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Dangerous Minds – A Film Analysis

 (This is my final essay assignment for my Sociology class. I’m officially on break until mid-January! I got a 90, BTW.)

The film, Dangerous Minds, follows the story of Louanne Johnson, an ex-U.S. Marine. Set in 1989, the story begins with Louanne entering into her first year teaching at an inner-city school with underprivileged youths, where she explores the challenges of teaching her students, and the necessary steps it takes to reach them. Roughly based on the autobiography, My Posse Don’t Do Homework, Dangerous Minds shows a social depiction of the forces of stratification and poverty, the bureaucracy of our educational system, and the subcultures that exist within that framework (Johnson, 2007).

The opening of the film shows you glimpses of poverty-stricken neighborhoods with run down buildings, busted windows, and graffiti. Neighborhoods where homelessness and drug deals are a commonality. In the background of these images is the song Gangsta’s Paradise, by Coolio, which is used as a reflection into their lives and culture:

“You better watch how you’re talking and where you’re walking, or you and you homies might be lined in chalk… I’m the kind of G the little homies wanna be like, on my knees in the night saying prayers in the streetlight (Coolio, 1995).”

This further builds on the imagery of a reality within this subculture where gang violence is prevalent, life chances are lacking, and reputations that invoke fear are a necessary part of surviving.

Photo Credit: [Source]

Louanne’s students are primarily minorities from working poor families, with no apparent interest in education, little to any educational skills and social problems. Seemingly fixated in their social position, these kids seem to lack confidence in their ability to be more than they are by virtue of their birth and circumstances.

In an effort to control some aspect of their lives, placing value in fearful reputations and violence become a way of carving out a place for themselves within society, and seem to be synonymous with power and prestige. Upon Louann’s first day of class, she is greeted with derogatory sneers, such as “white-bread” and “puta,” which translated to English would be equivalent to whore or slut (Smith, 1995). In their effort to intimidate her into leaving, and therefore maintaining their freedom, they effectively make Louanne more determined to reach them.

In order to obtain the attention of her students, and teach them in a way that they can understand and identify, Louanne begins to think outside of the box. However, the bureaucracy of the school system becomes a problematic hurdle with its rigid rules, and administrations unwillingness to try something new, even despite the fact that the existing curriculum and approach isn’t working for the “special & challenging” kids (Smith, 1995). The impersonality of their organizational structure leaves you feeling that the school has little real interest in whether these kids actually learn anything, but sees Louanne as more of a babysitter to get them through the day and out the door. Despite the bureaucratic resistance Louanne takes her chances, challenges the system and begins breaking school rules.

Attempting to form a connection with her students and build rapport, she asks the class to teach her some karate. After two students try to show her some karate moves she proclaims, “You guys don’t know shit! (Smith, 1995)” Louanne starts the class with a clean slate, giving everyone an A, while telling them all they have to do is try in order to keep it, which is a persuasive message to a group of kids that have never experienced having an A before.

Photo Credit: [Source]

Appealing to the background of her students she breaks the school’s standardized curriculum. In teaching the kids about verbs Louanne writes, “I want to die,” and “ I choose to die.” She bribes them with candy, prizes and field trips to motivate them to do their work (Smith, 1995). She has them analyze poems about death and drugs. However, one of the more important factors is the interest she takes in her students as individuals, encouraging their abilities, and building a foundation of honest communication and respect, all of which are in direct conflict with the bureaucratic ideals of impersonality.

Throughout the film, you get this sense of jadedness coming from her students through their actions and how they verbalize themselves with comments such as, “ Come and live in my neighborhood for one week & you tell me if I still have a choice” (Smith, 1995). Yet, Louanne counters this mentality by telling them that everyone makes choices. “Those that choose to show up for school make the choice not to ‘lay down to die’. There are no victims in this classroom” (Smith, 1995).  These are powerful words that seem to strike a cord with her students, but throughout the film you still see the influence of societal structures negatively impacting the student’s life chances, regardless of the fact that they make the choice to come to school.

The role that familial influence plays on social mobility can be seen in the film when two brothers in Louanne’s class stop showing up for school. When Louanne goes to speak with the boys she ends up having a confrontation with their grandmother:

“You’re that white-breed bitch messin’ with my baby’s minds. My boys don’t go to your school anymore and that’s going to be it. I saw what they were bringing home – poetry and shit. A waste of time – they have more important things to worry about. I ain’t raising no doctors and lawyers (Smith, 1995).”

