Archives: February 2012

From China: ‘Gao cries less’

02.13.2012 12:52 PM

Yes, in a country with a forced one-child policy, and the abortion and international adoption rates that result, plus orphanages packed with ”unadoptable” disabled children, surrogacy is booming. Go figure.

Two years after giving away the baby boy she’d carried for nine months, Gao cries less. His new mum treats him well, and she finds comfort in the smiling family photos uploaded online. Besides, she has her own biological seven-year-old to care for – and she’s busy searching for another infertile couple seeking a womb.

…for women such as Gao, the decision to surrogate isn’t an ethical one: it provides her family with much-needed cash, even if there’s an emotional cost. Though her husband cared for her in their home during her first surrogacy, for the next Gao plans to move out of town. “My relatives and neighbours would be sceptical if I tell them the baby is stillborn again,” she says.

Trent’s apparently popular idea

02.12.2012 6:42 PM

Just another guy tryin’ to be a good dad.


02.11.2012 6:51 PM

The inimitable Sandra Tsing Loh reviews the current books on caregiving — and writes about her father – in this month’s Atlantic magazine:

What I propose instead is seeking comfort in what I like to call, borrowing in part from Kafka’s German, Elderschadenfreude. On the one hand, sure, here we stand around the office coffeemaker in middle age, mixing flax into our Greek yogurt and sharing more and more tales about our elderly parents, tales that are dull (“Mom slipped in the shower—at first she said it was nothing”), slow-moving (“And then I took her to the foot doctor, but then, right there in the parking lot, she insisted she had to go to the bathroom—but the door is on the north side while we were on the south—”), and in the end, well, depressingly predictable (we already know which colleges our wards are getting into—NONE). On the other hand, I believe it is by enduring this very suffering and tedium that one can eventually tease out a certain dark, autumnal, delightfully-bitter-as-Fernet-Branca enjoyment, best described by some dense and complicated noun-ending German word.

Does “In Sickness and In Health” Mean Something?

02.10.2012 3:43 PM

Adelle M. Banks at USA Today looks into it:

…When the person you married goes through a dramatic change, what’s a spouse to do? As Valentine’s Day approaches, clergy, ethicists and brain injury experts agree: There are no easy answers.

When a couple is faced with the sudden or gradual change in the person who now may no longer be able to give flowers or go out to the movies, it often means a new definition of love.

“I made a vow,” said an emotional Weeks. “For better or for worse, in sickness and health. She has stood by me in mission work, in the pastorate. Why can’t I stand by her now?”

Several recent examples reflect the complexities of love in medically challenging situations:

— Last summer, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson initially suggested on his “700 Club” program that a man divorce his wife who had Alzheimer’s and “start all over again” with dating. Alzheimer’s, he said, was “like a walking death.” He later said he was “misunderstood.”

— In early January, The Washington Post Magazine ran a story about a woman whose husband suffered a traumatic brain injury after a heart attack. She eventually decided to divorce him but continue caring for him with her second husband.

— On Friday (Feb. 10), “The Vow” hits movie screens, an adaptation of a rereleased book about a young married couple whose serious car accident left the wife unable to recognize her husband. In fact, she thought she was not married. more

The Long Haul Project

02.10.2012 3:27 PM

Featured in a new story, “In Defense of Getting Married,” by Alyssa Giacobbe at the Boston Globe Magazine:

Melissa and Tom Dowler of Boston married five years ago. They tried what she calls the “whole house in the suburbs” thing for a couple of years in their early 30s and hated it. “It was a confusing time in our marriage,” says Melissa. “Wasn’t this life supposed to be what married couples wanted?” Maybe not. Instead, they left their secure full-time jobs, moved to a loft in the city, and launched a video production business. Now they are making a movie about the changing definition of marriage. They travel extensively. “All the couples we’ve met through our work have inspired us and shown us that modern marriage is far more diverse, rich, and rewarding than it’s often portrayed,” says Melissa of The Long Haul Project, their blog and in-the-works documentary.

