Power, Abuse, and the Duggars: Part Three

Power, Abuse, and theI didn’t set out with the intention of writing a third blog post about the Duggars (see posts one and two), but after the most recent news about Josh’s accounts on Ashley Madison, a website for–let’s just call it what it is–adultery,  I feel compelled to.

Just like I have no interest in shaming Bristol Palin for her second pregnancy, I needn’t spend my time bashing Josh. Plenty of others are having a field day doing just that, and I get it. Both Duggar and Palin have built lucrative personal and professional platforms around their “holier-than-thou” public personas, preaching one thing while clearly practicing quite the opposite. Both have contributed to harmful rhetoric that seeks to further marginalize some of the most vulnerable folks in our society. And they have made serious cash doing it.

As Josh has said in his apology, “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever.” I don’t think he’s being hyperbolic there.

But I can’t stop thinking about Anna Duggar. 

I don’t know much about Josh’s wife Anna. I know they’ve been married nearly seven years. I know she’s had four children in the last five years. She had the first just over a year after their first wedding anniversary. And I know that she gave birth to their fourth on July 19th of this year.

That means that she dealt with the first round of Josh’s fall from grace during her third trimester and while taking care of three young kids. And now at one month postpartum, she has to deal with her husband’s second bout of public shaming. Now the whole world knows if they didn’t already that Jim Bob and Michelle were dead wrong when they tried to play off her husband’s serial molestation as no big deal. “He was just curious about girls,” they’d said. Boys will be boys, folks always say in situations like this. Not anymore.

What I do know is that Anna does not deserve this. She didn’t choose any of this disaster. She’s a young mom who is only mere weeks past the physical trauma of childbirth, who is caring for three other children, and who is now also dealing with the news (I’m assuming she didn’t know about the affairs) that her husband has cheated on her. And Josh, instead of focusing on making amends with her, is no doubt consumed with dealing with the public fallout right now.

Anna is only a peripheral character in all of this. All anyone seems to want to know about her is whether or not she’ll leave Josh, but we mustn’t forget the cultural, religious, familial, and financial barriers she would come up against if that’s what she wants. In a post on Facebook Jessica Krammes Kirkland said it perfectly:

What is Anna Duggar supposed to do? She can’t divorce because the religious environment she was brought up would blame her and ostracize her for it. Even if she would risk that, she has no education and no work experience to fall back on, so how does she support her kids? From where could she summon the ability to turn her back on everything she ever held to be sacred and safe? Her beliefs, the very thing she would turn to for comfort in this kind of crisis, are the VERY REASON she is in this predicament in the first place. How can she reconcile this? Her parents have utterly, utterly failed her. Think of this: somewhere, Anna Duggar is sitting in prayer, praying not for the strength to get out and stand on her own, but for the strength to stand by this man she is unfortunately married to. To lower herself so that he may rise up on her back.

“To lower herself so that he may rise up on her back.” That image won’t leave me anytime soon.

Anna, I see you, and I’m sorry for your suffering. My impulse is to want to rescue you from this or at the very at least offer you something more than my thoughts and prayers, like coming over to do a load laundry and to entertain your little ones while you took a hot shower or cried your eyes out or both. I hope that there are others around you doing just that. I hope you have a doctor or midwife checking in on more than just your physical postpartum healing.

As you hold your sweet baby girl, as you look into her adoring eyes, I pray that she reflects back to you your sacred worth as a child of God. I will understand if you stay with Josh and will not judge you. I will understand if you don’t and will support you. But I do pray that as your children grow up, you are somehow able to find a way to teach them that they deserve better than what you got. Way better.

Why I’m Not Watching

I’m grateful to Feminism and Religion for allowing me to guest post today on the decision not to watch–and what I’ve gained by doing so.

Katey HeadshotI just can’t. The Planned Parenthood sting operation videos. The GOP debates earlier in the month. I can’t bring myself to watch them. I used to jump without hesitation into the thick of the most vitriolic political exchanges and stand my self-righteous ground with the best of them, but I just can’t anymore.

I can’t. And I won’t. I do recognize that when I choose to tune out the noise of public debate, I am opting out of the conversation, at least in part. I shouldn’t be commenting directly on events of which I am not aware and informed. Nor should anyone else for that matter. I do end up relying on a community of commentators to fill in what I’ve missed by not watching.

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Tips for Advocates Who Hate the Phone

Tips for Advocates Who Hate Using the Phone

I hate talking on the phone. Specifically, I really hate the act of calling people. Will the person pick up? What if I repeat my name several times and they still don’t understand me? Am I calling at a bad time? I’m not sure why something this innocuous causes me such anxiety, but I’m not alone. Sometimes I wonder if technology like texting and online help desks were inspired in part by telephobes.

What makes this more difficult is that I run an advocacy campaign for which I am regularly asking volunteers and other concerned citizens to “Call your Senator today!” or “Ask your Representative to support this bill!” I know that when I receive these kinds of requests in my own inbox, I think, Can’t I just write an email instead?