Another example of negative societal influence is shown through institutional discrimination when school administrators push a very bright student out of school due to her pregnancy, so that she can attend a “parenting school” to learn about baby care. This discrimination is performed with the justification of being best for all students with the assertion that “pregnancy is contagious,” but this effectively creates an environment that lowers their chances of graduating from high school (Smith, 1995).

Perhaps, the film Dangerous Minds puts too much emphasis on the character of Louanne as a savior for the children, and sensationalizes the idea of “gang life.” However, it nevertheless manages to draw attention to important social factors that can influence the lives of children growing up in poverty, and how these factors can effect who we become. I see the film as an avenue to begin breeching mainstream views that cloud the issue of poverty in the United States, to start opening up paths for discussion, and consideration for the steps that might lead to social change.

 

References

Coolio (1995). Gangsta’s Paradise [CD] New York, NY: Tommy Boy Records

Johnson , L. (2007, June). My thoughts on the movie dangerous minds.

Smith, J. N. (Director) (1995). Dangerous minds [DVD].

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Drugs, Prostitution & Decriminalization

So, this week my Sociology Professor asked us, “Should victimless crimes such as prostitution and recreational drug use be decriminalized?”

My answer?

Yes.

Well, what I really said was this….

When decriminalizing recreational drug use and prostitution would essentially save the United States large sums of tax revenue and resources, boost our economy, and provide for a safer worker/consumer environment for the millions that participate in these activities – a better question might be, “Why SHOULD we keep them criminalized?” These policies are not accomplishing the goals of making society safer or preventing involvement.

The United States is known for its strict drug policies, and its imposition of the harshest penalties for drugs sales and possession across the world (Szalavitz, 2009). Historically, prohibition has done little more than create dangerous and violent markets, without seeing a decrease in consumption (“Should we legalize,” 2012).  America’s “War on Drugs” is failing, with a 2.5 trillion dollar price tag and little to show for it (“Should we legalize,” 2012).

As a case study, Portugal is a great example of how decriminalization of drug use can be beneficial to a society. In 2001, Portugal became the first European country to eliminate all criminal charges for personal possession of drugs, which was done with the goals of reducing deaths and infections by focusing on prevention and treatment instead of jailing (Vastag, 2009). Since their decriminalization, the number of street drug overdoses and new HIV cases among drug users has declined, with the number of people getting treatment for drug use rising, while the number of drug users is notably lower than those in the U.S. (Vastag, 2009).

Prostitution is one of the oldest jobs in the world, and instead of the profession declining, it is growing. Prostitution in the United States is estimated to bring in 14 billion dollars a year, with over 1 million people working as prostitutes (Gorbenko & Lakomy, 2011). Anti-prostitution laws do nothing to deter the frequency of prostitution, but do aid in pushing it underground, which makes it unsafe for all participants and for our society as a whole.

Most prostitutes are at the whim of those that pimp them out, and are regularly violated, abused and raped with no way for recourse of being helped for crimes committed against them. Some of this can be contributed to the non-reporting of crimes for fear of arrest for solicitation, but also for the abuse that prostitutes experience directly from law enforcement by way of assault and rape. Also, anti-prostitution laws and the enforcement of them are unequal in their attention and target prostitutes, not their clientele, which account for only 10% of all arrests (Gorbenko & Lakomy, 2011).

Laws against prostitution are unjustified and hypocritical. In no other way does government interfere in our sex lives and determine when, how or why we are allowed to have sex. Pornography is legal. Government isn’t out policing the number of men or women that marry (and have sex) with people of high financial backgrounds purely for financial gain.  Or people that are promiscuous is their behaviors, having sex with relative strangers after being bought dinner or drinks on  dates. If sex for money is what defines prostitution, should we be investigating all circumstances involved in citizen’s sexual activities to rule out the possibility of compensation in any form?

Prostitution and drug laws cost us money. A great deal of it. The U.S accounts for 25% of the world’s prisoners, but our high imprisonment rates have done little to cut down on the frequency of these “crimes.” (“Should we legalize,” 2012). Enforcement of these laws drains our police resources, clogs up our court system, and wastes our time, which could be better allotted to real crimes. Crimes that actually aren’t victimless, like those committed against people and property.

