Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Frost (Wordless Wednesday)

I visited my parents a week ago in Meridian, Idaho.  While there, the fog rolled in and the frost piled up.











Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Age and Fertility

In a few weeks, Cami will turn two.  My baby is no longer a baby, but a toddler who lives life at full throttle, with a constant sound track of noises and shrieks to go along with her sunny personality.  Like all Bartholomew babies, she's not much into words yet, but communicates just fine without them.
She's a delight and everyone adores her.  I have to laugh when I hear criticisms of large families that insinuate that somehow, the kids must be starving for attention because they have to share their parents.  Just spend a day with us, I think, and notice how large and devoted Cami's fan club is, and that preposterous claim would disappear.




As Cami's birthday approaches, I find myself feeling some sorrow that my baby is not a baby anymore.  Sunrise, sunset, and all of that mushy stuff, of course, but this time, there's also some real heartache and sadness because for the first time, I have a baby turning two and I'm not pregnant.  Actually, I've never had a child be 18 months old before and not been pregnant -- my biggest space between children is 2 years and 4 months between the twins and Eliza. 


My kids are all close in age, and while that can be challenging, I have loved it.  There are wonderful friendships that develop and great fun to be had. It's created a wonderful family dynamic and it's made it possible for me to have a large family and still feel young enough to enjoy them.


The difficult health problems I experienced after Cami's birth mean that she might be our last.  If she is, while I grieve the loss of what might have been (I've felt for years that there was at least one more boy coming), I am grateful that I took full advantage of the time I had to bear children, even though it was shorter than I thought it would be.


Being able to have children is not something I take for granted.  I've had friends and family struggle with infertility, and it's not an easy battle.

In our world of conflicting messages about having it all and "girl power," there's a whole lot of talk about choices and mommy tracks and birth control, but there's not much said about the fact that with all of modern medicine, sometimes the only control we have over birth is when NOT to have a child.  We take for granted that we will be able to have children when we want them.

But the truth is, the window of fertility is small.  I've written about this subject before, but it's been on my mind lately.  Last summer, I read the book Motherhood Rescheduled, about the science and practicalities of the new frontier of egg-freezing and one thing that hit home to me was how in the fertility world, anyone over 30 is starting to be considered old and anyone over 40 is ancient.  Women's bodies were designed for peak fertility in the 20s.  Pregnancy postponed for various reasons -- needing to find a spouse (pretty important one!), wanting to be more established in a career, not feeling ready -- often means fertility problems and sometimes it means being childless, even after interventions and heart-breaking fertility treatments.  The book was pretty optimistic about the options and doors that egg-freezing might open up, even while it was pretty clear that many women who froze their eggs in order to keep their options open were still unable to have the family they desired.

Recently, several experiences have helped me realize how fragile our control over this aspect of our lives really is.  A good friend of mine is in her mid-30s has been trying for over a year to have another baby, and as the months pass, she has yet to realize her desires.  Another friend is now halfway through a pregnancy with twins after struggling with infertility treatments and enduring three devastating miscarriages.

The amazing Michelle writes movingly of her struggle with age-related fertility in her post "should've had another baby."

"I’m writing the truth I wish I’d heard five years ago: you don’t have as much time to have children as you think.

In an age where the tabloids show women in their mid and late forties snuggling newborns, infertility treatments abound and ‘forty is the new thirty’ I think we’ve forgotten the reality of the biological clock.

Here are the cold hard facts: a woman’s fertility peaks in her early twenties, declines in a gentle slope through our twenties with a slightly steeper drop in our thirties. But get ready for the nosedive at forty. The rates drop from 30% at age forty, to 10% at 41, 4% at 42 and 1.6% at 43 (even with every technique known to modern medicine). . .

