She’s buried deep
Waiting for spring
When the bulbs of her self-worth
Reenact their promising
Down in the deep
There hides old wounds
Like tooth decay
Sweetness covers anger it cocoons
She’s buried deep
Among the stone
Where river and clay formed
In her bones
Her smile now
It’s not for you
It’s grown from a place that smells like
Turpentine and glue
What she made is the only thing to her that’s true.
Carol Lee Campbell 2015
Kate Yonkers strikes you as the kind of person you would have hung out with in college.
She’s got that easy going demeanor and a warm smile that complements her hip but professional style. Her office in DC offers a patchouli induced calmness coupled with the artfully placed Buddha statues and subtle-toned Sanskrit art to help you remove yourself from the hyper drive mentality that metro areas propagate. Kate, by the way, is my new acupuncturist.
Kate discovered acupuncture when she went to meet a boyfriend for a rendezvous in Telluride. She says Telluride is a place of seekers, where people channel shamans and are visited by angels. She sought out an acupuncturist while staying there to get help for some health issues. Though the practitioner she found was kind and did the job of treating her symptoms, she wasn’t well-trained. Kate was inspired, though, and decided this kind of practice should not stay hidden in a community of believers. As she puts it, she wanted to invite the skeptics and so returned to college for pre-med and then 4plus years of study in acupuncture and Chinese medicine in Seattle.
Acupuncture, the practice of inserting thin needles into specific body points to improve health and well-being, originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. In 2002, acupuncture was used by an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A landmark study has shown that acupuncture provides pain relief and improves function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee and serves as an effective complement to standard care. The study, the largest Phase III clinical trial of acupuncture for knee osteoarthritis, was funded by NCCAM and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, both components of the National Institutes of Health.
Kate begins our session by reviewing the detailed questionnaire I’ve completed for her, a list that asks about everything from anxiety to bladder control. She asks me to stick out my tongue – how she’ll determine anything from that I have no idea. She puts her hands on my wrists and then gently but firmly, grasps my ankles. Immediately I feel warmth and a tug in my belly, a sensation that was very similar to a Reiki session I had years ago. Kate explains the body is responding to her intentions. She says science has discovered that the brain moves from sympathetic activity (flight/fight mode) to parasympathetic activity (rest/digest mode) during acupuncture sessions. This means that there is a more engaged response by my body affecting deeper levels for potential healing.
There is something both exotic and comforting at work here. I’ve been an avid fan of the esoteric for years, seeking out arcane wisdom, herb lore and occult science like the teenagers of today ingest vampire love. But something about the work of the eastern trinity of yoga, mindfulness and Chinese medicine turns knowledge around on its heel until it faces you and says, do the work. Walk the walk. I’ve been really good up until now just talking the talk.
Going to see Kate is one of several steps toward wanting to do right by my body. I guess living into your forties helps you see clearly how much you’ve abused and neglected yourself in your youth. You want the body parts to last into their finite future as long as possible.
So here I am, with a couple of knee issues and an achy arch in my left foot. When she inserts the tiny needles, I am told to lie still for 28 minutes. One needle is in my forehead, one at the bottom of my foot, one in my hand, two in my ear…and so on. I look like a porcupine auditioning for the role of Grizabella Cat.
The needles don’t hurt per se unless I move around. They have been inserted along the meridian points of my body. The meridians are pathways where chi flows. Think of chi like “the Force” from Star Wars, an energy that moves through all living things. If our chi is blocked, stagnation may develop that inhibits healing. Chi’s energy is like ducks on the water, Kate tells me. All the meridians of the body need to be free flowing, but there are some meridian channels that Americans appear to benefit from more than others.
Lying still on the table for 28 minutes is torturous for me. 28 minutes is the amount of time necessary for the chi to do its thing. I was the kind of fidgety kid who could never really master the art of sitting still for very long. This is very similar to savasana; you know, the last 15 minutes of yoga class where you get to relish the energy flowing through your body after all the wonderful work you’ve done. Very difficult to not contemplate the grocery list and the errands at large rather than my navel.