At the end of the day, the main motivators behind these laws are religious, rooted in societies definition of morality, and are used to unfairly target minorities and other social groups. None of which have any place in the making of government policy.

References

Gorbenko, M., & Lakomy, A. (2011, November 12). Prostitution: The ‘world’s oldest’ and most dangerous profession.

Should we legalize drugs? [Radio series episode]. (2012). In NPR.

Szalavitz, M. (2009, April 26). Drugs in Portugal: Did decriminalization work?. TIME Magazine,

Vastag, B. (2009, April 7). 5 years after: Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy shows positive results. Scientific American,

 

Funnily, this assignment was only supposed to be a discussion post for my class and not a full essay, but once I started writing about the topic, I realized I had a good deal I wanted to say, and I still only managed to cover a small portion of it. Maybe one day I’ll  have the time and opportunity to do a much deeper study to build more thorough cases for both.

Also, I haven’t answered to whether or not I support legalization and regulation for both.

1 – becasue that wasn’t my assignment

and

2 – because I’m not entirely sure to what extent I feel it would be good to regulate either, if at all. I’ll have to think and research on it more.

 

Here are some resources worth checking out:

NPR Debate: Should We Legalize Drugs? – A panel of experts — including former Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson — tackled that question in the latest installment of Intelligence Squared U.S. They faced off two against two in an Oxford-style debate on the motion: “Legalize Drugs.”

Washington Post: Should the U.S. Legalize Hard Drugs? – Some really compelling points that I didn’t even touch on in my post.

Prostitution: The ‘World’s Oldest’ and Most Dangerous Profession – Filled with a great deal of stats on prostitution.

Prostitution Law Reform: Defining Terms – Understanding the difference between decriminalization and legalization.

 

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Being Bad: Breaking Social Norms

Last week in Sociology, I had to perform a social experiment by breaking a social norm, and then write about my experience. This is what I ended up with… Enjoy!

Social norms are rules that govern behaviors within society by establishing standards of conduct (Kendall, p. 72). Sociologist Talcott Parsons theorized that social norms are necessary in society to help dictate our interactions with people (2011). Through these day-to-day interactions we learn what behavior is expected of us – how to dress for specific occasions, proper hygiene, manners, language that is appropriate in conversation, etc. These rules help us differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in any given situation.

My plan for the experiment was to meet two of my girlfriends at our local mall, have a drink and some dinner, and formulate a plan on how to break a social norm. I decided to bring along my friends for support, and to hold me accountable, so that I didn’t back out of the experiment. I struggled with the idea of performing the experiment, which had less to do with actually breaking a social norm, and more to do with having to acknowledge the reactions of people around me.

On the night of my experiment my anxiety levels were exceptionally high. I felt nauseous, tightness in my throat, heated, and my heart raced. As we ate, we discussed possible scenarios. I considered some of the class suggestions, along with staring, breaking into dance and using a phone app called iFart to fake a bodily function, among the more ridiculous.

In theory, all these ideas sounding very interesting; I wanted to be that person who could perform the experiment from a completely scientific place and be unfazed by the implications of it, but the reality of performing the experiment by breaking even a mild social norm seemed overwhelming. I reached a point in my evening where I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Why was this so hard for me?

It actually isn’t that uncommon for me to break social norms. Quite regularly I talk very loudly in public, especially when I am excited, and sometimes about topics that could be deemed socially inappropriate. Other times I have been known for nursing my toddler in public, yet even the idea of doing those things with the conscious purpose of getting a reaction seemed an impossibility.

It became clear that there is a stark difference between breaking a social norm because it comes naturally to you, or because it ties into something that is central to your belief system, and breaking a social norm purely for understanding how people will react. Typically, when I break a social norm I studiously ignore the reactions of the people around me.

Most would like to believe that they care little about what others think about them, but we are driven by how people perceive us, and the impressions that we leave. It is culturally deep-seated, this need to care and leave positive marks on the people we interact with, so to knowingly go against the grain and do something that will be perceived as odd or unacceptable with serious forethought feels wrong. At the root of my trepidation, there seemed to be a bigger fear of confrontation, which makes me wonder why I don’t fear that confrontation more in my everyday activities.

On the way out of the mall, as a last ditch effort, I decided to break a very mild social norm by riding the escalator down backwards, while my friends helped with cataloging the reactions of the people coming up the other side, as I watched people behind me. The most interesting thing happened, which was that nothing interesting happened at all. No one acknowledged me. All the people that passed by or were within the vicinity took absolutely no notice of me.

