someone has to do it.

If you frequent this blog, you learned last week that my kids have learned to call it like it is when it comes to their own bodies.  They are, so to speak, well informed. If you haven’t been reading, then read this to learn about teaching 4 year olds what a vagina is.

I had lunch with a friend this week who has teenage boys.  Terrifying to say the least.  She and her husband set high expectations for her sons.  And they talk to them about all the hard things in life.  I love it.  She would tell you she is from another planet…I would tell you that we should all move there.  Because, well, our kids will be well-informed or misinformed.  But don’t be fooled into thinking they won’t be informed.

I am going to make an argument here that the church and its people should be responsible for teaching our children about sex.  And I’m not talking about the usual screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-39-17-am“don’t do it” speech.  I’m talking about the real deal truth.  What it is, why people do it, what happens when you do it.  (And yes, all those “do it” puns are intended).  When we fail to do so, I believe we, the church at large, must think of ourselves as responsible for the consequences.  For too long we have sat silently in judgment of pregnant teenagers assuming it will never happen to one of our great kids.  Well folks, I’ve got news for you.  Right here in what my preacher friends call the belt buckle of the Bible belt…we have a problem.
In my state, Oklahoma, the teen birth rate is 42.9 per 1,000.  Compare that to the United States as a whole with a teen birth rate of 26.1 per 1,000 young women.   (Note that despite a decline in teen pregnancy in the last decade, our nation still ranks among the worst of all developed countries).  In fact, there is ONLY ONE STATE that has a higher teen pregnancy rate than us.  As a gynecologist, this is kind of embarrassing.  And that’s not all we excel at.   Our state provides, on average, about half of the sexual education services to teenagers when compared to the US as a whole.  Not surprisingly, we rank in the top 15 when it comes to gonorrhea and chlamydia infections.  As in, more than a bunch of other states.  Not just alarming, but gross.
So, as they say, what then must we do?

 

First, we must love our kids.  No matter what.  We must make sure they know how much they are valued.  We have to be honest with them in order for them to be honest with us.  The Pastor and I assume everyone is having sex.  And drinking and doing drugs.  We live in worst case scenario world…which allows for a lot of pleasant surprises.  One of my favorite friends had everyone write advice to her son as he went off to college.  Among the lessons I learned mostly through trial and error, I added one line that I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way.  “Don’t get anyone pregnant.”  And when I see him around we exchange high-fives and am assured that he knows the Pastor and I will be there for any problem he faces.  With open arms.  My college girls I breakfast with know my sage wisdom of “getting married or having a baby never fixed anything.”  I try to remind them often how much they are loved and to call when they are in trouble.  I will pray for my own kids as much as these and I hope they will come to me with honesty about their lives.  And if not me, maybe one of you who they will listen to or call when they are in trouble.
Second, we have to tell them the truth.  They will learn about sex.  Most of them will not abstain just because you tell them not to do it.  My best analogy for this is cupcakes.  Kids know cupcakes are good.  You can’t hide it from them.  You can tell them cupcakes are terrible but they know.  The same can be said for sex.  We harm our young people when we tell them sex is bad and not to engage.  And they don’t buy it.  Sex is cupcakes, not cauliflower (sorry for all you cauliflower lovers out there).  Instead, our kids should know that engaging in intimate sexual behavior has consequences…both good and bad.  They should be informed about the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections with long term health and reproductive consequences, the stigma and health consequences of genital herpes and warts, and both the joy and the heartbreak of shared intimacy.  They should know about and have access to contraception because kids who make a choice I wouldn’t make for them deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.

Last, we must be well-informed adults.  Tonight the fourth grader was telling the preschooler about snap chat.  Thankfully the Pastor knows about snap because this mom is clueless.  As parents we have to be educated.  Not just on the latest social media craze, but also on what we really mean when we talk about sex and our kids health.  We can’t buy into the prevalent idea that we can pronounce ourselves pro-life and against all things immoral and then not have the guts to stand up and care for the pregnant teen who shows up at our church.  You can’t ignore the black girls at your after school program who desperately need to know they are loved and valued.  Instead we need to understand, as best we can, the full depth and breadth of reproductive rights.  We need to adhere to our call to care for the orphans in our midst left from unintended pregnancies.  You see, the government will not stop abortion.  New or different laws won’t lower the teen pregnancy rate or decrease sexual assault on our college campuses or even create a culture that values its women as equal to its men.

This is our calling.  To love and educate our children, to care for our community, to be well-informed adults who can lead the generation behind us into a safer, healthier and more whole future.  And to have kids that will not be afraid of delicious cupcakes.

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call it like it is.

I often wonder what the girls will say about their home growing up.  I grew up in a home where my dad worked in health care administration so I was familiar with the halls of a hospital and nursing home.  Mom was working full time too so we stayed with our grandparents after school.  I have lots of amazing memories from those days and hope my girls will as well.  But, as you might imagine, our house is a little more crazy.   Midnight phone calls sometimes come for the Pastor, sometimes for me.  Emergency babysitting needs are not infrequent.  Dinner conversations are, to say the least, interesting.

