Thursday, August 21, 2008

I don't want to go...

Full disclosure: I am having a very bad 'hate France' period.
I don't want to go back to work in about 10 days' time. I am feeling really down today. I don't want to face the rat race (and if my colleagues were comparable to rats, it wouldn't be such a bad thing, but they aren't... they are more like, well, sharks...). I don't want to face the angry students who treat me like crap. I don't want to do the stupid administrative stuff I will, invariably, have to do. I don't want to miss time with my children. Oh wait, one of them is in school until 4:30pm, and doesn't get home oftentimes until an hour later than that. So, actually, I see her even less as a result of her school.
Today didn't help. People who are just patently unfriendly, all over the place. What do you want? It is France. I needed identity photos for youngest daughter who starts school soon, and the first place I went, the guy said, "We don't do that." Ok... fine. You don't do that. Does someone? Want to be helpful? No. Of course not.
And I just left because I am sick of asking for help from a bunch of stuck-up pigs. I deviated off-track (much to older daughter's frustration; she wanted to keep the trip short). I went to the downtown 'mall'. There was another franchise of the same store I had just been to. They did identity photos, and even showed a child in their specimen. That guy said I'd have to wait 15 minutes, so we went and came back. Sigh.
So we got the photos. But I am sick of dealing with these creeps.
That being said, I don't want to go back, at least permanently, at least not yet. But I am dying for some "America". I feel so down, and nothing makes me feel better than to wander around Berkeley, into bookstores, go and get some fabulous cheese, and be treated like a human being. I have wanted and needed this so badly I almost ache for it...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What's a girl to do

So, I casually mentioned a couple of blogs ago that I was trying to lose weight. I did. It has been staying off.
But going on a 'diet' goes against what I truly believe about what what mothers should do, especially mothers of daughters. Especially mothers of daughters, both of whom live in France and are surrounded by ridiculously thin women... and a cosmetic/beauty industry that blow your mind.
So I figured I couldn't diet, I had to change the way I (we?) eat. I had had inklings of it for years. The book my well-meaning friend bought me called, "The truth about beauty" which espouses, among other things, a healthy diet and kicking artificial sweetners. I can't go into all the details about all of what I read, researched and then came up with in terms of changing how we eat. Suffice to say there was some carbohydrate rationing, followed by their reintegration in only healthy forms (low GI...), there was an interest in integrating loads of healthy vegetables, there is now food combining alive and well in our house, a "Vita Mix" has taken up residence in the kitchen to provide a 'healthy alternative to ice cream'... and much more. All of it has made me feel loads better, have more energy, and yes, lose weight.
But it has also made me confront so many paradoxes. I already blogged about giving up aspartame, but it didn't end there. Diet Dr Pepper hasn't passed my lips since early May, when I gave it up. But I didn't give up sweet things. Before refining my diet by getting rid of refined sugar, I attempted some alternative to aspartame ("Splenda") but found out almost immediately it was just as bad (not well tested, not particularly safe...). I had read about Stevia, an alternative that is and herbally-based supplement. And I found some powdered stevia plant in France (miracle of miracles). And it tasted great in my green ice tea. But then I started looking into it. And that is where I felt like Alice through the looking glass.
Aspartame is considered 'safe' yet the American FDA has numerous reports of its questionable nature. It isn't considered unsafe during pregnancy, but words are measured about its use in some camps. Stevia isn't considered 'safe', and loads of sites tell you about its safety or lack therof. Some sites ponder the political climate and how Monsanto (manufacturer of aspartame as "Nutra Sweet") might be behind this. And there is no data about whether Stevia is safe in pregnancy.
(I am not pregnant, but having been pregnant several times, I do consider now what I put into my body, and if a pregnant woman shouldn't eat it, I often wonder if anyone should. So that is a bell-weather for me.)
But then one fact emerges, and re-emerges, that the Japanese have used Stevia for over 30 years in loads of things, and no serious disadvantages have been noted. Is this for real? Am I hearing right? Yes, one major nation uses Stevia to replace sugar (a group of people, btw, who are known for their excellent health...) but it isn't considered 'safe' in the USA? Or in many countries in Europe for that matter. It can be bought as a 'food supplement', but because it is considered a bit 'fringe' we don't know the safety of it.
And then the real kicker is that Cargill and Coca-Cola have just teamed up to manufacture their own Stevia-based sweetner (Truvia), and it had a big kick-off in NYC last month. So, was the waiting on Stevia to make it possible for the big industries to jump in while there was time?
And yet, loads of people say don't take Stevia during pregnancy, but not Nutra Sweet, yet all information points to the fact that Stevia might be safer than Nutra Sweet, but no one would dare come out and say that. So, what is a girl to do? Eat the 'safe' aspartame, or dare to have the "unsafe" but patently safer Stevia?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