Children of Divorce in Song

02.10.2012 1:11 PM

Came across a video by a singer named Jonny Craig called “Children of Divorce.” Watching it, it appears to be sung from the point of view of a father estranged from his child and the mother of the child. “Maybe someday she will know…my name,” he sings. (I just wish he didn’t also sing, if I understand him correctly, that the child was a “mistake.”) Interestingly, it seems to have been covered by a number of other artists such as this one, Ray Ligaya. (You Tube helpfully runs ads like “Is he cheating on you?” while you’re watching the video.)

Do Mothers Matter?

02.10.2012 9:34 AM

My piece at Atlantic online today:

Do mothers matter? Having no mother was — at least until recently — widely agreed to be a tragedy. Psychiatric case studies, Disney movies, and well-known spirituals such as “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” have testified to the importance of mothers and the pain of mother loss. But such views have not meant that every child has lived in a society that affirms the importance of the child’s bond with his or her mother. Children have been denied their mothers because of class biases (see, poor); racial and ethnic biases (Indian, Aborigine); as part of severe civil conflict (Argentina, Dirty War); amid widespread, institutionalized human rights abuses (slavery); or because their mothers were rightly or wrongly perceived to be unfit (see: history of adoption, good, bad, and ugly).

Yet even as the broad history of helping ourselves to other people’s children continues to be probed and largely condemned (except in the case of adoption, where most reasonable people agree that such an institution must exist in order to find loving homes for children in need of them), a newer and notably deliberate form of mother loss has sprung up, one that receives relatively little debate and is often presented as benign or even good, without question. I am referring, of course, to the practices of surrogacy and egg donation. read more

Doctors who Cultivate a Presence of Peace

02.10.2012 9:12 AM

A recent piece at the Journal of Palliative medicine reminded me of a conversation Elizabeth and I were having with one of my favorite palliative care physicians.  He is a student of yoga and although he doesn’t make direct connections between his religious practices and his medical practice, they bubble to the surface when he describes how he enters a patients rooms, how he conducts family conferences where he names painful elephants in the room (Momma is not going to get better…Your husband is dying…), and how he waits in silence to honor that stressed out people need time to process information and to honor the depth of the information that has been give.  When was the last time you sat in silence with your doctor?  I am reminded that when doctors are not paid on a fee-for-service model, they spend a lot more time actually helping us understand health and illness and not just throwing pills and treatments at us. Although I don’t think my friend would use the same words and definitions as Dr. Seno, I was inspired by her description of who we would like serving us in our times of distress and crisis.  She writes to medical professionals:

“So, how then do we be more of our  infinite selves?
…Infinite being is experienced in a quieter mind than we usually carry around so we have to find ways to have fewer thoughts. In the case of approaching death, we also have to find ways to reduce our  natural apprehensions.
Some nurses and doctors have told how they “get themselves ready” to enter a room where crises is going on. They “get ready” their state of mind. They know that all beings connect through consciousness. “We’re all in this together” so to speak. They honor their social obligation to be significant and authentic, and to express their caring as a personal gift of being infinite and available for their patients.”
Sounds lovely.

Be a Friend

02.09.2012 10:07 PM

Through a hospice newsletter, I learned that one of the pioneers in hospice care in Florida, Mary Labyak, died recently.  The hospice she led created a Memorial Page where visitors can go to read about her life and digitally sign a guestbook.  I am not her friend, in fact I have never spoken to her although I’ve heard her speak at conferences, but I left a comment of admiration and thankfulness for her years of service and her insight and heart for people facing the end of life.  It felt good to join the throngs of people whose lives she touched and to make public words of appreciation and sadness that she is gone.

Social media and grief.

On NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday, Bruce Feiler spoke about his recent piece on mourning and social media.  His quest began after he experienced several losses and he noticed that many times a person would send out a mass e-mail notifying every one of the news of a death, and he wondered, Is it okay to send an e-mail condolence?  If I write a note and mail it, they won’t get it for a week and they may think that I’m rude for not responding immediately.  The callers in to the show are pretty much all over the place from some benefitting from on-line support groups to others canceling their Facebook pages to protect their privacy.   But I liked Feiler’s conclusion:

“The number one lesson I learned working on this story and from my own experience losing friends and nearly dying myself was that you need to meet the sick person or the griever where they are…the job of the friend of the griever is – as someone told me as I was working on the story was my favorite thing that I heard – you need to be that person’s friend. And if that means showing up and, you know, repotting their plants and sweeping their front porch, then show up and do those things. If that means listening to same story about their loved one for the fifth time, then listen to that same story. And if that means just sitting there quietly on the other end of the phone as they weep, that’s what your job is. It’s not to impose your own wishes on that person, it’s to be where that person is, and be supportive in whatever way they need.”

On a plane today I sat across from a young man I first thought was actor, Omar Epps.  It wasn’t, sadly, but he was a fascinating guy, a college football player with his pinkie fingernail painted bright red.  I noticed it but in good German Lutheran fashion I remained noticeably obtuse while I internally made up all sorts of cockamamied reasons for said red nail.  Thankfully, the young woman next to him exclaimed, “Oh! You have a red fingernail!” He turned to me and queried, “You’ve been wondering about that too, haven’t you?”  I made like I didn’t notice such things and then, nodding, said, “Yeah.”

It’s for my mom.  She died in ’93 and always painted her fingernails bright, shiny red.  She was from South Africa and was amazing.  Ever since then I paint my pinkie red so I feel like she’s always with me.

“That’s beautiful,” the young woman next to him said quietly.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I offered.

“Thanks,” he replied to us both, “that means a lot.”

I wanted to stop at that moment and say to them, “Look!  Do you see what just happened?  We created community!  If we had our complimentary drinks and pretzels, Bruce Feiler might even call this an airplane shiva! We didn’t need Facebook or our phones that have been forced into airplane mode to connect to each other.  Beautiful.”

Mourning and grieving in an age of social media. As Feiler says, be a friend.

The Worth of Home Health Aides

02.09.2012 11:52 AM

Yesterday’s New Old Age blog raises an important issue that is up before the Department of Labor again which is including the home health aide profession under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Personally, I don’t believe we can pay the people who play this very important role enough, and if they are hourly, non-exempt employees they should be paid overtime.  Home Health Aides are the individuals who enter your home or hospital room or nursing home room and give you a bath, change your sheets, provide mouth care, wash your hair, help you toilet, and feed you a simple meal.  On our hospice team, it was clear to every member of the team from the physician to the accountants that every family we serve would trade us all to keep their home health aide.

One point of clarification that Span mentions has come up in comments about this issue before is ow we pay for overtime for people who are basically on stand-by or are sitting.  I do want to be clear that being a sitter and a home health aide are different professions, although some home health aides can be sitters.  In terms of sitter pay, which is also fairly abysmal, I would suggest paying as many places do for on-call staff.  We would pay a small hourly rate (like waitstaff) plus additional per task payments, usually based on visits, but could be expanded into hands-on tasks for a sitter.  A sitter could be expected to provide a certain number of task or responsibilities as well as be paid a triage rate when any problems or crises arise.

The deadline for commenting to the Department of Labor is February 27th!  Make your voices heard since these will be the people bathing and feeding and sitting with us!

The M.Guy Tweet

02.09.2012 9:45 AM

Marriage Media
Week of January 30, 2011
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1. Many Singles Looking for Love, But Not Marriage, USA Today

So many singles appear to be enjoying their unencumbered and unmarried state that two-thirds aren’te ven sure they want to marry, suggests a broad national survey of the dating habits, sexual behaviors and lifestyles of 5,541 single adults across the USA. Almost 40% of singles 21 and older surveyed were uncertain about wanting to marry; overall, 34.5% say they do want to marry, but 27% don’t.

2. Here is What Real Commitment to your Marriage Means, Science Codex

“This,” Bradbury said, “is the other kind of commitment: the difference between ‘I like this relationship and I’m committed to it’ and ‘I’m committed to doing what it takes to make this relationship work.’ When you and your partner are struggling a bit, are you going to do what’s difficult when you don’t want to? At 2 a.m., are you going to feed the baby?”

