Polygamy and Other Fun Things to Do

I sprained my foot last weekend and since then, I’ve been spending so much time sitting on my butt that I’ve basically exhausted the internet. One of my particular interests of late has been religious fundamentalists and lately, polygamists.

I read both books by Carolyn Jessop, Escape and Triumph and bought the series Polygamy USA. I watched a couple seasons of Sister Wives ages ago and wasn’t too impressed and Polygamy USA left me with that same ‘why is everyone lying?’ feeling.

[If you haven’t watched the series, read the reviews from the Sister Wives Blog, which are really funny and apt (though I think she’s still missing a few episodes).]

“We’re happy!” They insist. “It’s not always easy, but nothing worth having is!” “Being polygamous is an expression of our religious freedom! It’s a tenet of our beliefs!”

When I hear them talk, I think of how I felt when I practiced attachment parenting. I was deeply unhappy. But if you had asked me then if I was happy, I would have said I was because the exhaustion and lack of time to myself were exactly how I thought motherhood was supposed to be. Since I didn’t expect anything else, I had no idea that I could feel any different.

When I started seeing a therapist to deal with my postpartum depression, she told me that in one session when I was trying to defend my AP practices that she has treated Jehovah’s Witnesses before and she always has to tell them that she can help them, but only if they’re willing to question some of their beliefs. If they aren’t, then there is nothing she can do. Later, she told me that a lot of the things I was experiencing were similar to what people who have left their religion experienced.

I really, firmly believed that attachment parenting was the one true way to raise children and the only way I could ensure my kids would grow up healthy, well-adjusted adults. For that, I was willing to sacrifice my happiness.

How lucky for me that I came to realize sacrificing my happiness is not necessary to achieve that goal! I can, in fact, have my cake and eat it, too. Since undergoing therapy and changing my parenting to create more room for me, I am literally the happiest I’ve been since before Alpha was born. And I know my kids will be better off for it, too. As my therapist said, they don’t need the perfect mother, they just need a mother–preferably a happy one.

I wish the women in Polygamy USA would realize the same. They do not need a man to enter heaven–they can get there on their own. If living polygamy is so hard and challenging, wouldn’t they rather have one happy life here, on Earth (which is, by the way 100% guaranteed to actually exist. I know of no such guarantees attached to the afterlife, YMMV).

The sad thing is that Polygamy USA and the earlier documentary by Lisa Ling (which is also linked to on the Sister Wives blog) are meant to show religious polygamy in its best light. And, at best, it comes across as a system that results in women having a ton of children, which they raise basically as single mothers. This is caused by the fact that one man simply cannot support 3 adult women who have at least 5 kids each–it’s impossible. In the Cawley Family, both the husband, two of the wives and the oldest daughter work. This leaves the first wife, Rose, at home by herself with 9 kids under 5.

The “Thomsons”–real last name Timson, I believe, portray themselves as the Model Polygamist Family. They’re young! They’re hip! They wear really high heels and make up! And they disturb me. Marlene is about my age, 28. She states emphatically that she and her husband are not from Centennial Park, but moved there. This is not a lie, but it does not appear to be the entire truth either. I don’t get the feeling that they converted to polygamist mormonism. Instead, I get the feeling that they moved from the Salt Lake area–where a good number of polygamists live–to live in Centennial Park. In fact, until the late 80s, “The Third Ward” was part of “The Second Ward” (as the Centennial Park group is also known), which in turn split from “The First Ward,” which would be the FLDS right down the road from Centennial Park in Colorado City, AZ. The fact that Timson is the last name of one of the founders of Centennial Park supports this and my belief that changing their last name was meant to be intentionally misleading.

At anyrate, Marlene has become a spokeswoman for polygamy and their goal of getting polygamy decriminalized. Note that they want it decriminalized, not legalized. She’s been popping up all over the internet lately and even had a reddit thread where she answered questions about her faith. She asserts that people in Centennial Park aren’t getting government benefits or using food stamps, but I find this to be highly suspect. If they aren’t, then why don’t they want it legalized? It is defacto decriminalized considering the fact no one has been arrested for polygamy in ages and Utah has stated they won’t go after polygamist, just abuses arising from polygamy. I find exactly nothing she says about it not being abusive convincing. Just because there’s no physical abuse, doesn’t mean there isn’t emotional abuse or spiritual abuse going on. “It’s not always easy, jealousy are human emotions I have to overcome, but I chose this life!” She and her sister wife keep saying. What they don’t realize is that they can also unchoose it, but just like me choosing to AP, it’s hard to un-choose something you firmly believe is The Best Way to Live, even if it really makes you miserable.

