Saturday, February 25, 2012

More on Chinese workers


My friend the writer Holly Jahangiri introduced me to a fascinating man named Peter Wright. You need to read Peter's life story to really appreciate his point of view - he was a farmer in Zimbabwe at the time that Mugabe's thugs took over, and has gone on from there. He now lives in Canada. I don't often agree with his political views, but I have great respect for him nonetheless.

Read his blog post on buying stuff made in Chinese factories and tell me (and him) what you think. This could be a fascinating conversation!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

On Having Imperfect Children

No child is ever really perfect, of course. Every human being is born with physical imperfections. We count their fingers and toes, we look at their ears and their eyes. Most babies fall within normal parameters, and all is well.

Sometimes, though, something goes wrong with the process of creating something as complex as a human. Maybe some kind of radiation or environmental toxin damages the DNA that is being replicated so many times in a short time. Maybe there's a genetic switch that is on instead of off or the other way around. Maybe there is just no way of knowing what happened, but it didn't come out quite as planned. It's to be expected that such a miraculous process will have the odd oops, but you don't want it to be your baby.

Sometimes these genetic imperfections are not compatible with life, and the babies die before or shortly after birth. Sometimes they live in pain or discomfort for a few years and then succumb. Those are the obituaries that make you cry.

Sometimes you get lucky, and the problem is fixable - just plumbing, something a skilful surgeon can repair. My family is one of the lucky ones. My son was born with a large abdominal defect, and a very skilful surgeon put him back together. He is now a healthy and active twelve-year-old. Of course, we are still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but so far, so good, thank G-d and Dr. Wiseman.

So, why am I writing about this now? A USAmerican friend asked me to share my experience with prenatal testing, given some of the discussion going on right now in the Republican camp. In particular, one of the candidates apparently opposes free prenatal testing on the grounds that it might lead to more abortions.

Perhaps it would. If our son had tested positive for one of the terrible chromosomal abnormalities that sometimes accompany his physical problem (in particular, trisomy 18 or 13), maybe we would have chosen for abortion. If we had not, he would still almost certainly have died before or soon after birth. But we were fortunate, and his chromosomes are normal. We still don't know why he had the physical defect he did. It is apparently most common among babies of teenaged mothers from Northern Manitoba, and I am neither.

But here's what prenatal testing did for us. I went for amniocentesis because I was 37 years old. The tech looked at the screen, then moved me, belly and gel and all, to a better machine. I was a little surprised, but still had no idea anything was wrong. The doctor looked at me and told me what the little circle in the image meant. My son's liver had taken up residence outside of his body. It was working just fine, the baby was growing as expected, but obviously, that was not a sustainable situation. Those ten days before we got the chromosomal results were the longest of my life. Once we knew the problem was entirely fixable by surgery, we could start to prepare.

To begin with, there was a concern about childbirth. I had had difficulty with my first birth and ended up with a Caesarean section after 36 hours of largely fruitless labour. I had very much hoped for a VBAC, but it was clear that that would be extremely dangerous for a baby with an exposed liver. So right off the bat, it was clear that I was not to go into labour with him. How would we have known this without prenatal testing?

We met with the surgeon and the head of the NICU. Both sat down with us as if they had all the time in the world. I distinctly remember the surgeon leaning back with his hands behind his head, clearly prepared to spend as much time with us as we required. He has huge hands and I have never ceased to marvel at how he can do such delicate work with tiny newborns. We would not have met him beforehand and known exactly what his plans were with our son without prenatal testing.

We scheduled the C-section for a day a week or so before my son's due date. A week earlier than that, however, he decided it was time to come into the world - setting his own terms already. I remember putting my older son, then three, to bed and sitting down on the toilet, and my water broke.

My husband phoned the hospital and spoke with the duty doctor in the ER. She sounded quite bored with yet another frantic new father, until he explained the situation to her. There was a full 30 seconds' silence while she digested the information, and then told him to bring me in. We tried to hold off my son's birth until the surgical team could be assembled in the morning, but he was having none of it. In the end, the doctor performed a large vertical cut at 3 a.m. and got him out with some difficulty. A nursing team was standing by to run him into the other room and get that exposed liver disinfected and wrapped. Would all of this have been available without prenatal testing?

