It’s Menopause – Not Infertility

Jennifer Lahl

Too many women know the heartbreak of infertility.  Too many women don’t know that their infertility relates to menopause, not disease.

Last week was National Infertility Awareness Week.  From the organization’s website:

National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) is a movement that began in 1989.  The goal of NIAW is to raise awareness about the disease of infertility and encourage the public to understand their reproductive health.  RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association founded this movement and continues to work with the professional family building community, corporate partners and the media to:

  1. Ensure that people trying to conceive know the guidelines for seeing a specialist when they are trying to conceive.

  2. Enhance public understanding that infertility is a disease that needs and deserves attention.

  3. Educate legislators about the disease of infertility and how it impacts people in their state.

In 2010 National Infertility Awareness Week became a federally recognized health observance by the Department of Health and Human Services.

While I am quite sympathetic to diseases which cause infertility, and the need for proper medical intervention to attempt to cure or treat the underlying cause of the infertility, in reality, many consumers of reproductive services have no disease whatsoever.

Take for example, a same-sex couple who uses these technologies to have a baby.  No disease.  No infertility.  Or consider the “single-mother-by-choice”.  No disease.  No infertility.

Or what about the growing number of women who have just waited too long to have their children?  These women are certainly not infertile; they are in (or entering) the period of menopause.  Menopause is a natural and normal event which occurs in a woman’s life, it is not a disease which needs to be treated. The biological clock is real and as women, we must re-educate ourselves to this fact and educate our daughters to this fact.  While women are living longer and healthier lives, this has no bearing on our fertility.  Women still experience a dramatic decline of their fertility in their early 30s.  If we want to have children, we need to have them when we are young.  We risk closing the door on natural childbirth if we postpone pregnancy.

The Mayo Clinic  reported that a woman’s fertility peaks between age 20 and age 24. The fertility rate remains relatively constant (at about 15–20% below maximum) through age 35. From 40 to 45, though, the decrease is a dramatic 50–95%. This translates as follows: a healthy 30-year-old woman has about a 20% chance per month to get pregnant. By age 40, however, her chance is only about 5% per month.

The following graph comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – the only government body which gathers data (incomplete in my assessment) on the use of assisted reproductive technologies in the United States.    

Note the dramatic “percentage” rise in the use of “donor” eggs as maternal “age” increases.  The use of eggs from another woman reflects the simple biological reality that, as an older woman’s fertility declines, she must turn to younger women to provide her eggs in order to conceive, bear and birth a baby.

The older birth mother is, in fact, having the younger woman’s baby – and exposing the younger woman to the detrimental health and fertility risks associated with egg harvesting procedures.


But conception is only part of an older woman’s challenge to bearing children as her fertility wanes.  Advanced maternal age also heightens the risk of “fetal loss” – meaning the older mother’s age alone increases the likelihood that she simply cannot carry a baby to term.  One important study noted this stark conclusion:

There is an increasing risk of fetal loss with increasing maternal age in women aged more than 30 years. Fetal loss is high in women in their late 30s or older, irrespective of reproductive history.  This should be taken into consideration in pregnancy planning and counseling.


I do understand and acknowledge the heartbreak when that strong desire of women have to bear children is frustrated by age and declining fertility.  But I do think National Infertility Awareness Week should focus its resources on the diseases which affect our fertility and develop a model that recognizes biological realties and practical things we can do to promote fertility.

In my next post, I will share some steps and precautions you can take in practice to safeguard and protect the gift of female fertility.


Inside the Confessional of Pinterest

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

Wikipedia describes Pinterest as: “a pinboard-style social photo sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, hobbies and more.” You may visit the website here:

But Pinterest is more than that. Like any social media, Pinterest is a place where people can feel a little more comfortable and safe expressing things they might not already express in person. Whether it’s online dating or blogging or chatting—it’s easier to expose the piece of yourself you’re embarrassed about, or the piece of yourself you’re scared might get rejected, if you have the screen to hide behind. And we kneel behind that screen to confess what we’re most scared to confess.

In the case of Pinterest the confession is most frequently:

I want to be a woman.

Let me explain. First of all, the overwhelming majority of Pinterest users are female.

Secondly, these female users “pin” about things that are very much in line with the “traditional” woman, not the modern progressive woman who wants to be seen as no different from a man.