My oldest never really had a desire to know what I was doing while at work.  In fact, she gets nauseated when some other kid at school gets a bloody nose.  But my little one, well, she is totally into mom’s career.  I remember finishing up dinner one evening and I was called to the hospital as my patient was ready to delivery.  She looked at me and said, in her best pirate voice, “is that lady gonna push out her baby or are you gonna cut it out?”  I lost it.  She was holding up a butter knife from the table like she was going to come and screen-shot-2016-01-23-at-7-40-39-pmhelp me.  I politely explained that my patient was probably going to push the baby out but I and a whole team of people would be there in case cutting was needed.  She seemed relieved.  The older one just rolled her eyes.

The Pastor and I have always tried to be honest with our kids.  We figure that eventually they will encounter all the joys, fears and difficulties of life and the more information the better.  It’s how I operate in daily life.  Knowledge and information is comforting and empowering to me.  That being said we have always tried to teach our kids the truth about their physical, as well as their theological health.  The rules in our house are that the Pastor will explain the Trinity and the resurrection to them and I will tell them where babies come from.  And so they know about their bodies.  When they are taking a shower and spilling water everywhere I will hear one of them saying “don’t forget to wash your vagina” to the other in the loudest voice possible.   It’s no different for them then making sure all the shampoo is out of their hair or than their stinky feet are clear.  For many years this declaration was followed by the Pastor or I asking “and who is allowed to see your vagina?” and them shouting out names off a list like it was a Jeopardy game.  Names that include mom, dad, Dr. Melissa (another hero to my 4 year old), and Grandma.

There is a reason why we approach our kids with anatomically correct names.  And it’s not just because hearing a 9 year old screaming at her sister about washing the thing is entertaining (although that is hilarious sometimes).  It is more about empowering them.  I wanted them to know from an early age that their bodies belong to them.  They should be handled responsibly and, most importantly, they can be honest with the Pastor and I about whatever is happening to their bodies.  I think we do a disservice to our kids when their genitals become “woo hoos” and “ding dongs” and even “private parts.”  We disempower our kids to call it like it is.  To tell us, out loud, what is happening to them in private.  I want to know if anyone is making them feel uncomfortable.

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So at our house we have dinner discussions on how babies are born and what God looks like and who this Holy Spirit character is.  We remind them daily to always choose kindness and to act like the Jesus they hear about each week at church.  And they will continue to ask how long mom will be gone delivering those babies and whether they are being pushed out of someone’s vagina, or cut out of someones uterus.  I have my speech ready for when they ask how babies get inside the uterus.  But for now they are satisfied knowing who is picking them up from school and when mom will be home.  And I am satisfied knowing they have been empowered to know their bodies and speak up whenever and to whomever when they feel uncomfortable.  And to call it like it is.

 

red hair…don’t care.

I got the “red hair…don’t care” award from my residents a couple years ago.  I loved it.  They decided this award was best for me because I shoot pretty straight on most things; especially when it comes to the residents and medical students I work with.  I say things like “here’s a great way NOT to impress your attending.”  Or  “how about we try not to say that in front of the patient.”   I also have a thousand funny memes and sayings and have been known to let loose with my sarcasm at times.

In the spirit of all things “don’t care” I thought I would share with you what myself and my fellow OBGYN’s don’t care about that our patients seem to be all worked up over.

That your legs are not shaved.  No seriously.  I’m not giving you a leg massage.  It really doesn’t bother us.  We usually don’t even notice unless you bring it up.  Confession: our legs probably aren’t freshly shaved either since most of us prefer to use that extra few minutes for sleep instead of time in the shower.

That you are on your period.  I’m sure you hate it but we signed up to deal with it.  Like every day.  Remember we deliver babies and perform surgeries and see hundreds of women who are bleeding.  We got this.  Thanks for worrying about us but we will be fine.

That your socks don’t match or your toes aren’t manicured or you aren’t wearing your cutest undies.  For the most part we get dressed in the dark.  We come into the hospital in the middle of the night.  Our socks might not match.  Wearing underwear is considered enough.  Please do wear it.  You don’t have to wad it up and hide it from us under your other clothes, we don’t care what it looks like.

That you might see me in public.  One time I saw someone bolting down the aisle at Target to avoid me.  It’s OK if you see us at the grocery store or the gym or the PTO meeting (who am I kidding we are always at work during the PTO meetings) we will do our best to remember your name correctly and say hello but it won’t be awkward for us because we take very seriously protecting your privacy and honestly we don’t remember every detail from every patient…that’s why we take good notes!

