifteen moms, who met in prenatal yoga, welcomed me into the fold for their Mommy and Me play dates. Over the last 9 years we have troubleshooted anything and everything that life as a mom has thrown at us: from bed wetting to divorce. Our Mommy Group has now evolved into freestanding friendships, and the kids are no longer the main focal point. We get together throughout the year to celebrate our natal birthdays with dinners out on the town. These are wise women. Moms I look to for advice and their tried and true experience. I would not have the quality of motherhood or have developed the sense of humour mothering evokes had I not been able to laugh and cry talking to these mommies over time.

Last week we got together at "Camp Crawford" - our annual Christmas tradition where the kids get to see each other for the first time in a year at Cindy Crawford's, one of the Mommies, in Malibu... We sit on a blanket, sip hot apple cider and eat a yummy lunch while the kids run around and play games with a camp counselor... A really nice moment in time for us as we go over our holiday plans and gush over each others' offspring.

I took the opportunity to ask Cindy a couple questions about how she handles this time of year with her kids, Presley, 9 and Kaia, 7. It's something I, myself, have been worrying about - my kids getting too much. Because this year, for the first time, my kids will have a record breaking 5 Christmases with all the families (on their dad's side and mine combined)!!! That's the last thing I want this season to foster is spoiling! How do you enjoy the giving and receiving and still maintain the integrity of the spirit of Christmas? Cindy and her husband, Rande, are obviously very successful, but they are also very down-to-earth; parents who care that their kids are normal, and not out-of-touch with reality despite their privilege.

Cindy said:

"I remember as a kid that the build up for Christmas - all the excitement - was as important as the main event. I try to share that with my kids by decorating right after Thanksgiving. We also make sure that the kids watch each other open presents. It draws it out and I find they are just as excited to see what everyone else got. That's important. I try to have them open their presents in front of whomever gave it to them if possible so they can connect the gift with the giver."

I asked her what tradition she and her family look forward to during the holidays:

"We don't have a lot of traditions as we are a mixed family with my husband being Jewish and me being Christian. For us, the main thing is the build up and then us all being together. There is a special kind of cinnamon bread I make and we all look forward to that smell in the house."

I wanted to know what gift she was most excited about giving this year:

"My husband has a Jeannine Payer necklace with little charms of the kids' photos that he wears around his neck. He tells the kids that they are always close to his heart. They have been bugging me for the same necklaces with photos of me and Rande. I got them made and know the kids will be so happy to have us with THEM always!"

Happy holidays to all Mommies...