For two and a half years I fought just to stay above water; adding in a pregnancy and a baby seemed insane. But last winter on my 43rd birthday we went back to the round of doctors. I knew I wasn’t quite emotionally stable (will I ever be?), but I also sensed I was running out of time. After three sets of doctors (the first two pretty much laughed me out of their office) the test results came back, “I don’t ever want to say there’s no chance,” the doctor began, “and I’d love for you to prove me wrong. But statistically, we’re looking at 0%.” He went on to explain most women my age having babies are using egg donors. “That’s what you’re seeing in the tabloids.” There are the exceptions, and I certainly thought I’d be among them, but the doctor said he sees hundreds and hundreds of women in their early forties who feel sure they too, will be the exception.

I'm 36, which means I'm starting along the downward curve of fertility.  If we decide to have more children, it's likely to take me much longer to get pregnant and my risk of miscarriage is higher.  Of course, I could be an exception.  But most likely, I only have a few more years of pregnancy and child-bearing left.

 
Age-related infertility isn't something you plan for or think about when you're young and 40 seems a long way off.  I had a conversation with a friend back when I was first having children who saw no urgency in having children.  "What's the difference?" she asked, "Five children now or five children later?"  The difference, I think I'd say now, is that the longer you wait, the less likely it will be that you are able to have the number of children you desire.  The difference, I'd say, might be "Five children now or three children later."  Your circumstances may change and your health or age may preclude you from having the family you desire.



Whether I'm able to have more children or whether that chapter of my life is closed, I have no regrets about the way I've spent my life up to this point.  If anything, I am even more grateful for the nine children I've been blessed with and the privilege I've had to be a mother.

(Even posting a photo like this, taken last May, gives my heart a little stab of sadness -- Cami has grown so much since then, and I might never have a baby that little again.)


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject, even as I'm still sorting through mine.  What has been your experience with fertility?  If your family is complete, was the size of your family determined by choice or by circumstances?  Have you felt the tug of 'what might have been' or experienced infertility?  Did you have a hard time leaving behind the baby stage?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

LDS Church Instruction to Leaders on Same Sex Marriage

As many of you likely know, a federal judge recently struck down my state's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.  I have many thoughts on the subject and I hope to post some of them later.  In the meantime, I wholeheartedly support this:

Church Instructs Leaders on Same Sex Marriage

On December 20, 2013, a federal district judge in Salt Lake City issued an order legalizing same-sex marriage in Utah, striking down century-old state laws and a state constitutional amendment that defined marriage exclusively as between a man and a woman. The United States Supreme Court has put that ruling on hold pending consideration of the issue by an appellate court. During the interval between the district court ruling and the Supreme Court stay, numerous same-sex marriages were performed in Utah. Legal proceedings and legislative action in some other states and countries have given civil recognition to same-sex marriage relationships.

As we face this and other issues of our time, we encourage all to bear in mind our Heavenly Father’s purposes in creating the earth and providing for our mortal birth and experience here as His children. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:27–28). “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and for the well-being of society. Strong families, guided by a loving mother and father, serve as the fundamental institution for nurturing children, instilling faith, and transmitting to future generations the moral strengths and values that are important to civilization and crucial to eternal salvation.

Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established. God expects us to uphold and keep His commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society. His law of chastity is clear: sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. We urge you to review and teach Church members the doctrine contained in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

Just as those who promote same-sex marriage are entitled to civility, the same is true for those who oppose it. The Church insists on its leaders’ and members’ constitutionally protected right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The Church is also entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.

Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there.

While these matters will continue to evolve, we affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree.
As members of the Church, we are responsible to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to illuminate the great blessings that flow from heeding God’s commandments as well as the inevitable consequences of ignoring them. We invite you to pray that people everywhere will have their hearts softened to the truths of the gospel, and that wisdom will be granted to those who are called upon to decide issues critical to society’s future.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Christmas Magic

So, I know I'm a little late to the game, but we had a wonderful Christmas!  We got  back from our Kauai trip on Monday morning the 23rd, but even so, it didn't feel rushed.  We had everything ready before we left except for wrapping, and my daughter Lillian offered to finish that part up for us, which was wonderful. 