Kate says the future of acupuncture is not clear. The American Medical Association lobby works to protect primary care for individuals, which maintains a very traditional view of health care. Though supportive of the AMA, Kate posits that people who are unaware about their options on day-to-day health today might, ten years from now, seek acupuncture, Chinese herbs and other nutritional support to provide useful help before going immediately to their primary care physician. This would be a first step in lowering maintenance problems instead of just thinking they can pop a pill. Currently, her largest demographic is women in their thirties and forties seeking IVF. Acupuncture is being used in this way as a complementing force to help the chances of a successful pregnancy. This is east meets west in medicine at its most altruistic. For women’s wanting children, what could be a better time for greater wellness?
When I was a teenager birth control meant statements like, you can’t get pregnant the first time.
In college friends told me they believed they were sterile because they’d never used birth control and had never gotten pregnant. I can think of at least one friend who was very surprised when, after a year or so of sterility, she did indeed conceive. She said it was a miracle.
The gulf between wishful thinking and sex education may have shrunk in the last generation, but there are still a lot of things kids don’t know and aren’t being taught about sex.
Case in point is the scene from “Mean Girls” when the PE coach utters, “Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and then you’ll die. Okay, everybody, take some rubbers.” There you have it: both sides of the abstinence debate spelled out in a cacophony of contradicting absolutes.
The first conversation about sex I had with my kids was a kind of milestone with the sweet refrain of, “when two people love each other very much…” After a couple of years passed and the need arose to address the topic with a little more detail – well, that’s when I started to feel sick to my stomach. Not a lot of eye contact going on. Stilted wording, very small bits of conversation shuffling about.
Many teenagers don’t like talking about sex with their parents either. For adolescents, it’s a time to guard the private gate protecting the rain of hormonal changes and physiological leaps while they simultaneously test drive their opinions and beliefs in preparation for the adults they will become. If nothing else, they are completely self conscious, suffering from a horrible case of chronic audience syndrome. Talking about their impending puberty is (and pardon me for using this term but it’s one I hear in my household almost every day) AWKWARD. Sharing a tidbit or two about a situation at school usually surfaces more easily than talking about sexual urges.
Some parents overwhelmingly state they would like a better sex education for their teens on the “what if’s” than what they had back in the day. Many don’t hold a lot of stock in public schools when programs like Family Life Education are abstinence-only, which they feel lacks delving into the realities of situations they’ll be faced with. Discussion in FLE includes the down side of teenage pregnancy and STD’s and it touts the wonderfulness of waiting until marriage to begin sexual relations. Yet, when kids in FLE have questions about birth control, they go unanswered. When the kids want to talk about pregnancy options, the only topic is adoption. There are drawbacks of ending the discussion here.
We tell our children that they should wait until marriage, but deep down we ask ourselves how realistic is it when the average age of matrimony is now in the mid to late twenties? And to add more fuel to the fire, studies show that marriage more often is successful when the couple waits up until age 30 or so to get hitched.
Sociologist Paul Amato of Pennsylvania State University found distinct benefits to marrying older. “We found that the delay in marriage was actually a good thing and it actually improved the average marital quality by a fair amount,” he says.
“Older marriages (30’s vs. 20’s) were more cohesive in the sense they did things more often together as a couple. And couples who married at older ages were less likely to report thinking about divorce or that their marriage was in trouble.”
I contacted Caroline Fuller from the Virginia Dept of Education who told me the School Health Advisory Board determines which type of abstinence plan teens (usually in the 8th grade) from a particular school district will receive. This means that the plan which FLE will offer, at least in Virginia, is locally controlled. The program can either be abstinence-based or abstinence-only: abstinence-only focuses solely on abstinence while abstinence–based promotes abstinence but also includes discussion on contraception. The latest evidence shows which of the programs is working.
The University of Georgia conducted a large scale study across 48 states linking teenage sex education and pregnancy rates. In states where abstinence-only programs are the only programs available, the teenage pregnancy rate continued to rise. Researchers also found that abstinence was part of the most effective sex education programs ONLY when it’s used alongside contraception.