Also rather inaccurate appear to be all the claims by Tiffany, girlfriend to Ezra. She talks about how her parents are not polygamous and she’d never really been religious before. This gives the appearance of wow! A non-mormon girl who’s not particularly religious is willing to consider and accept polygamy! Except she’s not. From the comments on the Sister Wives blog, it appears she moved to Centennial Park 2 years ago and while her parents may not be polygamist, plenty of her relatives are. She certainly didn’t grow up without religion the same way I grew up without religion. Since Tiffany is 17, I have little doubt her parents had to give their approval for her to be in this show and that she receives no small amount of support in her decision to enter into a relationship with a polygamous man.

[Before I was born, my family was Mormon, but they left the church for various reasons. Thus my religious exposure consisted of my mom buying me a bible coloring book and telling me that it’s important for me to know about the bible stories and other kids trying to convert me on the playground.]

Even worse is Rosemarie, oldest daughter of the first wife and Michael Cawley (who has become known as the Applesauce Tyrant. Heh.). She has just turned 18 and has been praying for two years for God to find her a husband so she can get married. But since no name comes to her, she ‘turns herself in’ to the Brethren–the men who are in charge of Centennial Park and are responsible for approving all marriages in the community–to allow them to pick a name for her. I can’t help but wonder several things: 1) Why is she so damn eager to get married? I get the dim feeling that life at home isn’t so smooth at all–maybe her mothers don’t along well. Her father certainly seems creepy enough on TV. Maybe she’s tired of taking care of everyone’s kids. Whatever the reason is…it seems odd. 2) If she hasn’t gotten a name yet, maybe she should take that as a sign that god wants her to go to college and do something else with her life instead of getting married and popping out babies. Except for the fact that they’ve been told everyday of their lives that being in a polygamous relationship and having babies is woman’s only purpose and the only way for them to enter the highest level of heaven. She and her sister discuss not being able to have babies in the kitchen and her sister– who is only 15!–breaks down crying at the thought!

Lastly, there’s the one telling line that National Geographic left in where Hyrum asks a girl to dance and he jokes to her that he was afraid she would say no and she replies, “We’re not allowed to say no.” He quickly covers by saying, “you’re allowed to say no. Women have all the choice! It’s us guys who don’t have a choice!” This line rang tons of bells from Carolyn Jessop’s book, Escape, in which she describes community dances she attended as a teenager. These dances had rules and one of those rules were that girls were not allowed to say ‘no’ to any man who asked them to dance–largely because they were likely to say no to older men and favor the younger men. But they were allowed to stampede. Whenever an older man would approach the single girl’s, a girl would give a signal and they would all bolt out of the gym and come back only when the coast was clear, or if one of their numbers missed the signal and ended up dancing with the old man. These dances she described took place before the FLDS split into FLDS and “The Work,” as Centennial Park is also known. I have a very strong feeling that the same rules Carolyn Jessop described are still in place in Centennial Park. Women aren’t allowed to say no.

This rather blows a hole into all their protests that women have the choice! Yes, women can pray for inspiration, but the Brethren make the final decision on who they marry. And according to Rosemarie’s mom, Rose, if the brethren pick a man and you don’t like the name, you cannot say no. You do nothing. You have to accept that choice.

As a libertarian, I’m totally cool with consenting adults doing whatever they want. I don’t think government should be involved in deciding who can and cannot be married–whether the marriage be between one man and one women, two men, two women, or 15. However, I do believe government needs to be involved in making sure that these marriages are entered into with informed consent. Both parties consent to the marriage and both parties enter the marriage knowing what they are getting into–having a good idea of who the other person is and being reasonably sure they can live with them. I don’t see either of this in Centennial Park. The one couple who does get married in the course of this show has two weeks to get to know each other before they are married and they admit in the beginning they don’t know each other at all. Not a good sign. If Hyrum doesn’t like his bride, he can’t say no. He just has to hope that eventually, the Brethren hook him up with a wife he does like. If Rosemarie doesn’t like her husband, she doesn’t have a choice. She’s stuck. She doesn’t get to hope for a second husband, a second chance at happiness. And that goes for here and the hereafter.