The result of the experiment left me considering how I generally go about my daily activities, especially in a public place. I go about my business, rarely looking at the people that are around me unless it is socially necessary, such a waitress taking my order or saying, “Excuse me,” when I get in someone’s way. Even in the moments of necessary interaction, I rarely make eye contact, and when I do it is limited. At any given time someone could be exhibiting strange, socially abnormal behavior and I would never notice it unless they were screaming, “Hey, look at me! I’m doing something socially strange over here!” So, this leaves me wondering if being inattentive to your surroundings in public is within itself a social norm, or just a socially awkward behavior that some people exhibit?

It occurs to me that people’s reactions to breaking social norms could vary greatly depending on the personality of the person/people you are interacting with, the size of your audience, and the quality of the norm you are breaking. It is my conclusion that it has almost become a social norm to break mild social norms, and that in combination with the patterns of behavior we exhibit in public places and our lack of observation to our surroundings unless necessary, it is likely that you can safely break mild social norms without anyone much caring or noticing.

References

Kendall, D. (2011). Sociology in our times. (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.

(2011). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norm_(social)

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I’m ALIVE!

That is all.

Ok, maybe I can do a little bit better with my update than that. 😛

I am BUSY. For realz kind of busy, but in a really good way. The kind of busy that results when you are really engaged in what you are doing and actually enjoying yourself… at least when I’m not over thinking it, and considering all those things that need to be notched off of my to-do lists.

I am LOVING my Genetics and Evolution class through Coursera, and I’m happy that it followed right on the heels of my Human Biology class, because the two compliment each other well. Today, started my Sociology class, and I am finding my text  ACTUALLY  enjoyable. SO rare! I feel like I’m spending much of my time half buried in books, when I’m not with my kids.

I’m sure Facebook is tired of hearing me post about school related things, and the general mischief I have been causing lately with sensitive topics…

Other than our normal homeschooling adventures, that is about all I have been up to lately. Here are a few pics for the road!

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I Have a Confession…

I withdrew from the English Composition class that I should have started this past Monday. Yep. I could try to offer any number of possible excuses for my behavior, but at the end of the day there was really one thing that motivated this decision. I really just want to slack off, and do as little as possible for the next two months. I want to spend the next two months watching LOADS of TV at night, NOT stressing about school work during the day when I am with my kids, and reading as many raunchy romance novels as I can possibly fit in.

The next 8 weeks seem like an awfully wonderful stretch of  time ahead of me.

 

What to put on this thing…Any suggestions?

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Catching a REALLY Big Boat

School is out! I am terribly excited for my 2-week break, especially because my blog suffers terribly while I have a class going. My evenings, which are my only real time to work, seem to be eaten away by my school work. I find this quite irritating, but that is a blog for another day.

Today, I will be basking in the excitement of my break (trying not to worry about my final grade), and knowing that you guys will be seeing a bit more of me over the next 2 weeks (hopefully). This will then be followed by another period of infrequent posts for another 8-weeks. However, I do have at my advantage, the fact that my next class will be another English Composition class, so at the very least I can share my writing assignments from it. I don’t think you guys would have much enjoyed me sharing sample Algebra problems over the past 2 months. 😛

Very. Uninteresting.

Anywho, we are officially 4 days away from our vacation, and my house is flurry of excitement in preparation for what will be by far the longest, and most exciting vacation my children have been on before. Driving to Jacksonville, catching a REALLY big boat, then enjoying a week on the Atlantic Ocean, and getting to see Key West (my first time), and Nassau, Bahamas. Can’t. Wait.

Addison has never been to the beach, and Haden hasn’t since he was an infant, so everything about this will be new for them. We have been having a great time doing a Ocean unit study that I put together for us, that I plan to blog about later this week for anyone that might like to do one as well. You can expect lots of pictures and updates next week. 🙂

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Dear Universe,

There is a nice cool breeze today; I am enjoying the view of the San Francisco Bay, and a yummy white chocolate mocha, as I sit here (in 2025). My family and I have spent the spring traveling the coast, trying to enjoy our last bit of time as a full-time family. Soon summer will be here; Haden, who is now eighteen, will be leaving with friends to do some traveling of his own in Europe, and once he comes home, he will likely be starting his college experience, and building towards the life he wants for himself.