And I could. We all could. It’s easier and faster to click “send’ on a pre-written email than it is to have a conversation. It’s also a lot less effective most of the time. Phone calls can’t be overlooked or ignored in the way that emails can. How many of us have looming messages that we’ve been putting off responding to? In my opinion advocate phone calls are the fastest, most direct way to convey your concerns to your elected officials.

With this in mind, what can fellow telephobes or other anxious advocates do to get over their inclination not to make that phone call? Here are a few helpful tips that will make picking up the phone just a little bit easier.

Know your stuff.  One thing that helps me dial those numbers is being confident in what I’m going to say. I take a few minutes to jot down 2-3 bullet points of the key information I want to convey when I call. Just like a phone interview for a job, you have the luxury of having your notes right in front of you. Let’s say that you are calling about your support for a bill called the Public Education Improvement Act (I just made this name up, so please don’t call your elected officials about it!) that increases funding for primary education. Your bullet points might look something like this:

  • Who you are and why you care. (I’m a constituent who supports funding for public education because I care care about investing in our country’s future.)
  • What you know (The U.S. currently ranks 36th in the world for public education, and our children deserve better.)
  • What you want (Please support the Public Education Improvement Act to ensure that all students in the United States have access to quality education.)

Need help writing your bullet points? Look for some organizations that support your cause. Oftentimes they create one-pagers and fact sheets about the legislation that contain most of the key information you will want to share.

After you jot down your notes, if you can spare a few extra minutes, practice a couple of times. It might sound silly, but just say aloud what you want to convey. If you first hear yourself speak the words, you’ll have an easier time speaking them to someone else with confidence. You probably won’t even need to reference those bullet points.

Keep it short. With your key information down and a few rounds of practice under your belt,  you’ll be able to speak your piece comfortably and quickly. Trust me, the staffer who answers the phone will be very appreciative of how prepared and succinct you are in your message. And, if you’re a telephobe like me, it’s nice to know that the conversation will be over before you know it!

Speaking of staffers, remember that you are speaking to a person. Our elected officials and the staff who work with them are people who work in the field of public service. It might not always appear this way, but a large part of their job is to be attentive to your concerns. Of course not every person who picks up the phone is going to be an absolute delight, but generally you can count on the answerer being professional and polite. And since you’re so prepared, knowledgeable, and confident in your message, how can they be anything but helpful?

There are two final tips about mindset that I wanted to share.

Speak your truth. You don’t need to pretend like you know everything to be taken seriously. You don’t need to be an expert on a piece of legislation to have an informed opinion. You only need to communicate in your unique voice about why this issue matters to you and your community.

Put it into perspective. Sure, getting out of your comfort zones can make you a little nervous, but the alternative is that you might miss your chance to make a real difference on an issue that you care deeply about. Take this as an opportunity to share your passion with someone who frankly is paid to listen to you.

You’ve got this!

Katey Zeh is 

Is Breast Best or Beast?

August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week with a focus on supporting women who are working and breastfeeding. Learn more at worldbreastfeedingweek.org.

World Breastfeeding Week's 2015 Logo
World Breastfeeding Week’s 2015 Logo

Like many aspects of motherhood, breastfeeding is simultaneously put on a pedestal and devalued. On the one hand breastfeeding proponents, more fondly known as “lactivists,” can get quite impassioned about their cause, which as a fellow advocate I can understand and appreciate, but their outspokenness is sometimes at the expense of their fellow mamas. As author and activist Jessica Shortall writes in her open letter to breastfeeding “lactivists”:

You don’t care if I’m stressed, or anxious, or if producing breast milk is causing me conflict with my spouse or employer, or if I lie awake at night feeling like a horrible mother for not making enough milk, or if the demands of breastfeeding are really, really hard to juggle with two or more little kids. You don’t care if it will take me years to get over the feelings of shame and inadequacy that all this “every ounce counts” stuff has brought on. You don’t care if I might be a better mother, or happier person, if I could somehow take some of the breastfeeding pressure off.

I feel like you look at me and see one thing only: a milk-delivery system. A machine, with dark circles under her eyes and a permanent baby bump, whose purpose is to make milk for a baby. And if anything that I want, or even claim to need, gets in the way of that milk-delivery system, it is simply to be overcome. I must be made to see that the Most Important Thing is making milk. Everything else can wait until after the kid turns two.

On the other hand, and I hesitate to bring more attention to his antics, presidential-hopeful Donald Trump actually called a called a lawyer “disgusting” for taking a scheduled lunch break to pump. While many of us can point to how outrageous that is, the signs that have been popping up in stores and other public places telling nursing moms to cover up have received more mixed responses. (They have also elicited some hilarious responses from nursing mamas.)

But seriously, between the lactivists and the breast shamers, is it any wonder that so many of us are scrambling to cover up the way we get our babies fed? I’ve decided to take my metaphorical cover off and share exactly how I’ve fed mine.