Further, CDC centers reported a 9% drop in teenage motherhood in a 2009 -2010 study. Teens aren’t having less sex, they say. They aren’t having more abortions either. Kids are getting better at using contraception, have better access to contraception and they’re choosing to wait to have sex. Years ago, doctors would rarely prescribe IUDs for teens and nowadays teens can sometimes get a prescription for the pill without a pap smear.
Faith based and community organizations launched an abstinence-based program a ways back called Our Whole Lives, aka OWL, a sexuality education program for youth that addresses the attitudes, values, and feelings that youth have about themselves and each other.
OWL provides a non-judgmental co-ed forum for kids to learn about listening to their own inner conscience in the face of pop culture messages and peer pressure. Sexuality is viewed in a holistic light as a part of the human experience. Sessions are dedicated to learning about how sexuality is damaged by violence, exploitation and abuse of power. Other sessions become more controversial. OWL addresses sexual diversity, contraception and abortion as well as adoption and parenting. And there is the ongoing two most mentioned tenets of all: It is healthier for adolescents to postpone sexual intercourse and it’s good to talk to your parents about these issues.
If kids are uncomfortable asking what’s on their mind in an OWL session, there’s always the question box, where questions get anonymously placed. Every question gets answered. Issues are as widely ranged as there are people on this earth. A girl asks, do guys really care what girls wear? A boy asks, is it all right to talk to other guys about personal things? Questions about pornography, rape, contraception, pregnancy and a host of other issues all surface from the box oftentimes due to what students pick up on from the news and in their community.
Teenagers who have completed OWL understand the responsibilities and possible outcomes in romantic relationships. When other kids make some off-the-wall comment about sex, such as you can’t get pregnant the first time, they will not surrender to the typical teenage angst born of uncertainty. They will know the difference between truth and wishful thinking. Some parents voice concerns that this gives kids the green light to promiscuity, but I beg to differ. As one OWL teacher put it, Sex Ed causes sex about as much as umbrellas cause rain.
- Wilson, Pamela M. Our Whole Lives, Grades 7-9. Boston: UUA, 1999.
If you have never smoked, you may want to stop reading right here.
It started with a lifestyle shift. I had been a sprinter up until high school but everything changed when my parents split up. I began skipping classes and hung out with people who left school grounds to smoke cigarettes in little open areas in the woods. Joining them, I entered a secret realm, so enticing for a lost kid looking to belong. The kids who smoked back then were cool. At least to me. Magazine ads, movies and record albums showed those free spirits wearing gypsy clothes and holding long skinny smokes between their fingers. I was fourteen years old.
According to pop wisdom, if you wanted to stay thin you drank a coke, smoked a cigarette and skipped lunch. In college smoking was part of the norm. The best way to cram for exams was with cigs and a pot of coffee, throw in a bagel. To entice me to quit, my dad offered me $100 for each month that I didn’t smoke for up to six months. I gave it a half hearted attempt, probably skipping a day or two. Never saw a dime.
By my mid twenties smoking wasn’t glamorous anymore. As the price of cigarettes slowly rose my friends and I promised to quit when cigarettes reached $1.50 or whatever the next increment was: a quarter more, fifty cents more. We grumbled but we never quit. We were pathetic in our addiction, lowering ourselves to search for the longest butt in last night’s ashtrays, never mind if it was not our own. Besides, my mind justified, there were all of the jobs that cigarettes provided: there was the wake up cigarette, the relax- with-a-cigarette and the cigarette that accompanied the mid-day iced tea, the alcohol of the weekend or the end of a meal at night.
When I turned thirty I quit. And it was hard, just as hard as they say it is. My husband followed weeks later. His tipping point came when seven tobacco company executives testified during Rep. Henry Waxman’s congressional hearings in 1994 that they believed “Nicotine is not addictive.” As we watched the hearings on the television, flabbergasted, we were also at the climax of cigarette withdrawal – probably craving a smoke about every three seconds. The irony was not lost on us.
I forced myself into a hermetic lifestyle for about four months, avoiding triggers like alcohol and ice tea. I began walking for miles in the woods near my home. It was healing on a lot of levels. Perhaps the walks could even be called walking meditations, because my creativity and health seemed to bloom in those weeks along with a greater understanding of the girl I had been when I had started smoking. Cigarettes were the perfect kick-off to a rebellion against my parents and the cruel universe that split my centered, structured world in two. Granted, I was a lightning rod reacting to my parents’ divorce, but I assure you, cigarettes were just the start in a long list of self destructive behavior.