I recall what it felt like, thirteen years ago, to just be embarking on my journey into higher education. I was scared and excited, all at the same time. I am forever grateful that I took the plunge, and decided to take on something that felt so much bigger than me at the time. It ultimately aided in realizing my interests, and I discovered myself on a new level, one where I felt capable of anything. Now as Haden’s adulthood grows near, I just hope that he takes away as much from his experiences.

Shortly into my schooling, I ran across a call for short-story submissions to be published in a book called, A Lesson in Doubt: the social and linguistic construction of OCD. It almost felt like fate stepping in, to give me a nudge in the right direction, so I decided to write a piece detailing my personal struggles with OCD, about how it had impacted my life and my family.

In those days, feeling fueled by my passion to address social issues, my path just seemed to naturally lead me to pursuing my activism through written forms. In my attempts to inflict positive changes, my love of writing continued to grow, which eventually lead me to minor in English, while majoring in Sociology. Throughout school I grew my personal blog, Explore, Dream. Discover. I would write frequently about anything and everything, trying to grow my abilities. My classes only fed my writing, making the topics I approached more variant. I started guest blogging on other blogs, and began working on my first book, Rape Culture in America: The Normalization of Sexual Violence, before I graduated.

I love the freedom that writing affords me in my everyday life. However, the most powerful thing about writing is the release for my mind, being able to reach out to people with my words, and have an effect on them.  Sometimes, I love the way it consumes me, when I have something I need to get out, and how hard it can be to get it done; that it isn’t easily given.

Michael and I are forty now, which thirteen years ago when I was starting school, would have sounded much too old to me. I surely don’t feel old though! I am still homeschooling, currently working on my second book when I can, and I am a contributing writer for The Huffington Post on social issues. Between Michael’s entrepreneurial exploits and my writing, it has left us with the freedom to travel all over the United States, from Washington D.C. to New Orleans to Denver, and many lesser known places in between. It has been an amazing adventure, homeschooling on the road, and taking advantage of opportunity. We did this full-time for five years, before deciding to build our forever home. Since then, we have continued to travel for upwards of six months out of the year, enjoying our ability to wander.

My children have both grown up to be such independent, smart young adults, and I feel so proud of who they have become. Addison is fifteen now, sometimes in the midst of teenage angst, and has been feeling a bit jealous of the adventure her brother is about to take. Most days though, she is incredibly lively, compassionate, and energetic. She has always had a soft spot for animals, and now she volunteers regularly with one of our local rescue groups. Haden is thoughtful and creative, with a flair for the dramatic and artistic. He has always been a boy with many interests, and I look forward to watching him follow those, just as he always has.

As we near our childfree years, we are at crossroads, trying to decide where to go from here. I think back to my years of school, about the lessons that I learned, but most importantly about what I learned about myself. I wouldn’t trade those ups and downs for anything, knowing that they will always see through, up until the very end.  My biggest life lesson has been to never fear the new; as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “ All of life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

(This is actually the essay I had to write for my final in my English class. The assignment was to put myself in the year 2025, describe what my life is like there, and how my college experience impacted my future. When I got done, it felt like I had sent a positive message out to the Universe about what I want for myself.)

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Better Things Will Come Your Way

All about the Cheater, but with more details. I managed to get full points for my revision. Yay!

Better Things Will Come Your Way

I remember vividly what it was like to be a young girl and in love. Life was a series of waiting. Waiting to see his face, hear his voice, and be in his arms. Most of my smiles were for him; he was the one thing that could make or break my day. The world of my sixteen-year-old self revolved around him; unfortunately, he would one day become my biggest rejection.

Although in Bob Green’s essay “Cut,” he asserts that youthful public rejection leads to becoming an overachiever in life, I think that how people will react to a rejection is as unique as people themselves. When you are young everything feels hugely momentous, being caught between wanting to be an adult, and not quite being there. I was very idealistic at that age, but probably most of us were. That seems to be a great age for idealism, before the realities of the world interfere.

When I was in high school I kept a sketchbook that included drawings, paintings, collages, journals, and pictures. What follows is an excerpt from my sketchbook about my high school sweetheart, Danny, which gives some insight into what I felt about him during our relationship.