You see, on Pinterest, the women who would generally speak all about their BS degree are pinning as if they’re getting their MRS degree (you might as well assume that every woman on Pinterest is engaged.) The women who swear that they will never be housewives are filling their pages with recipes and cleaning tips. The women who hate the idea of settling down have boards devoted to their dream home, picket fence included. The women who say they want to put off having children can’t seem to resist the cute little girl’s room ideas or the viral pin of the sweet suggestion for how to tell your children the truth about Santa. We say we’re liberated from the sweeping, the cooking, the diaper changing, and the marrying. But Pinterest clearly says otherwise. So what’s the deal? Why the discrepancy?

The problem is, as much as we talk about being liberated from these things, most of us can’t help but want them deep down. We’re just scared that nobody will listen to us if we do. Or that we won’t be accepted. Or we won’t be supported.

Because in the post-feminism era, women are encouraged to go out into the world and do big things to change it—but they are rarely encouraged to stay where they are and do little things to change their world in a big way. We look down on the twenty two year old who doesn’t want to get her masters or doesn’t want to get a corporate job. We look down on the newly married couple who would like to start a family. We look down on the woman who may not travel the world to feed the hungry, but feeds her friends and family with love-infused cookies. Women, nowadays, are supposed to be independent, rich, intellectual, ambitious, and restless. If they don’t happen to be these things, we act like something is wrong with them. And what do they do? Well, they either have to take the heat of being treated like an airhead, or they go on to something that doesn’t fulfill them, and we’re short another wonderful wife and mother. We’re short another beautiful home. We’re short more homemade cookies.

And isn’t this the stuff that means the most to us? The stuff of Pinterest? Our mothers taught us love. They taught us how to love. Motherhood (along with fatherhood) is the only “career choice” that keeps the human race going. The things closest to our hearts, the things that truly make the world go round—they are the things of home and hearth and Christmas and babies and unconditional love—even through the diapers and the spilled milk and the broken ornaments. We don’t want to lose the stuff of Pinterest or we would be a very empty and unhappy world.

So let’s listen to the cries in that confessional.

Sometimes it’s I want to wear pretty dresses. And I like pretty dresses better than this pants suit I have to wear to work.

Sometimes it’s I’m terrified of marriage. Every marriage I’ve ever seen has failed. And every guy I’ve ever dated has failed me and wounded me. I don’t know how to pick up the pieces. But I have this fantasy deep down that I can’t seem to get rid of. So I’m going to plan my dream wedding on here.

Let’s listen to these cries and let’s let them be heard. Mothers and fathers, encourage your daughters. Brothers, encourage your sisters. Boyfriends, fiancés, husbands, encourage your women. And women, encourage each other. Don’t be afraid that you’ll lose your worth. You’ve already got your worth. By suppressing it, you’re merely hiding it from those who would be ready and willing to recognize it (and I promise there are guys out there who would.) We all know how beautiful womanhood is. So don’t be afraid. As most fashionista women know well, there are things that are trends and there are things that are timeless. And the type of womanhood we’re talking about here is one of those timeless things. It may not be popular, but it will always be beautiful and desirable. And if we learn how to let it speak up, outside of Pinterest, we will find much fulfillment.

Which Onesie, Baby?

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Today I learned of a new effort to revitalize the “War on Women” rhetoric – a political strategy that sadly divides women into camps and polarizes discussion.  Now, it’s resulting in some clothing choices for babies . .  

The apparent aim is coordinated rallies throughout the US on April 28 “to demand that every person be granted equal opportunities, equal rights, and equal representation.”  The sponsor appears to be the National Organization of Women, although the effort has its own Facebook page and website,  Offered for sale in support of this event is a onesie for babies, sizes newborn to 24 months, in a wide range of colors, including mint green and light pink.  The onesie has this slogan on it:

Included to sell this item is an advertising photo for the $20 onesie.

If a mom dresses her beautiful, chubby baby in a onesie that says “My Mom made a choice.  Which was her right!”, what is she trying to say to the world?  Perhaps – though I could be wrong – this is not a statement about the baby, but a statement about the mother, using the baby as her billboard.  It brings to mind onesies that read “Grandma’s Favorite” or “My Uncle Went to Maui” – slogans intended to state something about a relative of the baby. 

But, of course, this abortion slogan is not at all like such onesies put on babies which spotlight the love for the child by a wide range of competing relatives.  The pro-choice abortion slogan emphasizes that the mother – not the child – is the holder of rights when it comes to who gets to be born and who does not.  The onesie is a statement of power, not a statement of love, but I could be wrong.