Within hours after the birth of my daughter, my doula (birth coach) noticed that my daughter was having a hard time latching. She strongly suggested I contact a lactation consultant about a possible tongue tie, which would make nursing difficult and painful. We followed her advice and got an appointment for the following day. By the time the lactation consultant arrived I was a mess. My daughter’s “suck” was more like a “chomp,” leaving my nipples damaged, cracked, and bleeding. (Is reading this grossing you out? Try living it.) For weeks I had to stand backward in the shower because the sensation of the falling water on my chest was excruciating.

Breast was not best for ME in that moment.

My lactation consultant was my saving grace. She affirmed that the pain I was experiencing was not normal and that I needed time to heal before my injuries got worse. She taught me so many things–how to pump, how to accelerate my healing with compresses and essential oils, and how to establish a healthy milk supply. None of this was intuitive to me. Overwhelmed by all of the new information and postpartum hormones, I made her write down on a notecard exactly what I needed to do.

Three days after the birth our lactation consultant accompanied my husband and me to a kind oral surgeon who performed a quick laser surgery on our baby’s mouth to fix what turned out to be extremely severe tongue and tip ties. For the following two weeks as she healed, we had to supplement what milk she was getting through nursing by feeding her pumped milk through a tube after every feeding. My husband did exercises diligently with our baby to teach her how to suck properly. We were an around-the-clock-baby-feeding machine.

I’m now nine months into my breastfeeding journey, and I can say that it’s gotten infinitely easier. It does feel natural now, but only because my daughter and I have spent hundreds of hours doing it. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, and when I look at my baby’s adorably plump thighs, I think to myself proudly, I did that. At the same time I’m aware of how fortunate I am to work from home where I can nurse my baby on demand, which has kept my supply steady. My mama friends who pump everyday at work, you have my deepest admiration.

I say all of this not to impress anyone with my breastfeeding “war” story or my strong sense of determination that kept me hanging in there, but rather to help dispel the myth that breastfeeding is easy, natural, innate, or without cost. It was none of those things for my family.

Breastfeeding is a reproductive justice issue.

For our family, writing a few hefty checks and paying an insurance deductible were financial investments we were willing and able to make in order for me to breastfeed, but not every family has that luxury. The success of a breastfeeding relationship shouldn’t depend on a person’s socioeconomic status.

A person who wants to breastfeed needs more than just a strong sense of determination. Access to services like lactation consultants, health insurance to cover any necessary procedures, and support from family, friends, and the broader community aren’t optional; they are essential.

Have I Lost My Faith?

Flickr: Vee Max
Flickr: Vee MAX

Someone asked me out of the blue if I’d lost my faith in Jesus.

Context is key to making some sense of this, but the circumstances of this conversation are too bizarre and complicated for me to recount. I could choose to take this opportunity to give an after the fact, impassioned reply to the inquiry, but I would just be acting out of defensiveness, and I’m working hard these days at not giving my energy away to causes and conversations that aren’t deserving of it.

I must admit, though, the question left me stunned. More than a week later it still lingers in my mind and in my heart. Had I, this seminary-trained, faith-based advocate who consults full-time for a mainline Christian denomination, lost her faith?

Anything is possible, I suppose. There are stories of ministers becoming atheists. Even the evangelical ones. My theological credentials don’t give me a pass on the question, and for some they only create more suspicion about my status as a Jesus follower. Many of the spiritual views I hold and the work that I do, particularly around women’s reproductive health, don’t align with the narrowly-constructed idea of Christianity that some of my brothers and sisters promulgate so unabashedly.

As challenging as it is, I try to give those with opposing theological views the benefit of the doubt that they are acting out of their own deeply-held religious convictions. While I may disagree with them, I try not to question the authenticity of their personal faith. Who am I to know another person’s innermost thoughts or experiences? And if I truly believe as I say all of the time–that every person is made in the image of God with innate sacred worth–then I must strive even harder to see the divine in those who insist that God is a white dude, that an embryo is a person, and that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Lord, help me.

Stating the obvious here, but I’m usually not one to back away from controversy. For a long time my conviction has been that because I have access and privilege in so many areas of my life, I can risk the backlash of speaking out against injustice. I can take a hit. But those hits hurt my spirit. They cause me doubt. Just today as I was driving in the car I asked myself, why couldn’t I have followed a more innocuous ministerial path? Some days I feel too weary to deal with one more story of preventable maternal death or one more bad vote on the floor of the Capitol that will result in needless loss of life. On top of all of that, how do I deal with someone doubting my beliefs in the existence of divine love?

This is what I wish I would’ve had the wisdom to say in the moment: I haven’t lost faith. What I have lost are my desperate attempts to articulate my faith in a simple, logical, and convincing way. Letting go of this need has created space for faith to come in. I haven’t lost faith because faith isn’t something I even have the capacity to lose.  It seeks me out and meets me where I am each and every day, pulling me gently but steadily onward even when the injustice of the world tries to shoves me back with all its might.  It carries me, pushes me, and dwells within me all at the same time.

A mystery indeed.