The Story of Us: There once was a girl, who met a boy, and they became friends. Two years passed before they came back together, and reunited as friends. This girl, outcast to the world, pushed away all love for fear of it; including, the love of the boy who had always loved her. Until, one day she woke up, looked into the boy’s eyes, saw the love there, and she felt no fear. She loved him back. His arms slid around her, and she felt safe. He saved her, and she saved him. They were happy forever.

This is a clipping from my high school sketchbook.

I really did believe we would be happily together forever. After high school we would get married. I wanted children, the only serious goal I had was becoming a mother, and I believed he would be the father of my children. Two girls, that was my ideal, and since I wanted it so badly, I believed I would get it. I could see it clearly in my head, and it felt more real than anything else in my normal life.

Fast-forward two years from when we first began dating, and our relationship seemed to be in a vastly different place. Not quite so happy and carefree, but I still believed that he was “it” for me. It had been two days since we had spoken. Two days since we fought, just one of many recent fights, but this one had been particularly nasty. Two days of crying, thinking about the future, and whether or not he should be in mine.

I drove over to his house determined that I would tell him we needed a break; it was time for us to evaluate our relationship, and decide if this was what we really wanted. I had his promise ring in my hand, placed carefully back in it’s original jewelry box, because I wanted him to take it as a symbol of how serious I was about our break.

Even so, deep down I still hoped that he would convince me that a break was unnecessary. He would tell me that he loved me, and that the thought of a break from us was something he couldn’t even fathom trying to go through. Though, even deeper down, was the understanding that my hope wouldn’t be coming to pass, but I didn’t want to acknowledge that niggling voice in the back of my mind.

I walked into his house unannounced, just like I would on any other day, and that is where I found them.  They were snuggled up together, half dressed on the couch. I froze, completely in shock. I felt almost nothing other than a vague feeling of unreality, as if I were stuck in the middle of a bad dream. Time seemed to slow down to a crawl; I stood there for what felt like a very long time, but what was only seconds, just taking in the whole scene in front of me.

I noticed his lack of reaction, as if he didn’t care at all that I was seeing them together.  Then, her small smile, letting me know that she was happy that I had seen them. I never said anything, and neither did they. I just walked forward, dropped his promise ring on top of them, turned around, and left. Only once I was away from the house did I let the emotion take hold of me; hysterical, painful sobs racked my body as I drove away. I felt betrayed, crushed, and humiliated.

I mourned the loss of him. Worse than that, I questioned myself. Why would he do that? Was I not pretty enough? Smart enough? Funny enough? What did she have that made her better than me, that he would take what we had together, and throw it away on her? Had he ever loved me? Had I wasted two years of my life on someone who never really cared about me? How long had he been cheating with her? Did he cheat with others that I didn’t know about? How many of our friends knew? How many people had been lying to me?

Danny’s rejection did have the short-term effect of causing me to “overachieve”. I mean this more in the sense that I felt like I needed to prove the fact that I was a desirable, amazing person. I wanted so much for him to regret his choices, that I spent a great deal of my energy trying to be more physically appealing, more pleasant in personality, and made sure that he knew how interesting other boys found me. I tried to embrace qualities that I felt would make me more appealing as a woman, being sexy, witty, and fun. I wish that our relationship had been easier for me to move past, as I look back now at my actions during those times directly after our break up, I take no pride in them.

I eventually did find closure in his regret. I was so determined for him to feel remorseful, all I wanted was for him to want me back, but once he did I realized something very important. We would never be that girl and that boy, so in love. That idealism had been shattered, despite the part of me that clung to hope of a future with him; I finally acknowledged that we couldn’t get it back, and not just that we couldn’t, but that we shouldn’t.

My closure of our relationship was healing for me, and I had a moment of revelation; that I am a strong, unique individual, with my own abilities, quirks, flaws, and amazing beauty. Ultimately, I am “me,” and I don’t want to be anyone else. I can use rejection to motivate me, I can learn something from it, but I will never let it define me. There is nothing easy about rejection, no matter the size, but everything in life happens for a reason. You just have to keep moving forward, and know that eventually better things will come your way.

 

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Numbed Bliss or Agonizing Pain?

My fourth essay for class, a compare and contrast essay. I made an 88 on it. 🙂

 

Numbed Bliss or Agonizing Pain?