I knew smoking was bad for me when I started. I was taught all the lessons that the last fifty years of research had all but proven which asserted that tar and nicotine were harmful and linked to cancer.
The latest report by the Surgeon General came out last week. Findings include data that shows almost no one starts smoking after 25. Most smokers have begun before they reach 18.
The report explored health effects and causes of tobacco use among youth ages 12 through 17 and young adults ages 18 through 25. For the first time tobacco data on young adults as a discrete population has been examined. Young adults are prime targets for tobacco advertising and marketing activities. Young girls are the most vulnerable because there is still the incorrect notion that smoking keeps you thin.
Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh says that the tobacco industry spends almost $10 billion a year to market its products. Images and messages normalize tobacco use in magazines, on the Internet and at retail stores frequented by youth.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable and premature death, killing an estimated 443,000 Americans each year. Cigarette smoking costs the nation $96 billion in direct medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity annually.
Of every three young smokers, only one will quit, and one of those remaining smokers will die from tobacco-related causes. When we’re young we never consider the long-term health conse-quences associated with tobacco use when we started smoking. I and others wonder if our health will decline as the surgeon general’s report also seems to indicate: when teens start smoking they create lung, throat and heart problems for themselves later in life.
It’s been 19 years since I stopped smoking. No surprise that I’m sure glad to have quit when I did and also wish I’d never started. Now it’s time to grapple with my most current addiction and the next territory of self-discovery ahead: Wish me luck, I’m 16 days free of Diet Coke.
Adler, Dr. Isaac. “Primary Malignant Growths of the Lungs and Bronchi.” New York: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1912.
My sister’s bags were packed with toothbrushes and a journal, iPod, socks and camera. I stocked up on newspapers and magazines for the waiting part, there’s always so much waiting.
The art on the walls as I walk down the hall is easy on the eye, the walls neutral-toned, the overall ambience kind of antiseptic. The movie on the MacBook is welcomed at one point, to ease anxieties and distractions because we never really know how long it will take to reach the destination.
But this is not the corridor of an airport terminal, or the bus depot, or the train station. This is not a trip there. These are the halls of the labor and delivery ward where I sit waiting for my niece and nephew to be born at Georgetown University Hospital. We are waiting for their trip here. Destination: birthing place.
My sister is in good spirits and hooked up to a galaxy of complicated lines of monitors and iv drip bags, the latest meds keeping her hydrated and dilating. Her husband and father-to-be is upbeat and shows proper disdain for the poor quality of food that’s downstairs because my sister is on a strict diet of ice chips from here on out.
The beeps and whurs of methodical madness keep everything safe, with the peaks and valleys of the contractions printed on spooling paper, proof that something’s happening. It’s only a matter of time when modern medicine will take over and we will head into the second leg of the trip.
“Happy birth vibes” are texted from friends as well as, “sending lots of love to you, Mark, and the babies.” There are sounds of the fetal monitors, the sounds of medical staff at work and the sound of other families outside of this wood grained floor and walnut-furnitured, dimly lit labor room. As mellow as they try to make this room, there are always so many sounds to give away what this place really is.
The nurses are kind and confident, but their eight- hour work shifts are not in sync with my sister’s shifts. We may not see Maggie, the RN, or Dr Cooper, the resident doc, again after they leave at 7:00 am. We may not see Molly, the intern, when she comes back tomorrow afternoon. We don’t know how many staff we will meet. Could be a lot. Though the weather shows only white puffy clouds against a blue sky, it’s the inner world’s skies that will determine if the stork is delayed.
No matter how technologically ridden this outer space has become, the inner space is still rich in the sacred dimension; this hallowed portal is a woman’s body as temple, the place where everything begins. The potential of life and death are the realities behind the veils of possible outcomes, where the spirits of our ancestors hope, too, for the future of the family. The room will become even more crowded, those alive and dead coming together at the intersection of the womb and the birthing table, where cheerleading voices beckon the new babies to emerge. The woman on the birthing table is at once just a woman in labor and also an archetype, the Giver of Forms.