DH took the older kids to see The Hobbit on Christmas Eve afternoon with his parents, then we enjoyed our regular Christmas Eve tradition of dinner out to Chinese.  The local family-owned restaurant we go to has come to expect our arrival, and we love the easy clean-up.  We don't often go out to eat as an entire family, so it's a nice treat.


After dinner, we came home for our regular activities.  First up is the acting out of the nativity.  This year, we sang three hymns during it, so Lillian, while unpictured, was an active participant by playing the piano.

As you can see, we take authentic costuming very, very seriously.  ;)
After reading the Christmas story from the Bible, we read the account of what was happening in the American continent at that time.  This led to a short discussion about staying true to your beliefs no matter what the opposition might be.

We always finish up Christmas Eve by opening one present.  Here's Cami with hers.

Christmas morning dawned and we loved it.  Christmas with lots of kids is magical.  


Showing off some presents:






Sarah was especially happy with the camera she received.


I love how my kids are so grateful for their secret buddy gifts.  Each draws a name and buys for one sibling.  When the giver of the present is revealed, hugs ensue.  Joey, Sarah, and Lillian also spent money buying everyone in the family a present and not just their secret buddy.


Each kid holding one of their favorite presents:

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Relieving Poverty


This morning I read an interesting article about the unintended consequences of anti-poverty programs and how difficult it can be to truly relieve poverty.  The article, called Saving Africa?  New Book Casts Harsh Light on Prominent Poverty Program,  outlines some truly horrific problems with a particular initiative focusing on several villages in Africa.  Things like raising a bumper crop after being given fertilizer and high-yield seeds but then having no way of getting that crop to a market, or artificially supporting one village so well that people give up their nomadic life and settle down, only to have no industry or work in such an isolated area.  Or the chaos and violence that ensues after a community learns to depend on new water wells that then break down for months at a time.  It's eye-opening and makes me want to read the book the article highlights.

A very telling quote from the article is this: 

"In the quest to end poverty it is important to understand that theories that we develop in academic environments can't anticipate the chaos of the real world. In trying to put into practice the theories he outlined in "The End of Poverty," Jeffrey Sachs discovered that human beings are unpredictable and irrational. It turns out that ending poverty is a lot more complicated than some people think."

Another interesting look at the same kind of problems is this podcast from Freakonomics my friend recommended.  It talks about the need for evidence-based poverty problem solving and not just doing what sounds like it should work.

In 2012, I read a book about India called Behind the Beautiful Forevers that followed a family's life in a shantytown near an airport.  What was most discouraging about the book was the corruption of the politicians and the abuse of NGO money going on.  For example, the village school received money but was only held when they were notified there'd be a visitor from the over-seeing program.  Otherwise, the kids were left uneducated and the schoolteacher enriched.  Other schemes abounded, as some few people were enriched by what was intended to lift the poorest out of poverty.
 




In my Church, we do a lot of humanitarian work.  As just a small example among many, my in-laws served an 18-month mission in Russia as humanitarian missionaries from 2002-2003, evaluating and overseeing the aid work going on in Eastern Europe.  They served at their own expense and they found some projects to easily support and others where, like in the article above, there were unintended consequences.  For example, the Church would provide beds or appliances to orphanages and then return later to find these items stored away because they were too nice to use or these items sold on the black market to enrich the orphanage's owners.  There was great need for caution and wisdom in administering the programs and efforts, but even then, the Church was emphasizing specific, reachable goals rather than simply trying a multitude of ideas to see if one would work.

My in-laws in 2002, just after returning from their first mission.  They later served 3 years in Armenia.