Anyone who enjoys watching television for entertainment has likely viewed a dramatic birth scene, like the one in the movie, Nine Months. Julianne Moore’s character, Rebecca, is about to have dinner when her water suddenly breaks in the restaurant, “Honey! My water broke!” Panic then ensues; there is the rush to the hospital, in which her husband Samuel, played by Hugh Grant, is driving extremely recklessly. Rebecca is already having strong contractions, in severe pain, and stressed out. She is rushed on a gurney through the hospital, screaming in agony, and in agitation at anyone who talks to her. Samuel yells at the doctor, “Can’t you give her something for the pain??!!”

Rebecca never does get her much wanted epidural (Columbus). Granted, the scene is a mixture of drama and hilarity, but this is a reflection of our birth culture, and is fundamentally a contributing factor to our opinions and perceptions surrounding birth. However, there are more points to consider in regards to pain management for labor and birth; it is not just a simplistic choice between numbed bliss and agonizing pain.

We live in a society where it is very beneficial as consumers to investigate the options available to us. When it comes to deciding what you want during your birth, it is important to know the positives and the negatives of the choices that you have. Then, with all the information available, you can make the best choices suited for you. This is also what is known as informed consent.

Natural birth, for my purpose, is defined as birth without pain medication being used during the course of labor. There are numerous ways for women laboring without medication to gain relief from their contractions. These techniques can include massages, movement, positional changes, and being submerged in water. Simple things like dim lighting, music, focused breathing, and even prayer can be comforting (Kitzinger 189-225). Possibly the most effective comfort measure a woman can have during a natural labor is being surrounded by supportive people. A doula, which is a labor support person that is trained to help laboring women on a physical and emotional level, is a terrific addition to a woman’s support team; regardless if they are having a medicated birth or an unmedicated one.

Other than the obvious benefits of being able to avoid the risks of medication by choosing to have a natural birth, there are actually several others that don’t usually get much consideration. Pain during birth, is pain with a purpose. It tells you what you need to do to birth your baby. The sensations of labor are a guide, which promotes you to move in ways that will help your labor progress and move your baby into a more optimal position for birth (Goer 138). Women that give birth naturally are statistically more likely to have an easier recovery after birth, and are less likely to need many commonly used, risky interventions such as forceps, vacuum extraction, and cesarean section (“Promoting Pregnancy Wellness”).

The downside to natural labor is that you will feel it. All of it! For some women this negative will outweigh all others, but not every woman considers this to be a bad thing. It is important to change the context of how we think about labor pain. The experience of childbirth is hard to compare to anything else that we do in life, but it does not necessarily equate to suffering (Goer 139). It is a pain that only lasts for the duration of your labor, and culminates with the birth of your child. It comes and goes, giving you the opportunity to rest during this time. Labor does not normally begin excruciatingly painful; it progresses and builds, becoming stronger as the birth becomes more imminent, while our body supplies us with a hormonal cocktail designed specifically for helping us go through labor.

This is an image of mom laboring in water with support of her doula and son.

From Kitzinger, Shelia. The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth.

4th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 299. Print.

Epidurals are the most commonly used form of pain medication amongst laboring women; about 76% of all births take place with the use of an epidural (Declercq, Sakala, Corry, and Applebaum). This is because they offer the promise of taking the pain of childbirth completely away. Epidurals are injected into the outer membrane of the spinal cord, where a small plastic tube is left in place, which continuously drips medication (Kitzinger 310). Epidurals have a numbing effect on women throughout their torso and pelvis, so that they do not feel their contractions, but in some cases it may cause no feeling in a woman’s entire lower half of her body.

Image from Goer, Henci. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth.

1st ed. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1999. 130. Print.

 

The majority of the time epidurals will give mothers what they most want, which is the ability to feel none of the pain, and stay alert and coherent during the birth of their child. However, in about 15% of women, epidurals will not remove all pain, at which point it can be harder for some women to cope with the pain of labor due to their inability to move (Declercq, Sakala, Corry, and Applebaum). Epidurals can be especially helpful in long, hard labors, and seem to promote dilation in labors where women are fearful, stressed out, exhausted, or may not be able to relax; these can all contribute to stalling the progression of labor.

Ironically, one of the more common risks of epidural use is the slowing of labor, which generally happens when an epidural is given too early in labor, before good contraction patterns have been established. This results in the use of a drug called Pitocin to help speed up labor (Goer 132 -34). Pitocin is a synthetic drug meant to produce effects similar to the hormone Oxytocin, which is the hormone our bodies naturally produce during labor that cause contractions. However, it does not mimic our body’s natural contractions. Pitocin contractions tend to be much stronger, longer, and closer together. This can interfere with the oxygen supply that baby receives through mom’s placenta and can cause distress in the baby (Goer 133).