But for the moment we watch and wait and honor the time it’s going to take, the fasting and laboring it will take, until those precious babies cross the threshold into their lives and forever bless us by making their journey here.
My mother used to tell me that ugly girls were lucky. Mom said that ugly girls can skip right over getting tan, painting nails, dieting, working out, and comparing figures and get to work finding out what they were born on this earth to do.
You can imagine how a fifteen year-old who spent three hours every other day straightening her hair responded. I guess the novelty of using my daisy razor and the QT tanning products hadn’t quite worn off.
Mom’s biggest fear was having spinach stuck in her teeth. My biggest fear was looking like a mix between a poodle and Rosanne Rosanna-Danna.
Obviously, Mom knew beauty distracted us from living our most authentic life. How many hours and dollars per week do we spend on enhancing our beauty? I can’t believe I just spent $150 on a jar of face cream (… although it smelled really good and felt fabulous on my skin at the time and everybody says I look great… for my age).
No longer does the Awkward Stage divide the years between young girl and teen. Today there are lines of clothing created for seven year olds to dress like J Lo. By the time these girls reach puberty, there’s no buffer for them to find comfort in being okay with who they are. Our adolescent girls, are, as Mary Pipher asserts in Reviving Ophelia, sacrificing their wholeness. Where parents will (most often) have a young girl’s best interest at heart, the world at large is trying to teach her different. Peers and pop culture will shape our daughters’ minds to believe that they must question the gifts they were born with and swap self-esteem for doubt. From the hairs on their head to the tiny hairs on their toes, the priority completely refocuses on what’s on the outside, the packaging. The feminine ideal has become a prison, and the adolescent its inmate. It may take decades for a woman to discover her true self.
Naomi Wolf says as much in The Beauty Myth:
The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us… During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty…
Some said Wolf’s book was flawed while others applauded it. I find her contribution both poignant and disturbing because The Beauty Myth was written over twenty years ago. Has anything changed? I think we can all agree that this statement still holds true today in many ways and it’s even applicable to a younger demographic. Let’s face it: Our clamor for glamour has given the most vulnerable population a pounding. How do our children resist the messages of Barbie and Britney Spears?
Many read creation myths today and think them quaint and childlike, our traditional perceptions of a solo male deity being our most evolved concept of a creator, or so we have been taught. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the powerful messages for women and girls in ancient stories of creation. Like other things in nature and the heavens, our ancestors observed that women and female animals were giving birth and figured, maybe this is how everything began. A pretty easy connect-the-dots, don’t you think?
Creation myths the world over originated as a mother-centered event. Tales of a goddess dwelling in the watery mass can be found from 6000 BCE. Even the Bible recalls the goddess in Genesis by explaining the formless beginnings, Darkness was upon the face of the deep (Genesis1:2). Tehom is the word used in the Bible which refers to the deep, the primordial waters of creation. The word is also a cognate of the goddess Tiamat from the Sumerian culture, the formless mother creator who dwelt at the bottom of the waters.
Author and storyteller, Luisah Teish tells a wonderful creation story of Yemaya that comes from the Yoruban Orisha of African tradition.
Once a woman named Yemaya lived inside the watery depths of one large ocean. She looked into the waters and saw her own reflection. She wondered, “Who is that beautiful woman? I thought I was the most beautiful.” As she looked at the woman in the water there came a rumbling in Yemaya’s belly and it grew and grew until it broke open and filled the world with lakes, rivers and streams.
Yemaya looked into the new river she had created and saw her reflection looking at her. “Who is that woman in the river? She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
And again her belly grew and grew until she gave birth to the heavens and the stars and the full moon. In the moon she saw herself and said, “Who is that beautiful woman? She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
And again her belly expanded larger and larger until it exploded. Standing before her were thousands of beautiful women. Yemaya said again, “Who are you beautiful women? I thought I was the most beautiful of all.”
The women looked deep into the eyes of Yemaya and there they saw their own reflections. They said to her, “You are! We are you! We are just you!”