French exceptions and paradoxes

The famous French exception is the 'high fat diet and red wine' mystery despite overall excellent health in the general population. Another famous one in my circles as a psychologist is that 1) France is the number one consumer of antidepressants which is often correlated with 2) French universities traditionally only teach the psychoanalytic viewpoint of psychology. This one is famous because proponents of non-psychoanalytic techniques think that there is a link.
And I will add to the pool of these exceptions: strangeness in kitchens and hospitality.
First off, kitchens. France is known to be a world center for cuisine. Yet, most kitchens here are absolutely useless! When you move in, the kitchen is usually unequipped (whether you rent or buy) and you must get yourself the essetial refrigerator and stove. Moreover, I don't think I have ever seen a more poorly designed kitchens in one country -- lack of light and space, not to mention miserly counter space... it is a wonder the average person cooks. That is my first strange personal French exception.
The second one concerns hospitality. While France may lead the world in cuisine (but not kitchens, see above...), they are lousy at extending minimal hospitality. As university people, my dh and I are often called to do presentations or thesis defenses at universities all over France. These usually include some travel and then we need to do our 'thing' whether it is give a talk or serve on a thesis jury. When it is a thesis jury, the experience borders on that of a marriage -- families show up, a group of people is assembled, and the doctoral candidate presents his/her work to the audience as well as the thesis jury members. This is usually followed by a small cocktail hour. It is often preceded by a lunch for the jury members. But aside from that, it is a lonely and depressing enterprise for a jury member. We must travel, sometimes spend the night (or two) and aside from the thesis 'festivities' we must forge ahead on our own, staying in impersonal hotels and eating alone in restaurants.
My dh and I do things differently. First off, most of our colleagues are foreign, so we invite them to stay and to eat with us, either at home or away. And this is not considered unusual or odd. But recently I had the occasion to invite a French colleague, and he was not only touched but amazed at the idea. This is a very well-known professor for whom I have a great deal of respect, and when I invited him he responded warmly that in all his years of participating on jury defenses, he had never had such an invitation. Although he had already made his own plans to see friends in our region, he regretted that he couldn't accept our offer, and commented that not only was it a considerate and thoughtful level of hospitality, he suspected it had to do with us being American.
He is no doubt correct. But isn't it an odd exception -- a country that is known for cooking and excellent entertaining... can't be hospitable.

Be our guest! Be our guest! Put our service to the test
Tie your napkin 'round your neck, cherie
And we'll provide the rest
Soup du jour
Hot hors d'oeuvres
Why, we only live to serve
Try the grey stuff -- It's delicious
Don't believe me? Ask the dishes!
They can sing, they can dance
After all, Miss, this is France
And a dinner here is never second best...*

Nope. But don't hold your breath for the hospitality!

*From "Be our guest", Beauty and the Beast, Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What big people do; what little people do