Perhaps it is a statement of love.  A mother dressing her child in a $20 onesie that says, “My Mom made a choice.  Which was her right!” might say that this is a statement of love – a statement that “I loved you so much I did not abort you” . . . which brings to mind a conversation I had with a mother who regretted not having an abortion when pregnant with her first child.  She expressed earnestly that, in retrospect – though her daughter was now grown, married and a parent herself – she should have aborted that child and pursued a career for several more years so that, when her subsequent children were born, she would have a better employment history. 

This, of course, is one problem with calling babies “choices” rather than facts or blessings or persons.  A baby birthed because the mother considered it a “good choice” when she had the baby, can just as easily conclude that she made a mistake and her child was, looking back, a “bad choice”. 

I do not think that pro-choice women love their babies any less than their pro-life sisters.  But pro-life women do not think of their babies as choices – anymore than we think of crazy Aunt Ethel or generous Grandma Sally or incarcerated brother Bob as “choices”.  I do not think that babies – if they were given a voice – would be excited about wearing a onesie that tells the world their lives are mom’s choice.  I think babies would rather wear the onesies pro-lifers designed.  It only comes in pale yellow, but costs less at $12.97.  On this point, I am pretty sure that I am right.

Women Responding to Women

Catholic Medical Association

Contributed by Catholic Medical Association

President Obama’s HHS Mandate Is Bad for Women’s Health and the Practice of Medicine

Dear Senators Boxer, Murray, and Shaheen:

In a Feb. 7, 2012 Wall St. Journal op-ed, you claimed that President Obama’s HHS mandate, which forces everyone, including religious institutions, to pay for abortifacients, oral contraceptives (OCPs), and sterilizations as mandatory benefits in health insurance policies, was a victory for women’s health.  As practicing physicians, we can attest that nothing is further from the truth.  President Obama’s mandate is bad for women’s health and for the profession of medicine.

First, birth control is not preventive medical care like breast exams and pap smears performed to prevent a late diagnosis of cancer or immunizations to prevent pneumonia and influenza.  A child is not a disease, nor are fertility and pregnancy.  They are physiological states of healthy individuals.

Second, OCPs contribute to significant disease and dysfunction, such as increased rates of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks (especially in smokers); increased rates of HPV transmission; and increased incidence of cervical cancer and liver tumors. The same synthetic hormones in OCPs that make a woman’s body behave as if pregnant all the time also change her body chemistry, rendering her more susceptible to STIs.  As physicians, we frequently must care [for] women suffering from the unanticipated side effects of OCPs.

OCPs can lower the incidence of ovarian cancer.  But only 1 in 72 women will develop ovarian cancer.  Of greater concern should be the many studies showing that OCPs increase the risk of breast cancer—especially in young women who use them for more than 4 years before their first full-term pregnancy—since breast cancer rates have increased from 1 in 12 (in 1960 when the pill was first introduced) to 1 in 8 fifty years later.  The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens declared estrogen and progesterone Class I carcinogens in 2005.  Why would we promote any substance which increases the risk of cancer, and describe it as preventive care?

With regard to “cost savings” in health care, the Guttmacher Institute’s own data show that increases in contraception use lead to increased demand for abortions, and that women are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies when using contraception.  There are no valid statistics demonstrating that use of contraception and abortion have improved the health of women and children.  In fact, the rates of premature and low birth weight infants have been rising precipitously since rates of abortion and OCP use have increased.  One in 8 babies is now born prematurely. NICU care now accounts for 25% of the entire maternal/newborn budget!

Finally, it is important to realize that mandating “free contraception” is not free—it will mean higher insurance premiums for everyone and/or less money for the treatment of real diseases.

A President who is willing to use the power of the federal government to violate the rights of religious freedom, conscientious objection, and free speech of thousands of religious institutions, and of many other Americans who object to this mandate on grounds of conscience, will also have no qualms about ordering physicians to participate in providing contraception, sterilization, and abortion even if it violates their ethical and professional judgment.  In gutting the conscience protection rule enacted in 2008, and in refusing to include clear protections for conscience in PPACA, the Obama administration has demonstrated its hostility to the conscience rights of health-care professionals.  Attempted coercion in this area will drive out of medical practice many physicians who take their ethical obligations and the Hippocratic Oath seriously.  If this happens, millions of women will lose access to physicians who share their beliefs, and all patients will be more at the mercy of future government dictates about what health-care services can be offered or not.