The couples that were willing to make sacrifices within their relationships were more effective in solving their problems, the psychologists found. “It’s a robust finding,” Bradbury said. “The second kind of commitment predicted lower divorce rates and slower rates of deterioration in the relationship.”

3. The Secret to an Enduring Sex Life, Belfast Telegraph

Marshall is also keen to bust the myths about sex which hold couples back: that it has to be spontaneous and that both partners have to be equally turned on at the same time. “That puts people under extreme pressure,” he says. “What’s needed is a bit of give and take and accepting that sometimes one person is in the spotlight, sometimes the other. If you wait until you both feel in the mood you’d probably only have sex once a year, on holiday. That’s not to say you can’t have spontaneous sex, just that you can’t rely on it. The rest of the time you need to plan.”

4. Research and Public Opinion: Monogamy ‘Safer’ Than Polygamy, Coffin Corner

Prof Joseph Henrich said: “Our goal was to understand why monogamous marriage has become standard in most developed nations in recent centuries, when most recorded cultures have practiced polygamy. The emergence of monogamous marriage is also puzzling for some as the very people who most benefit from polygamy – wealthy, powerful men – were best positioned to reject it.

“Our findings suggest that that institutionalised monogamous marriage provides greater net benefits for society at large by reducing social problems that are inherent in polygamous societies.”

5. Values Inequality, Wall Street Journal

So much for the idea that the white working class remains the guardian of core American values like religious faith, hard work and marriage. Today the denizens of upscale communities like McLean, Va., New Canaan, Conn., and Palo Alto, Calif., according to Charles Murray in “Coming Apart,” are now much more likely than their fellow citizens to embrace these core American values. In studying, as his subtitle has it, “the state of white America, 1960-2010,” Mr. Murray turns on its head the conservative belief that bicoastal elites are dissolute and ordinary Americans are virtuous.

6. Divorce Hurts Health More at Earlier Ages, Michigan State University

Divorce at a younger age hurts people’s health more than divorce later in life, according to a new study by a Michigan State University sociologist. Hui Liu said the findings, which appear in the research journal Social Science & Medicine, suggest older people have more coping skills to deal with the stress of divorce.

“It’s clear to me that we need more social and family support for the younger divorced groups,” said Liu, assistant professor of sociology. “This could include divorce counseling to help people handle the stress, or offering marital therapy or prevention programs to maintain marital satisfaction.”

7. Black Family Breakdown, The Portland State Vanguard

The film “goes all the way back through slavery, coming over to the U.S., what a traditional family looks like and the different barriers that have been in place” for black families, Schwoeffermann said. “He calls it the breakdown of the black family.”

“I think it’s important for social workers to have a historical context about different communities they are engaging with, to inform their work to make it more culturally relevant and inform their practice,” Schwoeffermann said. “The part I was excited about was just having that conversation about families and how families work, and the unique differences between different families in the U.S.”

Similarly for the black community, see   VIDEO: Our Music Video for Fatherhood Goes to BET!

For more, see this site.

Getting it right, and wrong

02.08.2012 11:26 AM

It’s one of those mornings when there are a dozen things I should be doing at my desk before dashing off to a doctor’s appointment and more, but instead I’ve found myself lost in thought reading Mark Oppenheimer’s piece about Maggie Gallagher that appears in Salon today.

I met Maggie in 2000 and started working full-time at the Institute for American Values in 2001. I too was at that Osprey Point meeting that the reporter describes, in which the day’s schedule was filled with good serious talk about marriage, as marriage was then commonly understood, and we had one informal, evening gathering for those who wished to talk about something called gay marriage that a court in Massachusetts would be addressing sometime soon. I remember that evening my dear mother-in-law, now ill, was taking care of my baby daughter upstairs in my hotel room while I briefly attended the evening meeting downstairs. The texture of it all seems kind of long ago and poignant to me, and also sweet (my daughter at that age took the idea of “nursing on demand” quite literally, so I was rarely separated from her even for an hour that first year; I remember apologizing to my mother-in-law for running out again in the evening, telling her that I had a feeling this would be important).