Children, in the same family, are not the same. Parents compare. Before I had children and when I worked with parents, I was continually amazed and abashed at parents who compared their children ("His brother wasn't like that!"). Of course they were different! They may have shared some genetic material, but I couldn't fathom why any parent would expect similarities between their children.
Then I had a second child. She amazed me from the very start because, well, she wasn't really very much like her sister at all. I have thought about this in the nearly three years she has been around -- why do I imagine that there would be similarities? Well, one thing is that an experience like childbearing (and I mean this in the global pregnancy-birth-childrearing sense) is something we humans like to encode and form schemas around. We like to know what to expect and understand from our interaction with this tiny human. So, part of our schema is the child -- how s/he acts, looks, etc. So I think we may be 'hard-wired' to expect similarities.
Another thing that pushes us to believe the idea of sameness is that we often scan our children for similarities to relatives, living and dead. And of course they will be compared to siblings in this way.
So my second daughter showed me what stubborn was. She was that way from the start -- her cries were healthy and indignant when the breast wasn't whipped out fast enough, whereas her sister (sigh, comparison...) calmed the minute she saw me fumbling with my shirt and bra. Daughter two also had the most unusual fear from birth: she was afraid of the dark. I kid you not, she would wake in the middle of the night, a few days old, right next to me and HOWL until I got my little book light on (this was the first gadget she mastered at about 6 months of age). I have never heard, anecdotally or professionally, of a baby who showed fear of the dark. Interestingly, at nearly three years of age, she is over it.
Child two also has an amazing sense of logic. As she has learned to talk, you can see her in the mornings carefully parsing sentences and thinking carefully about how and what she wants to communicate. My husband took to counting the words in her sentences (wow! ten words! -- and I would have to correct him because it was 9, she had forgotten a preposition and he had implied it when counting... still... nine word sentences at just over age two... well... her sister never did that...).
Child two hasn't been as encumbered by the French language as her sister. When still a small baby, she would giggle when she heard me speak French (we speak English in the home, obvioulsy; we don't want our children mimicking our poor accents and grammar usage) -- big sister would cry when she heard me speak French (I was more tense back then when speaking French...). Child two has had an anglophone babysitter for two years and we recently replaced her with a Francopohone (who is on vacation and being replaced by, for all intents and purposes, another anglphone... another blog for another time). So she hasn't had as much direct contact with French, but she seems intrigued by learning it (she has been saying "Bonjour" and "Au revoir" as well as "Merci" for months now, when we go to stores and are out and about). She replays over and over the French dvds that her sister checks out of the mediathèque... it is like her own personal method for learning the language.
My brother who heard her on the phone recently commented that if adults would approach language learning like a two year-old, they would learn faster; he posited that their method consists in repeated trials and errors and that they eventually parse a sentence that makes sense, but the bottom line is that they try, doggedly, until they get it right, and don't care about making mistakes.
So this child has been learning language, but also so much more that is not as observable. Her keen sense of logic has pushed her to do and think about things in clever ways. Her sister is amazingly clever, but in other ways.
Child two, being around the age of two, likes to help on occasion, and welcomes the opportunities for the most part. Most recently, she has been gleefully putting down forks and knives at the dinner table for us. Last night, as she was parading around and announcing she wished to go out in the backyard, I asked her if she would set the table for me. She looked me, and in all seriousness said, "No, mommy, I want to go outside right now". I said, "I'd like to go outside too, but I need to cook dinner and get things ready for us to eat. I can't go outside." She replied with an even more serious, and perhaps regretful, tone, "Mommy, you are a big person. That is what you do. I am a little person, I want to go outside." Which she promptly did.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What it is like to go through perinatal trauma

So everyone knows that women can have a hard time regarding pregnancy and birth. And most people would agree that having a miscarriage (which I consider a type of perinatal trauma) is an upsetting event. Many think a cesarean (c/s) is hard, and I tend to agree -- it is abdominal surgery after all!
Yet. So many people refuse to acknowledge a woman's right to feel anything negative about a birth, a miscarriage, whatever. They don't do it directly and overtly, their refusal is pernicious and stealthy. "Yes, it was hard but the main thing is a healthy baby" is what most women hear when they open their mouths about the birth. "You can have another/You already have children" is what we hear when we have just had a miscarriage. It is as though we are incapable for thinking for ourselves, and the possiblity that we might have two opposing feelings in our simple minds (we are the weaker sex after all...) is impossible. "Yes I love my baby. I do hate how her birth happened, though."
Most people think that their fabulous wisdom, packaged as above (with perhaps slightly different wrappings) is enough for us women who have gone through perinatal trauama. The proof: we shut up.
Big surprise. The reason women shut up is because those simple sentences, usually coming from the people they feel closest to, are a clear message that our pain is not worth their time, and worse, we have no 'right' to be feeling that pain. So we shut up.
Some of us look for support elsewhere; most of us shut up forever.
How do I know this? Well, obviously, I have BTDT. But in addition, I have been working with a graduate student on this whole question of birth trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for a few years. That student is about to defend her thesis. From the start, we have been harangued for 'making birth into something ugly' -- as it if it was our fault that women are routinely maltreated during birth. Snort.
When my student, Anne (take a bow, dearie... you deserve it!), started looking at this question she interviewed women about their birth experiences. At first, these women were reticent to talk, and then they exploded with details and information once they knew they were 'safe' and wouldn't be put down for having these feelings. Anne found in that first sample that nearly 10% of the population had either PTSD or severe stress with regards to their birth experiences. This is high compared to other studies which usually find about 6% of women (which is still high imhsho). We suspect that it was because this was a group of women with a relatively low SES, which makes the problem even more evil.
Another fabulous student (Natalene... your turn to bow) looked at both IVF and miscarriage and how these events impact women. Lo and behold, she found that women feel very emotionally traumatized from IVF, their intimacy is damaged, they feel objectified. When we went to publish the article, the ob/gyn's who refereed the journal said, "Yes, that is obvious, so should we publish it?" But it hadn't been published before. And if it is obvious, why are so many people refusing to change the system to make it more humane (particularly in France)???
And then there is the reality that is coming up right now on the ICAN support board. Everyone deals with their trauma differently. No one can truly 'know' what another thinks or feels about her experience, there is no right or wrong. Which brings me back to the start of my blog.
Perinatal trauma is here to stay. It is hard to go through. Most women need to be heard and comforted, not lectured. And if you have any contact with any such woman (it would be hard not to, over 50% of women suffer at least a miscarriage in their life, not to mention the skyrocketing c/s rate of +30% in the US) then let her speak. Do not judge her. Let her have her feelings, and cherish her all the more for expressing them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Inspiration and LFT