That you have a ‘weird’ question.  Trust me.  Patients often say “I have a weird question” followed by something that is totally normal/common/not weird at all.  There is not much we haven’t seen or heard.  Not much we haven’t dealt with, walked patients through or bailed someone out of.  What might seem weird to you is probably routine for us.  So hit us up with your ‘weird’ questions.

What the internet (or your bestie) told you.  If you come to the doctor with a plan in place for yourself then it makes our job harder.  Instead of focusing on listening to your problem and making decisions on the best available evidence we spend time re-educating you about what you have read or heard.  We are happy to provide you with that information but we really want to spend our time helping you get better.

So, here’s what we DO care about.

That you are honest with us.  We can’t take care of you if we don’t know what is really going on.  While most OBGYN’s are friendly and inquisitive by nature, we ask about who you are sleeping with and what medications you are taking because we want you to be safe and healthy, not just because we are nosy.

That you know we want what’s best for you.  If you are honest with us we will listen, we will empathize and we will be honest with you.  Sometimes that means we might tell you something that is hard to hear.  Or give you bad news.  But through it all we are doing are best to do what is best….for you.  For your health and for your family.  Try to remember that when the answer we give you isn’t necessarily what you wanted to hear or involves hard work.  We want you to be safe so we are going to ask about any history of violence or dangerous behavior.  We want you to be healthy so we are going to ask you about your diet and exercise habits.  We don’t want to harm you so we might not be able to give you a medication you want or perform a procedure you would like to have.

That you know we are doing our best.   Sometimes we run behind, we get stuck at the hospital or are dealing with a difficult situation.  I can’t promise you won’t have to wait in our waiting rooms or that your surgery won’t be delayed or even that everything will turn out perfect, but know that we are doing our best to make sure you are taken care of as best we can.  We are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and most importantly, human beings.

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-6-38-08-pmSo there you have it.  The truth from blonde covering gray hair who don’t care and will tell you how it is.  Go ahead, don’t shave your legs. (Please note that my obgyn friends do ask that you please have clean feet when you arrive.)  Ask the embarrassing question without even saying it’s ‘weird’.  Say hello when you see us at the grocery store with our screaming children and sweat pants. And come to your physician with honesty and an open mind.  Grace and peace, friends!

 

listen…to…your mother.

Listen…to…your mother.   It’s a phrase I utter about seven thousand times on a Sunday morning.  When I can’t seem to get the girls to find their shoes, brush their teeth, get in the car and a multitude of other things on the way to church I emphatically state “listen…to..your mother.”  They think it’s hilarious to repeat the phrase over and over to each other and giggle about how crazy I sound.

A dear friend said to me this morning: “Mother’s Day..sometimes it just seems like too much.”  And I get that.  Mothers feeling overwhelmed at a day to celebrate them, yet unable to escape the responsibilities of the daily routine.  Women who wish they were mothers but are unable.  Women who mourn the loss of their child or their own mother.  Families who need reconciliation on these celebratory days.

So what to write about on this “too much” day.  After much thought (kidding…I was napping this afternoon), I thought I would make a list of what your mother would want you to know if she was an OBGYN married to a Pastor.

  1. Educate your kids about their bodies: My kids remind each other to “wash around your vagina” in the tub.  When BK was born, Mc said breastfeeding was “weird.”  To which I replied, “yes dear, it’s only the beginning of weird stuff your body does.”  Kids who know how their bodies function can express when they are injured, uncomfortable or, God forbid, touched inappropriately.
  2. Vaccinate your kids against HPV: People, it’s not a conspiracy theory.  It’s a vaccine that has the potential to eliminate or nearly eliminate cervical cancer and significantly reduce HPV related diseases.  Trust me.  I deal with this, literally, every day.  Does every vaccine have a small risk of complications?  Yes, but significantly less likely than me seeing your kid later in life for an abnormal Pap test or some other problem.  Plus, there’s more formaldehyde in pears and bacon than in vaccines. (mic drop).
  3. Make sure your kid has a trusted adult they can talk to that’s NOT YOU.  As parents we think we want or need to know everything that is happening in our kids lives.  The reality is that we can’t do much about it.  I can tell you everything your kid says to me in the office but then she wouldn’t trust me and she already doesn’t listen to you.  What I can do is encourage them to be safe, be healthy, see the consequences of their actions before they happen and be honest with you.  So make sure they have a pastor, a doctor, a coach or a mentor you trust.
  4. Let your kid be honest with you.  When they do something dumb and are brave enough to tell you about it be sure to remind them how glad you are they were honest with you amidst the lecture about how disappointed you are.
  5. And finally, be easy on yourself.  I am reminded weekly by Pastor Jon and Pastor Jason that God has already made His mind up about you and the news is good.  It’s okay to be stressed, sad or overwhelmed on Mother’s day.  Or any day.  Forgive others, forgive yourself.  Love people more than they deserve and let yourself be loved more than you deserve.  And don’t forget to see your Gynecologist and go to Church.

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