As Catholic physicians, we swear before God to serve the sick with competence, compassion, and charity, always to their benefit and never to their harm.  Abortifacients, OCPs, and sterilization do not belong in a preventive services mandate because they are not preventive medicine and not good for women’s health.  President Obama’s mandate will prove harmful to women’s health and to the practice of medicine. It must be rescinded immediately.

Maricela P. Moffitt, M.D., M.P.H., President, Catholic Medical Association
Mary Keen, M.D., M.R.M.
Rebecca Peck, M.D.
Kathleen M. Raviele, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., Past President, Catholic Medical Association
Laura G. Reilly, M.D., A.B.P.N.

Reprinted with permission form the Catholic Medical Association.  This letter also appears in full at the CMA’s blog.

The India Bundle, Twiblings & the Blessing of Children

Jennifer Lahl

What chores do you outsource?  I read a list once in Time Magazine: The “Ten Best Chores to Outsource.”  Expecting to see housecleaning, landscaping, pool cleaning, you know, actual chores, I was shocked and saddened by the “number one” best chore to outsource: pregnancy.

As the Time Magazine article put it:

Outsourcing brings to mind big factories and call centers.  But entrepreneurs around the globe now offer services—from tutoring to sculpting a bust of your grandpa—to regular folks for a fraction of the cost in the West.  Thought the world was flat before?  Well, now you can hire someone in India to carry your child.


Outsourcing “pregnancy” has become big business, transforming having a child into a “bits and pieces” brokered industry:  sperm from a handsome Scandinavian stud, eggs from a smart, beautiful Ivy League woman, a womb-for-rent from a poor woman in India trying to provide food and education for her children, and brokers in the middle helping set up the legal transactions to build a better baby the 21st century way.

Entrepreneurs like Rudy Rupak, CEO of PlanetHospital, make their living converting conception and pregnancy into a commercial business.  Rudy’s brokering business offers what his company calls the India Bundle.  This “affordable” package deal offers would-be parents an egg donor, four surrogates for four embryo transfers, room and board for the surrogate during the pregnancy, and transportation services when the parents arrive in India to pick up the baby.  Costs escalate from there depending on services rendered.  Gay couples wanting to do egg-sharing so that they can each offer sperm to fertilize the egg drives up the price.  All the various preimplantation genetic diagnostic tests also drive costs upward.

This is what a consumer model of baby-making looks like.

Twins cost more, of course, which brings me to the latest craziness: twiblings.  Parents Michael and Melanie chronicled their infertility story, which is not atypical, in the New York Times Magazine article, “Meet the Twiblings.”  After what Melanie describes as many failed relationships, she finally met Mr. Right, but maternal age had hindered her ability to get pregnant, so they were off to the fertility doctor for five failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles.  Always wanting twins, they decided to hire not one, but two surrogates, enlisted the help of an egg donor, and “gave birth” to a boy and a girl five days apart.  Since the babies were from the same egg donor and they used Michael’s sperm, they are siblings.  Being that they were created in the lab at the same time, they are fraternal twins.  But, given that they were carried in separate surrogate wombs, they have been dubbed twiblings.

Meanwhile cases like those of an Australian couple who aborted their twin boys because they wanted a girl, and Olivia Pratten’s battle for the right to have access to her biological father’s identity (she was born in Canada some 20-plus years ago via anonymous egg donation), make their way through the courts.  These are uncharted global waters we are swimming in, woefully unregulated, with, at best, some ad hoc international law.  What is even more disheartening is the lack of a faithful witness (with the exception of Catholic teaching) in response to infertility.  From the New York Times Magazine “twiblings” piece, a director of a Los Angeles agency for surrogate searches stated that many of their gestational carriers were “white, working-class women, often evangelical Christians—the kind of girls you went to high school with.”  Or Sunday school perhaps?

The basics are well established within Christian orthodoxy.  Children are a blessing and a gift, not a right, and certainly not a product to be designed and manufactured.  They should be begotten, not made. Artificial reproductive technology – ART – is the manufacturing of children, often by design and often using third parties, a violation of the ethical principle of the two flesh becoming one.  In the garden, husband and wife are a complete family.  This was declared very good, without children yet being part of the story.  While infertility is a sad and difficult occurrence for those who want children, it has been made even more difficult because of a lack of Protestant thinking on the matter.  