So, I am in awe of 'real bloggers'. I look at some occasionally (watch this space for my favorties, one of these days). They inspire me. But I don't think I am a real blogger. But I think I want to be.
I suffer from LFT. It is called "Low Frustration Tolerance" and it is one of the basic elements that Albert Ellis cites as being an impediment to true psychological happiness. LFT is what we say when we are confronted with something that we either kinda want to do, or really should do, and we say, "But it's tooooo hard" (said usually in a whiney voice). And usually, if we do it, it gets us closer to a goal which is important.
But is blogging a 'goal' for me? I mean, I have so little time, and what I do, I already waste quite well, thank you. Not only that, no one, as far as I can tell, has read my blog since I started it. (Which brings me to the question of why I do it... it is sort of the 'tree falls in the forest' conundrum... but then I like keeping journals anyway... and I just re-read my post, "Pete and Repeat" and well, I still think it is hilarious... and I digress...).
So, is blogging a goal? Well, perhaps not in and of itself. But I do realize that writing is one of my favorite things to do. And although I feel I am dragged kicking and screaming to the keyboard (an image I take from Richard Bach who said this once about writing), once I am doing it I actually do like it. My job is full of writing (a little-known secret about researchers... 80% of our work is writing... yes, really! even the test-tube-water-sampler-chemist types have to write all that up... and then they have to write grants to get money... I am thankfully spared this since no institution with any self-respect finances research in psychology). But this isn't 'fun' writing.
And writing, well, when it is like this, is fun. And, in that sense it may bring me closer to a goal, or some goals, since it is what Ellis referred to as a "Vital absorbing activity"... modern cognitivists call it 'flow' which frees our brain from its tethers and lets it fly for awhile. So that is a good thing.
Sewing gives me flow too... and I need to figure out a way to better integrate it into my life since two children, work, AND a blog may keep me further from it. Sigh... watch this space (if you are out there).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My life without Aspartame

So many people in my life, especially my family, become passsionate about something. I did too, about breasfeeding (but haven't written much about it here). And now my new passion is: avoiding aspartame (Nutra Sweet, tm).

I quit aspartame in early May, just about the time I got pregnant. Alas, I lost that baby, but as a frequent miscarrier (I'll save that for another blog) I wasn't in terrible shape about it. I quit because I knew, deep down, that aspartame was probably not a good idea for me. I had a stock of Diet Dr Pepper (no mean feat because I have to order it from the UK) and decided that if I didn't like quitting, I could always go back.

Well, I liked quitting. I found that my eyesight problems diminished, and I all but lost my tendancy for headaches, regardless of the time in my cycle. After 3 days, I didn't want to go back. So that was quite a victory. I lost 2 kilos in the ten days following my quitting (which I gained back with the baby and have subsequently lost... sigh...). And I quit having cravings for food, so I cut back, naturally on food.

I didn't continue to lose weight, so I decided to attack things a bit more aggressively. This is easy to do in France because weight loss and looking good are incredible big business here. So I signed up for a series of massages, saunas and a diet (high protein... another thing I never thought I'd do!). So far, I have lost (again) nearly 2 kilos. I think these are my expendable kilos so I'll probably keep those off but not get smaller.

But all this brings me back to the aspartame. In looking for more natural protein supplements, low in carbs, I found it nearly impossible to find one without artificial sweetners (read aspartame, acesulfamine K, etc). I found one! And it was pretty low in carbs too! But... it was based on mostly soy protein. Sigh. I know soy protein isn't good for a woman who wants another baby (there is lots of controversy on how soy can affect a woman's hormonal balance... whether you believe it or not, I am not taking any risks). So the search was on for another protein powder, this time with low carbs AND no artificial sweetners AND one I could get in the EC.

I found one (Natural Whey by Reflex), but it wasn't easy. Who knows if I'll like it. I may have to hide it in some serious stuff to make it stay down. I liked my Spiru-tein, too bad that.

So after quitting aspartame, and starting a high protein low carb induction phase (only 9 more days to go)... what have I learned? That I have the potential for more energy than I ever thought possible. Who'd have thought that those Atkins nuts (I say that in the nicest possible way) were right about increasing protein and decreasing bad carbs. I don't feel hungry. I have lost weight (no doubt some water weight there, but it is water weight I don't need).

My next phase is going to be low GI, but with an emphasis on good carbs (thankfully, I love fruit... and I miss it right now...). Watch this space because I might continue to proselytize about all this weight stuff too, not just breastfeeding, birth and aspartame.