For many young girls after the age of six or seven, there is no more Dora, just the litany of Selena Gomezes, Sharpays and Bratz dolls. Though we try to keep them at bay, the dolls and their messages appear in our daughters’ lives as if by magic. They are as invasive as stink bugs filing in through window cracks and even hard to get rid of.
Perhaps reviving ancient and varied stories of creation can reveal to girls that they are part of a grand scheme. Perhaps they will understand the whole of their bodies; i.e., mind, body and spirit, are an integral part of the biology of the cosmos.
- Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia. New York: Riverhead Books, 1994
- Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth. New York: HarperCollins, 1991
- The Bible, New King James Version. New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982
- Teish, Luisah. Jambalaya: The New Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1988
An eerie thing happened to my friend Emily after her marriage ended. While she was packing up to move out with her three kids, she found a medical file in an old box under the bed that her mother had created during the first 2 years of her life. In it Emily discovered that she had been in and out of hospitals for stomach problems since infancy. On the last page of the file, like a cliffhanger to the end of a season in a TV series, there was an order from an internist recommending that Emily be tested for Celiac Disease. There were no results provided. To Emily, however, the file spoke volumes about what she had recently endured.
Emily has had stomach problems all of her life. She really and truly believed up until she turned forty it was a normal part of digestion to have cramping and diarrhea after meals. To add to the mystery, Emily also suffered from grand mal seizures up until she was eighteen. When they stopped, doctors surmised she must have outgrown them. To take it a step further, family and doctors both inferred that this could be an emotionally driven illness. After all, women were more susceptible to those kinds of conditions, they said.
Emotionally driven grand mal seizures? Really?
By all accounts Emily looks healthy, with her lovely youthful face, a Snow White complexion of big eyes, dark hair and fair skin. Perfect teeth. She has a gentle disposition that tells you she is calm, rational and clear about what is important in her life: faith, family and work.
Up until she turned forty, she figured that she probably had some lactose issues. Frequently, she would be at a restaurant and then have to run for the bathroom, citing, “It must be the cheese.”
Her tipping point came when, after coming home from a trip to Arizona, she missed her plane because she spent the night on the floor of an airport bathroom in Detroit. The only thing she had eaten in the hours before the flight was a scone.
After the airport incident, she limped along (as she puts it) for about six months. Things would get better for a while but then things got significantly worse. Her family doctor tested her stool and did some basic blood panels, but couldn’t find anything wrong. They referred her to a gastroenterologist for further tests. She got into bed and stayed there for ten days, over spring break 2007, eating nothing but noodles and toast, thinking the BRAT diet would be the blandest, easiest thing to digest. But she felt worse and worse each day. It was like she was being poisoned. Was there something in the water?
She spiraled down the rabbit hole, losing 10 lbs in 10 days. She couldn’t even get out of bed to go to the doctor. Through all this she suffered silently, staying quiet and alone in the dark like a hermit taking a vow of silence and starvation while her husband and kids tried to go about their lives, helping out where they could.
Emily says she survived this period with a lot of prayer. Concurrently, she says this was also a time when she realized that her marriage had run its course. She remembers thinking over and over about leaving her husband, how she thought she would die if she didn’t end things. This of course also made her rethink all of the messages about her health she heard as a child. Was this an emotionally driven illness? Is it all in her head? Was she crazy?
Women’s health care advocate Christiane Northrop states such health crisis moments can also be cathartic in different areas of a life. For many women, a health trauma triggers the need for other changes, like changes in a relationship or a career. The illness that presents can be a symbol for other illnesses. This does not mean that the sickness is emotionally driven. Physical illness is linked to all of our “selves,” our body, mind and spirit, as we seek happiness in this life. As Emily says, her body was screaming for help. Perhaps her heart was as well.
She felt great during pregnancy, even during all three pregnancies. She attributed it to eating well. And she was a pretty happy pregnant woman. After her babies were born, she became involved with La Leche League and stayed connected to the midwives who delivered her children and thus continued to be influenced by the holistic health mindedness that went along with their lifestyle. There was something of a newly discovered awareness going on. Emily says she remembers feeling good around that time, again, because of her healthier eating habits and learning about treating her body with organic, non-processed food and fewer carbohydrates. But the symptoms didn’t completely go away and by her fortieth year she hit rock bottom in that Detroit airport, spending the night crying and asking God, “What is wrong with me?”