Infertility is not a death sentence.   Children are not products to be made.  Our reproductive bodies are not to be blithely parceled and sold to someone else.  And pregnancy is not a chore to be outsourced.  It’s time for some serious corrective thinking lest our reproductive illness creates unleashed madness among us, and those who stood by silently be morally complicit in the exploitation of some lives for the commercial manufacture of another.

Mirrors, Mothers, Men & More, Pt. 2

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

From our female fairy tales, we observe that young women must steer clear of the dangers of “mirrors” and “mothers” to chart their path to womanhood.  Today, we look at 3 more themes from our enduring tales of passage from youth to womanhood.

Care-giving.  One of the least subtle of themes, the giving of self – and caring for others – resounds throughout our female fables.  Whether Snow White lovingly tidies up after the 7 strange little men who took her in, or Cinderella washes yet another spotless floor upon demand by her heartless stepmother, or Belle tenderly dresses the wounds Beast incurred in her protection, we readily soften to the nurturing and tenderness and yielding these young women express in harrowing, uncertain and even abusive circumstances.  Unlike male tales, women’s stories rarely celebrate a strategic assault, killing the villain and overcoming injustice.  While history certainly offers examples of courageous women warriors, these are not the tales through which women bond to their female young.   Interestingly, our tales of care-giving do not feature babies or young children – a nurturing function that many women will pursue, but not necessarily so.  Instead, the virtue emerges from responding to difficult, puzzling and even threatening adults with a willingness to tend, take risk and even find humor. 

Beauty.  The Disney revisions and take-offs on our female fairy tales has enhanced, in my opinion, what we hold dear as female beauty.  While the more traditional versions might be read (unfairly I think) to tether achievement of female beauty upon the arrival of the prince, modern renditions seem more to reward the achievement of beauty with the prince.  Ariel, for example, must discover and recover the value of her “voice” to mature from childish notions to the understanding that what the world might find pretty bears little relationship to womanly beauty.

The magnificent tale Shrek 1, however, pulls together the themes of our female fairy tales, with the delightfully modern twist that the Princess finds her authentic beauty only when the “curse” of her physical beauty is finally lifted.  Fiona’s initial assumption – like every little girl – that beauty is the same as prettiness is dispelled by the kiss of love – a love for the true beauty within her.

Men.  I saved men for last – for our fairy tales are rich in lessons about men, and how we learn, as worthy, adult women, to distinguish the good from the naughty from those needing improvements a woman’s touch will not bestow.  These are subtle but desperately important distinctions for most women who will seek to couple, and for other women who will, nevertheless, interact with men throughout their lives. 

 Cads.  In our fairy tales, we introduce girls to cads: “an ill-bred man, especially one who behaves in a dishonorable or irresponsible way toward women.”  Who takes the Cad Award:  Gaston – a muscular, physically exaggerated, conceited bachelor (Beauty and the Beast, “Here in town there’s only she, who is beautiful as me, so I’m making plans to woo and marry Belle”)             OR            Lord Farquaad – disturbingly disproportioned, pompous and righteous (Shrek I, ‘Some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”) ?  

Fathers.  The fathers of Belle and Ariel well represent the range of men women collectively know make reliable, if eccentric, partners and fathers to their children.  Belle’s father is nutty; Ariel’s father, blusterous – but both are loyal and available to their children even as they are occupied with the work to which they devote themselves.  These are fathers who feel protective of their daughters, but, as their girl children leave their care, are blessedly inept to stop their course.  Fathers can remain in the fairy tale because most “good” fathers love their daughters unconditionally but do not ordinarily try, as mothers may be tempted, to micro-steer their daughters’ course to womanhood. 

Good Men.  A “prince” of a man, we learn from our female fables, might be handsome, daring or powerful, he might be a prince or a frog or an ogre, he might or might not be our “happy ever after” – but, more than anything, he is a man who loves the “sacred” within other people; a man who is just, matured and does not see or treat other people as objects in his path to pleasure or elsewhere.    He is a man whose respect – and even love – we strive to achieve because it acknowledges and rewards the sacred within us, within all people.  

I will close this fairy tale reflection with Elizabeth Hanna’s own words, for it is as true of every woman of every age as it is true of the princesses we honor in our female tales:    “And the sacred within her is the most important part of her.   She nurtures it, she adorns it, and she shares it.  The beautiful woman loves.  And when a woman loves, her angel wings take her higher than any plastic Victoria’s Secret imitation ever could.”

Mirrors, Mothers, Men & More, Pt. 1

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

 Did someone mention Cinderella? 