Oppenheimer’s tracing of Maggie’s intellectual journey in those years rings true to me, from what I observed in that period. The gay marriage debate came to us – and by “us” I mean those of us who were researching and seeking to lead public discussions on mother-father marriage and fatherlessness and children of divorce and the like… David Blankenhorn and Maggie Gallagher and then-young me and many others. The reporter gets it absolutely right when he muses that it doesn’t seem like Maggie is motivated by anti-gay animus. She’s not. He’s right that what she really, really, really cares about and thinks about 24/7 with incredible intensity and vision and creativity is something which the reporter appropriately, perhaps more appropriately than he realizes, calls Marriage, with a capital M.

But Oppenheimer gets it wrong when he talks about children. He persists, as so many proponents of same-sex marriage seem to, in a seemingly stubborn, dogged, refuse-to-get-that-these-two-things-could-possibly-be-connected attitude that asking how redefining marriage might affect children is patently ridiculous. The future of same-sex marriage, he contends, in language which seems to be intended as both slightly tongue in cheek and at the same time completely serious, will be about “shiny, happy couples raising rosy-cheeked,well-adjusted children, children who play with dogs and go to school and fall from jungle gyms and break their arms, children often adopted after being abandoned by the heterosexuals who did not want them or could not care for them…”

In another place he writes, “[Gallagher] surely knows that the children of gay and lesbian couples have not been wrenched away from happy hetero homes—either they are the natural children of one parent in the couple; or they are the products of sperm donation or surrogacy; or they are adoptees, given up by mothers who could not raise them; or they have been abandoned or taken away from abusive or neglectful homes.”

In fact, at least until recently, most children being raised in gay and lesbian unions were also children of divorce, children who did at one point earlier in their lives have a married mother and father,until one of those parents decided they were gay and ended the marriage. Some of those children may indeed have felt that theirs was one of those “happy hetero families” the reporter refers to.

The other glaring absence in Oppenheimer’s piece is any grappling at all, on his part, with deliberate fatherlessness or deliberate motherlessness as they happen through sperm donation or egg donation/surrogacy. Oppenheimer names these methods as ways that children appear in lesbian or gay unions. But it doesn’t appear that he’s given one iota of thought to the question of how children and young people conceived this way make sense of it all. Perhaps he would like to. He could start here.

9th Circuit Court Rules That California’s Proposition 8 Is Unconstitutional on narrow grounds that won’t apply outside California

02.07.2012 3:21 PM

You can read the ruling (in pdf form) here.

On a first glance, I think there’s an aspect to this ruling a lot of people will misunderstand. People such as constitutional law scholar John Eastman, the chairman of NOM, who blustered that “Never before has a federal appeals court – or any federal court for that matter – found a right to gay marriage under the US Constitution.”

But the court did not find “a right to gay marriage under the US Constitution.” The decision is very explicit on this point, and as a law professor Eastman must know that what he’s saying isn’t true. From the decision (written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt):

We therefore need not and do not consider whether same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, or whether states that fail to afford the right to marry to gays and lesbians must do so. Further, we express no view on those questions.

NOM’s Brian Brown also lies about the stakes of this ruling (“But if we lose at the Supreme Court, marriage will be jeopardized not just in California, but in all 50 states”), and predictably ties it to a fundraising appeal.

In fact, the Court ruled on a much narrower question: Can a state pass a special law to eliminate an already-existing right for same-sex couples to have the legal designation “marriage” applied to their relationships, when the state otherwise makes no legal distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships? And the Court’s answer is no.

The ruling relies heavily on the Supreme Court’s Romer v Evans decision, a 1996 ruling which overturned an anti-gay law in Colorado. Justice Kennedy was the author of the Romer decision, which could be relevant, since Kennedy is likely to be the swing vote if the Supreme Court accepts the inevitable appeal to the 9th Circuit’s decision.