A concerned friend told her about a doctor who made house calls. Enter Doctor Dappen.
Dr. Alan Dappen, from the medical group, Talk Doctor of Vienna, Virginia, came to visit her at her weakest, sickest moment. He gave her some meds to treat her symptoms so that she could get out of bed, go to the gastroenterologist for the prescribed tests and return to work a little bit.
In the midst of getting the lab work underway, Dappen called Emily to check on her. She told him that it was strange. While she was fasting for 48 hours (which was necessary for the upcoming endoscopy and colonoscopy) she started to feel better, stronger.
A couple of days later, while waiting for the test results, Dappen called back. He said, “I’ve been thinking about all you’ve told me. I think you have Celiac Disease. Even if the tests come back negative.”
Celiac Disease (CD) is a lifelong inherited autoimmune condition affecting children and adults. When people with CD eat foods that contain gluten, the common name for the proteins in specific grains found in foods like pasta and bread, it creates a toxic reaction that causes damage to the small intestine and does not allow food to be properly absorbed. All gluten must be eliminated from the diet.
The results came back negative. Dappen told her to go ahead and try the new diet for thirty days, regardless of the test results. She felt instantly better. To go from bed ridden to resuming all normal activities within two days spelled it out for Emily.
The tests can be falsely negative or inconclusive, which happened in Emily’s case because of how the test is conducted. The endoscopy is a procedure that scrapes a sample from inside of the intestines and uses the sample to test for CD. The scraping may occur in the intestine where the disease is not apparent; hence the tendencies toward false negatives.
The website, www.celiac.org, states that the onset of Celiac Disease can occur at any time in a person’s life. Once a person is diagnosed, family members should be urged to get tested as well. Interestingly, Emily’s aunt was recently diagnosed at sixty with CD.
Her gratitude is ultimately for Dr. Dappen, who she credits as the only doctor who really listened to her in the midst of her crisis. Other doctors had been uncompassionate. When she went to see the family medical practice, she ended up in tears, telling the nurse practitioner that she hadn’t been able to get out of bed and had missed a lot of work. She says the NP told her to go see a gastroenterologist and handed her a referral.
It’s getting easier for Emily to find the hidden gluten in foods. All processed foods are notorious with gluten in the ingredients. Sauces, too, often carry a lot of gluten because flour is used as a thickener. Salad dressing and soy products are also big no-no’s. Fortunately, gluten free labels are more commonly found on food packaging these days.
People ask all the time, don’t you miss cake? To which she replies, “Not at all. I feel gratitude to be healthy again. It is so very freeing. When I think of how I was held captive by this illness, nothing compares.”
When asked about giving advice to others who suspect they may have CD, Emily says, “Find a doctor who will really listen to you. In your personal experiences there are clues and wisdom to be unearthed.”
Just like a medical file under the bed.
The investigation by the Vatican looking into the actions of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) involves a question of loyalties. The Catholic Church’s reprimand of the group for “spending too much time on social justice and poverty issues and not enough time condemning abortion and gay marriage,” as reported by The Washington Post, is aimed at the independent thinkers of individual religious communities.
Many Catholics find the crackdown disappointing yet unsurprising. As they understand it, the LCWR was founded with the full approval and cooperation of the church. The group has a 50-year history of action fighting poverty, illness, discrimination, oppression and other pressing social issues, which the four popes previous to Benedict XVI found no problems with. This incident shows that the church’s current leadership is exceedingly conservative and wants no dissent among its ranks.
Some conjecture has been made as to the reasons that led to the investigation based on the report by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF). It could be because many of the women religious backed Obama health reforms, including its controversial rules on contraception. Observers say it is an example of part of a growing crackdown on liberal dissenters. It could be because, some conservatives of the church say, these women are trying to create a new religion.