This article outlines the humanitarian efforts of my Church well (and if you don't read any other links, please read this one -- it's excellent).  One principle that underlies the gospel of Jesus Christ is self-reliance, with an emphasis on helping people to help themselves.   
I love how my Church works humanitarian aid, with two focuses -- one, on the short-term relief after disasters, and another on long-term initiatives
with specific goals, like clean water, providing wheelchairs, immunizations, etc. 

As much as possible, aid is gathered and provided as close to the people as possible, thus cutting down on transportation and overhead costs as well as supporting the local industries and better meeting the nutritional and other needs of the affected populations.  For example, for relief provided after Typhoon Haiyan, the Church used its existing infrastructure and people as much as possible, housing many people in our meetinghouses and working with local members to distribute the aid.  "
The Church has a vast, local volunteer force among the members in the region and is not seeking volunteers to travel to the Philippines as part of its relief efforts. In addition, the Church has learned that the most effective way to respond to disasters is to work locally, purchasing needed supplies in country as near to the disaster as possible.  This not only ensures that the goods are appropriate for the area but it helps build up impaired, local economies."  (from this article).  This article follows the director of aid for the Phillipines in the wake of the disaster and is well worth the read.

Our Church also partner with other reputable organizations for joint initiatives often, such as that to eliminate diseases like measles and polio through immunizations.

I find this absolutely remarkable: "While 100 percent of fast offerings and humanitarian donations go directly to those in need, the overhead and administrative costs associated with these programs — in addition to the resources needed to build storage facilities, house and deliver humanitarian aid supplies around the world, train volunteers and so on — are privately fronted by the Church. Today, thanks to a robust infrastructure, the Church continues to relieve the hunger, thirst, suffering and poverty of millions of people around the world and to empower individuals and communities to become more self-sustaining." (from this article)

 
Other organizations do fairly well with keeping overhead costs low as well. For instance, the Red Cross uses just 9% for overhead. (http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/24/pf/donations-charities/)

Others do extremely poorly:

 

Be careful about where you put your aid dollars.  Be wary of giving to organizations who solicit through telemarketing.  Do some research and make sure the money is going to a good cause.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Kauai

Just before Christmas, my husband and I were blessed to spend a week in Kauai.  It was our first trip with no kids along since back before we had kids, and we really needed the time to reconnect after a tough couple of years.  We had a wonderful time, and I loved having my new camera along to capture the stunning landscapes of the Garden Isle. 



We arrived on the island of Kauai at 6 p.m. local time, Friday the 13th, after a 12+ hour journey.  We flew from SLC to LAX then had a 6 hour flight to Kauai.  We got our rental car and drove five minutes or so to our hotel, Marriott's Kauai Beach Club in Li'hue (which I had been convinced had an exotic pronunciation, but alas, rhymes with phooey).  Our hotel was right along a lovely protected stretch of beach.  We had a great view from our 7th floor room.  Temperatures all week were perfect, with highs around 80 degrees and lows around 60.  Since we'd left behind several weeks with no temperatures above freezing, it was especially nice.
The view from our hotel room:

The icicles we left behind:

 And Salt Lake's inversion as seen from our flight -- that's smog down there, not fog.

Saturday:  Early Start, Helicopter, and Lilified Cliffs
Hawaii is 3 hours later than Utah time, and we'd crashed pretty early (8ish) so I suppose it should have been no surprise when I woke up at my regular exercise time back in Utah, or 3 a.m. local time.  Since I'd gotten enough sleep, I decided to make the best of it and went for a run along the beach by our hotel.  The tides in Hawaii are not as extreme as in California, with the difference in ocean height being only a few feet between them as opposed to ten or more, so running along the beach with shoes didn't really work since there wasn't a good stretch of firm sand near the waves.  In order to run close enough to hit the firm sand, it quickly became apparent I was going to get wet.  No problem there.  I basked in the warm air and moonlight as I ran barefoot through the waves.  It was hard to believe that back home it was below freezing.  The only downside to the beach was its length -- just a quarter mile across, so I had to do laps.  Three miles later, I was ready to go plan the day.

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