Last week, Elizabeth Hanna observed that “we [women] want to know we are beautiful even while standing next to a Victoria’s Secret model.”  Admittedly, women often do not feel beautiful.  Even highly paid, long-legged models wearing skimpy, lacy underwear yearn to be prettier, sexier . . . more like that other, more beautiful model.  We all ache to experience ourselves as worthy, valued and – as Hanna proposes – sacred, 

How do we attain a steady, daily, reliable

feeling of worthiness?


Fairy tales – like Cinderella, Snow White and Beauty and the Beast – offer lovely guidance to girls and the women in their lives about passage from childish ways to virtuous womanhood.  We hear these tales before we can form sentences; we watch movies and sing their theme songs into adolescence; we read the tales to the children we babysit, and then to our daughters and then to our grand-daughters. 

What treasured wisdom about the feminine so captivates

the female imagination that these enduring fairy tales follow us through our lives?

In this post and tomorrow’s, I look at five themes that emerge from our fairy tale foundation as guideposts for moving from girlhood to womanhood.  I am not an expert in fables, or literature – just a reader, writer and mother who has consumed in every format a wide range of “princess” tales.  I hope you will add your thoughts and comments.

Mirrors.  Mirrors for females are a deadly temptation, a window through which the pit bull of vanity leaps, grabs hold and will not let go.  Snow White’s stepmother lacks virtue, as a woman and as a surrogate mother, because she cannot separate her “self” from her image.  “Who is the fairest of them all?”  she moans famously, as anxiety ridden as any woman watching the Victoria Secrets lingerie show Hanna so poignantly captured.  This woman becomes wicked, not because she was born evil, but because she allowed herself to know and see herself only as an image in a mirror – looking upon her visage just as anyone else might look upon her.  There she consumed herself, like an addict compelled to obtain more narcotic by any means available, until she turned herself completely into the ugliness she obsessively cultivated within her. 



Compare Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  Belle, too, becomes attached to a mirror – the small, hand held mirror given her as gift by the Beast “so that you’ll always have a way to look back and remember me.”  Belle uses this mirror not to see her own reflection but to look beyond herself – and to invite others to look beyond themselves – to see another, in their suffering and their pain.  Belle’s mirror is a mirror into another person, her father, the Beast – and their need for help and service.

Mothers.  As sure as any mirror can derail passage from girlhood to virtuous womanhood, so, too, can mothers.  Mothers typically do not intend to retard the growth of their daughters – most often, maternal opinions, needs, and advice are proffered in abundance with hope of easing daughters the direction Mom thinks is right and healthy.  But young women can become as affixed to their mother’s image and assessment of them as they are to their own mirror image.  

Consider this:  there are no mothers in the fairy tales

we women adore. 

Cinderella, Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Ariel (Little Mermaid), Snow White, Jasmine (Aladdin), Pocahontas – none of them have a mother. 

There isn’t even a mother substitute.

Other women appear in these tales either tangentially, like the warm and observing Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast; as villains, like Cinderella’s step mother and step sisters or the truly treacherous Ursula in Little Mermaid; or as magical beings bestowing favors, like the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella or the opera-singing Wardrobe in Beauty and the Beast.  By removing the often overly protective, overly controlling mother from our fairy tales, we expose our girls to the expectation that they will find their own unique passage to virtuous womanhood, not merely in imitation or satisfaction of the mother and not as a vain reflection in a mirror.  Their path must be uniquely and suitably their own.

Tomorrow, I take a look at three more themes from our female fairy tales:  care-giving, beauty and MEN!


The Shame of the Walk of Shame Shuttle

Teresa Tomeo

“Everyone I know is applying for grad school, or ending their college relationships, I’m just getting drunk.” ~Kelyann Wargo, University of Michigan


Kelyann Wargo – a 20s something undergraduate – advertised a new business venture:  the “Walk of Shame Shuttle.”  According to one article in the Chicago Sun Times, the shuttle service offers “a post-hookup ride home or to the dorm for students who wake up somewhere else after a night of debauchery.”  Not only is the Walk of Shame shuttle service – at a cost of five dollars per ride – cheaper than your regular cabbie might charge, Wargo proudly explains she also offers the girls a high five, a bottle of water, and – are you ready for this – a coupon for Plan B, the hormonal abortifacient more commonly referred to as an “emergency contraceptive” or “morning after pill.”  Plan B is a drug that comes with an entire set of medical and moral issues, despite its approval for sale by the Food and Drug Administration.