 

This is an image of a mom laboring with an epidural.

From Kitzinger, Shelia. The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth.

4th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 341. Print.

 

Monetarily, the cost of a medicated birth will cost more than a natural birth. The estimated cost of an epidural can range from $1000 and up, which includes hospital, and anesthesiologist fees (Mathews). Then, there are the potential costs of associated complications from epidurals that can make that amount still higher (Atherton, Feeg, and El-Adham). Planning for a natural birth raises the odds of saving on costs, but birth is not something that always goes as planned, so these incurred costs cannot always be avoided.

Birth is a momentous time in the lives of a family and nothing will affect you so profoundly as the birth of your children. While, how you give birth doesn’t define you as a mother, it can sometimes affect how you feel about motherhood and yourself. Traumatic birth is something that is very prevalent in our society, is experienced by women on both sides of the spectrum, and can put a mother lead at higher risk for postpartum mood disorders. Women that have experienced both a medicated and unmedicated birth will vary in their feelings about each.

Some women feel that their epidurals made them feel like bystanders in their birth, cut off from the experience, and lacking in control. As if their birth was something done to them, not something that they actively did themselves. Women who have birthed naturally may feel like their birth was empowering, something that they accomplished; that their birth brought them closer to their partner, and that as a mother it left them confident that they could do anything (Iorillo). Others feel more of a sense of control from their epidurals; having no painful memories associated with the experience of birthing their child, made the experience a more positive one.

The potential risks associated with epidurals that I have mentioned really only scratch the surface of what is actually a much longer list. However, for some women who do not know what to expect during labor, are unprepared for coping with labor, or that really don’t want to experience a natural labor, an epidural may be the best option for them. Women that worry about the risks related to medicated birth, and want to have a less medicalized experience would be better suited to a natural birth.

It is essential to remember that birth is as unique as the person experiencing it, and that despite what plans you may have for your birth, these may always change in the moment. It is best to be prepared for all possible paths that might be followed; an exceptional way to do this is by taking an independent childbirth class. There is nothing more inspiring than a woman’s ability to give life and love. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to give birth, just the best way for you.

Works Cited

Atherton, Martin J., Veronica Decarolis Feeg, and Azza Fouad El-Adham. “Race, Ethnicity, and Insurance as Determinants of Epidural Use: Discussion.” Medscape Today. Jannetti Publications, Inc, 2004. Web. 4 Feb 2012.

Columbus, Chris, dir. Nine Months. Perf. Huge Grant, and Julianne Moore . 20th Century Fox, 1995. Film.

Declercq, Eugene R., Carol Sakala, Maureen P. Corry, and Sandra Applebaum. “Listening to Mothers II.” Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. Childbirth Connection, 10 2006. Web. 3 Feb 2012.

. “Epidural Anesthesia.” Promoting Pregnancy Wellness. American Pregnancy Association, n.d. Web. 3 Feb 2012.

Goer, Henci. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. 1st ed. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1999. 132 -39. Print.

Iorillo, Maria, prod. It’s My Body, My Baby, My Birth. Stormproof Filmz, 2007. DVD.

Kitzinger, Shelia. The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth. 4th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 189-310. Print.

Mathews, Anna. “Tallying the Cost to Bring Baby Home.” The Wallstreet Journal. N.p., 2009. Web. 4 Feb 2012.

 

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I miss you, Blog!

I am officially in week four of school, and apparently it seems to be eating up most of my brain power, because I can’t seem to find the time or the energy to think of anything interesting to say on here right now. Everything is going into my school work. It is kinda bumming me out. Each week has felt less stressful than the week before it, so hopefully I will soon be very “chill” about everything that I am doing and I can manage to spend more time writing on here. I honestly still really need the release that it brings me.

Michael is on his first long business trip this week and so far I haven’t had any serious emotional breakdowns, but I feel myself weakening tonight. I miss him and he is staying so busy in California that we don’t have much time to talk, and really it just isn’t the same anyways. My mom stayed with us last night, which was very nice, but now I am clean out of serious distractions. The things I NEED to do, I don’t feel much motivated at tackling because I am sad.

I think I need another dirty mind-numbing book to read!