We are learning a lot more about Catholic sisters who are these days often seen as the best of the institution and the finest representatives it has — women who worship God and emulate Jesus, and workers who run schools and hospitals. In recent years, documentaries like “In Good Conscience” and “God Is the Bigger Elvis” show the humanity and the difficult choices nuns face in their life of devotion which have helped to dissolve the stereotypes of the harsher nun.
So who is right? Were the good sisters led astray by the influences of our decadent nation or are they acting on behalf of the people of God, justified in their commitment that everyone among us are all contributors of something good?
It’s not the first time women have come into conflict with the views of the church for their work in offering health care directly to the people of their communities.
Women up until the 14th century were able to play significant roles as caretakers of their entire community and became known as midwives. Older women, whether having borne children or not, had experience and knowledge of which plants worked best to cure certain ills and lessen one’s suffering. In contrast to this, church fathers in Europe became more vocal in their proclamations that only through prayer and God’s grace could people be cured of their ailments.
The church taught that women’s suffering was expected, especially in childbirth. It was one thing to help catch a baby when it was born; it was quite another to go beyond prayer to ease one’s pain during labor. Midwives used herbs to manage pain. They also employed knowledge handed down from the ancients on contraceptive herbs that helped women limit the number of children they would bear in their life time. This also contrasted with the teachings of the church in that families were encouraged to be as large as possible.
Midwives became identified with witchcraft and their role in the community turned suspect (but that’s another blog). When the nobility and the universities were established across Europe, medicine advanced and herbal wisdom was given a second chance. For women, however, that ship had sailed. Only men were allowed to enroll in higher education and the role of women as healers fell mostly, but not completely, into the realms of folklore and fairy tales.
In the Middle Ages, a nunnery was the only recourse for women if they wanted to avoid marriage and childbirth. During the high Middle Ages, a special interest in the Virgin Mary arose which led to increasing respect and veneration of women in religious life. Around this time many devotional texts were written by and for women who had entered the holy life as religious recluses.
Female mystics such as Hildegard de Bingen were revered throughout the Christian west for their ability to access a higher spiritual reality. Hildegard was a German abbess who experienced extraordinary visions and wrote beautiful music. More interestingly, she wrote profusely on topics which male writers rarely commented on, such as how to deal with menstrual cramps. Much of her medical writing included discussion of herbs for medicinal use, including prescriptions for what we would consider today gynecological wellness.
Hildegard enjoyed a small semblance of power. Perhaps because of her bravado or because she flouted ecclesiastical authority, she was never canonized yet was so loved by her community that she is still revered and celebrated as a local saint.
One of the loudest voices to flout her ecclesiastical views in the Catholic community today is Sister Jeannine Gramick who founded an organization called New Ways Ministry, which seeks to create an atmosphere in which gays and lesbians are included in Catholic communities. When the CDF tried to suppress Sister Jeannine by telling her that she could not do pastoral work with lesbian/gay people and that she could not speak about the Vatican’s investigation of her ministry, she responded with a courageous, “I choose not to participate in my own oppression.”
Sister Jeannine says that in the 1970’s, 80’s and early 90’s there were many pastoral bishops who supported the work of the nuns that led fulfilling lives serving their community. She adds that nuns were allowed to speak their own opinions about how to best serve the people they resided near. But most of those bishops have retired or are deceased.
Sister Jeannine is passionate about the issues that she works to improve. Her most recent passion is trying to understand and help the children who are victims of bullying because of their sexual orientation. Many of the youths are driven to consider and/or attempt suicide because their lives have become unbearable. She says she wishes to hear support from the Vatican on this.
They are in the trenches, these women caregivers, ministering to all of the populations, especially those that are underrepresented. Offering prayers and medicine in an act of direct service, the sisters understand that community work is making connections and leaving no one neglected because of race, creed or other differences. They do all of this because of their love of the Holy Spirit which they experience in their work. It’s not political, it’s personal.
Maybe, like Hildegard, several centuries from now history will reflect positively all that Sister Jeannine and her brethren are trying to accomplish.
***Many thanks to my friends, Cindy, Cami and Nadine for giving insight into Catholic and Episcopal views.
Johnson, Elizabeth. Quest for a Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. New York: Continuum; Reprint edition, 2011.