I truly wish Wargo and the students she claims she is trying to help could have heard the testimony of Dr. Miriam Grossman, a Jewish mother and doctor with a specialty in child and adolescent psychiatry.  Dr. Grossman spoke recently before the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. According to the Catholic News Agency, Grossman urged the United Nations to stop supporting a culture where “sexual license is celebrated.” The doctor explained that there should be great concern for such an attitude particularly for our young women since a woman’s biology leaves them “highly vulnerable to sexually-transmitted diseases.”  In a recent interview on my radio program Dr. Grossman also spoke of her work as a counselor on a California college campus.  She witnessed first hand both the physical and the psychological fall-out of today’s hook-up or so called sexually liberated life-style, something we don’t read about in Cosmo or see on Reality TV.

I truly wish I could talk to Ms. Wargo.  I have learned the lies of the modern culture after suffering far too many serious bumps and bruises practically all of which were brought on by my own bad choices.  I would tell her that there is a better way – a way for her to become a woman of dignity and worth.  I would tell her that we serve a loving and merciful God who always allows U-turns.  Over and over again he forgives us and welcomes us back.

So how do those of us who have the scars to prove that the wacky wild of our own day offered wasn’t all that wonderful share our concerns with those women who are caught up in today’s hook-up culture which, thanks to Snooki and Kim, is portrayed as hip happiness?  That’s why I do what I do now in terms of speaking about how my return to my Catholic roots saved my marriage and turned my life around for the better.  Yes, God allows U-turns but He also provides a better way; His way or as he tells us in John 10:10 “the abundant life.”

How is the young Ms. Wargo to know she’s headed down a dead end?  Even the media conceals the truth:  whether it’s local media outlets in Michigan that have picked up the story or major dailies including the Sun Times, about the only negatives or questions that have been raised concerning the Walk of Shame Shuttle have to do with whether, thanks to higher prices at the pump, the business will actually be profitable in the long term.  Meanwhile, Ms. Wargo compromises her – and her customers – emotional, physical and spiritual health.

Maybe it’s time for another student to try a different approach.  Maybe another young, enterprising coed could offer a healthy alternative service:  a ride home before midnight, the “No Shame Shuttle” that gives a “high five” or an “at a girl” to young women for taking care of themselves in a culture determined to damage and exploit them.

Maybe then the Walk of Shame shuttle will be exposed for the real shame it is.

The Right to Know Abortion Facts

Angela Lanfranchi, M.D.

As a surgeon, I am legally and ethically compelled to give informed consent for any surgical procedure.  That same practice should be required of abortionists.  This information will not end abortion.  It allows women to take considered risk and would allow them to get screened at an appropriate age when the abortion occurs early in their lives.  Women do have the Right to Know.

Recently, there were articles in major newspapers including the New York Times, LA Times and Chicago Tribune concerning several state legislatures which were in the process of writing or updating their “Right To Know”  laws regarding the information to be given their citizens before an abortion.  Two of the most detailed and well written were those of Eric Zorn, a contributor to the Chicago Tribune.  Mr. Zorn provided long excerpts from the laws and even additional information about the states which have these laws.  He also provided a link to information given by myself, a breast surgeon, which supported the aspect of the laws which cause the most outrage and consternation by those who support abortion: the fact that induced abortion increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer.

I had been asked to present the facts that support an abortion breast cancer link to legislators in New Hampshire and Kansas before laws requiring that information be given to women were out of committee to be voted upon.  I did not argue the epidemiologic data although since 1957 there have been 67 studies, 50 with a positive association and 31 which have statistically significant results.

I presented only the biological facts that would concern a woman who is already pregnant. If that woman carries the pregnancy to term she would have a lower risk of breast cancer.  Since the Middle Ages we’ve known women who give birth have a lower risk of breast cancer.  If she aborts, she loses that benefit of lower risk.

If she never has a child subsequent to that abortion, she may remain childless which increases breast cancer risk.

Or if she does have a child in the future, for each year she delays that pregnancy after 20 years old, she increases her risk of premenopausal breast cancer by 5% and post menopausal breast cancer by 3.5%.  If she already had given birth before her abortion, she loses an additional 10% risk reduction.

A woman who aborts also puts future children at risk for premature birth as abortion was found to be an “Immutable Risk” for premature birth by the Institutes of Medicine in 2006.  If that premature birth occurs before 32 weeks, the mother doubles her risk for breast cancer and her child for cerebral palsy.