From the Court’s decision: Read More

‘When a Divorce Pays Off’

02.07.2012 3:11 PM

A recent WSJ article on a wrinkle the reporter argues many people don’t know about: that if are over age 62, unmarried, and your former marriage lasted at least ten years — even if the marriage occurred years ago — you may be eligible for a bigger Social Security benefit based on your former spouse’s earnings.

Live Video

02.07.2012 2:22 PM

In the UK they’re talking marriage, live at 6:30 pm today London time, sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance and by Church Communities UK. Link here.

What’s driving the marriage trend?

02.07.2012 12:04 PM

At Brookings, an interesting post on whether current marital trends are being driven mainly by economics or mainly by value changes.  My view is, value changes; these author argue, it’s mainly/largely economics.

Parentless Parents

02.06.2012 1:21 PM

I recently checked out a fairly new book by Allison Gilbert titled, Parentless Parents: How the Loss of our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way we Raise our Children.  I immediately thought of a dear friend of mine who once explained to me how after both her parents died she rues her birthday.  Each year, she is reminded that of the three people directly involved in and present on the day she came into the world, only she remains.  It was somehow comforting to her to know that there were other people in the world for whom remembering her birthday was not optional.  But now, everyone who remembers her birthday is ancillary and does so by choice not by direct association.

I picked up the book because although both my parents are living, I am married to someone whose father has died.  Over the years, I have grieved and struggled with the awareness that I don’t know what he goes through or how the death of a parent impacts all that you are and all that you will be.  The author, Gilbert, not only has experienced the death of both her parents but also has researched through quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews the experiences of parentless parents, and through both her story and the stories of others she seeks to create community as well as offer ideas for how to survive and thrive despite loss.  Read More

Is marriage for rich people?

02.06.2012 1:12 PM

The NYT Economix blog:

A new report, by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Hamilton Project, looked at the decline in marriage rates over the last 50 years and found a strong connection to income. Dwindling marriage rates are concentrated among the poor — the very people whose living standards would be most improved by having a second household income.

The trend is especially pronounced among men…

Is there any such thing as a ‘good’ divorce?

02.06.2012 1:07 PM

A popular press article on Paul Amato et al’s new article in Family Relations, “Reconsidering the ‘Good Divorce’“:

The Pennsylvania State University researchers said that overall the results provide ‘only modest support’ for the good divorce hypothesis.

They said that previous studies that have backed the idea may not have been as through as theirs.

It is also possible that the idea of a ‘good divorce’ caught on because people simply wanted it to be true.

Researcher Paul Amato, a professor of family sociology, said divorcing parents should be given more advice on how to help their children adapt to the sudden change in circumstances.

And he called on marriage counsellors to do more to save marriages that have not irretrievably broken down.

He concluded: ‘Not all children with divorced parents experience long-term problems.

‘But people’s willingness to accept the good divorce hypothesis is reason for concern if some parents are lulled into believing that their children are adequately protected from all the potential risks of union disruption.’

‘No Loving Parent’ Will Be ‘Pushed Out’

02.06.2012 1:01 PM

And grandparents count too…one parent or five? plus grandparents?

For kids from divided and multiple homes, all this separate visiting will hardly leave them any time for school.

From the UK:

Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, has published proposals to give divorced and separated fathers stronger rights to see their children, as part of an overhaul of the family justice system.

Grandparents are also expected to get greater influence, amid plans to look into how “parenting agreements” could emphasise the need for parents to consider children’s continuing relationship with other close family members.

Other reforms include a six-month time limit for care and adoption cases in the courts, although Clarke insisted that flexibility would remain to ensure a time extension for complex cases where this was in the children’s interest.

The key change in the process is the introduction of rules making clearer that it is vital youngsters enjoy “an ongoing relationship with both parents”. Ministers have signalled that they will not offer the guarantee of equal access demanded by some fathers’ rights groups but want to ensure no loving parent is “pushed out”.