In the end, my son underwent five different surgeries before he was five years old, and has done extremely well ever since. But without prenatal testing, we would not have known or suspected the situation, and chances are high his liver would have been at least lacerated if not severely damaged during birth, and then who knows what his life might have been like?

This is the kind of unwitting damage possibly faced by families who are denied prenatal testing because of their financial circumstances. I am very fortunate to live in Canada, where money did not play into our story at all. But I shudder to think of the possible consequences of our not having had prenatal testing for my son. I should add that I have no problem with families choosing not to have prenatal testing. Most babies, after all, are fine, and I am not a fan of unnecessary medicalisation of a natural process. But sometimes something is wrong, and knowledge is power.

What do you think? Should families be denied knowledge and babies possibly damaged because of what the parents might choose to do with that knowledge?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Agonising about Consumer Electronics

iPhone Shuffle

Next week is my birthday, and I really want an iPhone. I've had an iPod Touch for the past two years (got it for my birthday!) and it is absolutely one of my favourite possessions, and not just because my wonderful husband engraved some loving words on the back.

I am an Internet junky, and I love being connected via my iPod Touch. Of course, it only connects me when I am in a Wi-Fi area - that's why I want to move up to the iPhone. But now I am undergoing a struggle of conscience.

I've been reading articles about the terrible conditions of workers in the Chinese factories that make these darling objects. Suicide nets hang on the Foxconn buildings. Do I really want something that comes from such human misery?

Looking at the list of major customers, it looks like I already have much. Not only the lovely iPod, ordered directly from China because of the engraving, but also the Lenovo laptop I'm typing this on.

My son has an HTC Hero running Google Android, that is apparently made in Taiwan, where working conditions may be a little less awful. It's a nice phone, although I am a little reluctant to give Google more control of my life (they already have my search, my blog and my email ...).

But I really lust after an iPhone. Will I hate myself if I get one anyway? Or should I get over myself and get a phone that wasn't made in such dreadful conditions? And do the parts of the Android phones still come from hellhole factories on the Mainland, so the whole choice is an illusion anyway? Does anybody know?

Should I just donate the cost of the phone to Siloam Mission and continue living without a smartphone, because it's such a bourgeois problem to have?

Help me decide!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

If not now, when?


Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
Next week, G-d willing, I will be celebrating a significant milestone in my life - achieving the half-century mark. As I fully intend to live to be 100, that's halfway through my life's journey.

As I recently said to my friend Jodi, also turning 50 this year, they don't make 50 like they used to. Once upon a time, a 50-year-old woman was old. Nowadays, I know 60-year-olds who easily bike over a hundred kilometres a day. I know octogenarians who regularly hit the gym. We are fortunate.

So, this is the year I am going to run at least one 5K (I did one last October, but I've let it slip since), lift heavy things and become a strong, healthy person. Maybe I'll even run a 10K. Why not?

This is also the year I am going to find my passion and go after it. I'm going to kick the Lizard Brain in its scaly tail. I've spent too much time worrying and procrastinating and reading Facebook. I don't know yet what I want to be but I've got to grow up sometime. If not now, when?

This is the year I'm going to figure out the veggie paleo gig and blog about it. You are all warned. It may seem like a contradiction in terms, but I'm going to find a way to make it work. It may not be fully paleo or fully veggie, but that's OK. If it works for me and my family, it is good. If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

This is the year I'm going to find ways to give back to my community. I keep meaning to go out and volunteer with all kinds of worthy causes, but there is always something else going on. Enough. I need to do it. I do some things, but I need to do more, and I need to involve my kids. We all spend too much time in front of screens. If I am only for myself, what am I?

Whether you are hitting a significant milestone or have just noticed that time is slipping by, what are your plans for this year?