A woman who has a spontaneous abortion in the first trimester is not at increased risk as those pregnancies are associated with low estrogen and progesterone levels so her breasts have not enlarged by producing more immature breast tissue where cancers can start.

Induced abortions are usually in hormonally normal pregnancies and occur before 32 weeks when most breast tissue becomes cancer resistance thereby reducing risk.

There is no need to argue over the studies which show the Independent Link between induced abortion and breast cancer.  Even if the 31 studies which show that link with 95% certainty are disregarded, because there are 17 studies which show no link, a woman’s biology alone will cause an abortion to increase her risk for breast cancer.

Before any surgical procedure, as a surgeon, I am must obtain my patient’s “informed consent.”  The same should be required of abortionists.  Telling abortion patients the facts will not end abortion – it will allow women to take considered risk and get screened for breast cancer at an appropriate age when the abortion occurs early in their lives. 

Women do have the Right to Know.


Buddha and Women, Pt. 2

Henry Karlson

Dawa has become a patron for women within the Buddhist traditions, helping to promote the good of women:  among her titles is “mother of liberation” showing the positive value of motherhood, similar to the way the Christian tradition looks at Mary’s motherhood as vindication of motherhood. 

While the Buddha eventually opened up the possibility for women to form monastic communities officially sanctioned by him, the way they were treated indicated that women were still inferiors in society. The rules put a Buddhist monk, even a newly-established monk, as outranking any nun.

Was the Buddha’s solution one which really gave value to women?

One can argue that he gave what he thought he could give for the society of his town and that he sowed the seeds for something greater to come  of it. From the Buddha himself, Buddhism has a way of negating conventions, even Buddhist conventions. Though some solutions are of greater significance than others, Buddhist conventions are often seen as pragmatic, with room for development and change in differing circumstances. Everything is impermanent, and so no social construct should be seen as holding lasting value.

Such pragmatism can be troubling. Did it mean that the difference between men and women should ultimately be overlooked, seen as a mental construct, like so many other constructs in the world?  One might think this would be the answer which would eventually develop; and there is room for this in Buddhist discussion,  For most, though, especially those following Mahayana Buddhist thought, this would be seen as failing to appreciate conventional truths, truths revealed by experience – even if not ultimate truth. What a thing is in the world must be seen as something, not nothing.

Buddhism is not nihilism, however nihilistic it might appear to the outside observer. A mountain is really a mountain, a river really is a river, a man is really a man and a woman really is a woman. There is something which comes out of being a woman which differs from being a man. Even if one might, through one’s lives, be a man sometimes and a woman at other times, the differences in gender must reflect conventional truths and are not to be radically eliminated by the elimination of the idea of gender.

In Mahayana Buddhism, where there is the emphasis not only of salvation for oneself, but the bodhisattva ideal where one works to save many others by becoming a Buddha, the question of gender re-emerged – and took a rather interesting turn which actually helped promote the value of the feminine. This can be seen in stories of the bodhisattva Tārā, stories which developed around the 6th century CE (and possibly with Hindu influences). There was a princess, Yeshe Dawa, whose devotion to many Buddhas was said to extend for eons, and through them, she became a highly-developed spiritual personage. Eventually attaining great merit, Dawa was told by some monks that should she seek to become greater, and that meant she should seek to become a male in her next life.

Dawa’s response was simple: no. She made a vow to seek enlightenment as a Buddha and to do so as a woman, to perpetually be born as a woman until she attained her goal and demonstrated that it was only the “weak-minded” who frowned upon womanhood. She would promote the good abilities and achievements of women, and indeed, promote their welfare and salvation.  Women, though different, did not have to see their difference as hindering them in their spiritual quest.

Dawa has become a patron for women within the Buddhist traditions, helping to promote the good of women, such as motherhood; among her titles is “mother of liberation” showing the positive value of motherhood, similar to the way the Christian tradition looks at Mary’s motherhood as vindication of motherhood.

Human traditions contain much which is true. When we explore traditions, be it our own or those of others, we must be careful and critical, recognizing their social contexts and ideas which might need to be rejected as mere accidents that are not essential to our understanding of the truth.  By looking at how people from a tradition or culture other than our own have wrestled with questions which we face today, we can get a better sense of the prudence needed to find solutions for today. We don’t have to accept what they believed, or the answers they provided, but we can appreciate that these questions are universal and are worth investigating time and time again, never to be seen as fully answered.