Birth without an Agenda

I’ve been thinking a lot about birth lately. Not that I’m pregnant, but since leaving the attachment parenting movement, I’ve started questioning a lot of the decisions I made under the heading ‘libertarian natural parenting.’ You may be surprised how much the two overlap (or not so much, if you find yourself in the same group), but a lot of libertarians  practice alternative and natural medicines as an outgrowth of their mistrust in conventional (government-approved) medicines.

I decided I would use midwives for childbirth and well-woman care in college, after reading an essay in “Liberty for Women” by Wendy McElroy, which discussed the plot by OB-GYNs to marginalize midwives. I didn’t follow up on any of the sources, but it was enough to convince me. OBs were money grubbers and pushed midwives out in order to make their field more professional for men and so they could charge more. Unlike Europe, American midwives did not move into hospitals when their patients did. I decided I wanted natural births and I had two of them.

It’s embarrassing now to think about how radicalized I when I was pregnant with my first child. I thought it was ridiculous that breech babies had to be automatic c-sections. Indeed, I viewed a c-section as something I wanted to avoid at all costs. My son was born after 12 hours of normal labor with the cord wrapped around his neck, screaming his head off. He was blue, but he quickly pinked up.

When my daughter was born, I was less radical. Having experienced the pain of childbirth, I decided if my baby was anything other than headdown, I wouldn’t mind a c-section. I wanted to tear less, too. But I also was beginning to feel bits of doubt regarding the quality of care I was receiving. The certified nurse midwife who had delivered Alpha had retired, leaving two lay midwives, one of whom was working on getting her nursing degree to become a CNM. The difference between a CNM and a laymidwife is huge. CNMs have masters degrees in nursing and midwifery. Lay midwives in my sate have to be present at 10 births and there may be some other training required, but I’m not sure about that. In other words, it’s a world of difference as far as training and ability is concerned. During my appointments with the lay midwife, she would often leave and go do office work, leaving my prenatal care in the hands of an apprentice midwife, which made me rather uncomfortable. How would they be able to tell if anything unusual came up if the midwife with experience wasn’t even around during appointments?

Later in my pregnancy, I started bleeding a lot. It turned out to be mainly stress due to buying our house, my son being sick and me generally not getting enough rest and being on my feet too much. My sister urged me to call the midwives since it could be premature labor. Since she’s a nurse, I listened and called the midwife on call. She told me to wait a while and call her back if it didn’t stop. It didn’t stop, I called her back. She told me to wait some more and try to get some rest. But I was so worried something was seriously wrong I couldn’t rest. I don’t think she really wanted to come in on her day off, but eventually she agreed to meet at the birth center where she examined me, told me everything was fine and sent me home. Hearing this actually managed to make me relax to where I could get some rest and if I had heard it 3 hours sooner, it would have let me relax that much earlier. When I talked to the lay midwife about that at my next appointment, her only comment was “sounds like your uterus was unhappy and telling you to slowdown!”

The great thing I’ve learned about midwives is that they really trust the process. Since they accept that birth is a normal condition, they can be very calm and help calm the patient down when the when the patient thinks things are not normal. The bad things about midwives is that since they view births as normal, they can be rather slow in recognizing when situations stop being normal. In birth that can happen extremely fast. In those situations, the more information you have, the quicker and easier it is to figure out that something abnormal is happening and get the baby out of there before permanent damage or death occurs. This would be the main benefit of fetal monitoring during labor and other practices that the natural birth community dislikes. Fortunately for my family, my  births went smoothly. But since then I’ve learned that:

* Homebirths and birth center births have three times the mortality of hospital births

*the difference between CNMs and lay midwives

*why constant fetal monitoring is important

* much of the information from the Business of Being Born is factually incorrect

* the only difference between a natural birth and having an epidural is the amount of pain you feel.

You can disagree with these points, there’s nothing wrong about that. But now, having looked at both sides of the issue, I’m beginning to think that the non-natural birth—should I call it mainstream birth?–side has more evidence. NCBers tend to rely on feelings and blow things out of proportion that don’t really matter. Take of example the ‘fact’ that vaginal births are better than c-sections because they expose babies to vaginal flora which helps the baby’s gut. If it really mattered, couldn’t c-sectioned babies just get a swab of their mothers’ vaginal flora in their mouths? It’s not like it’s hard to do. But that’s not the point. Their main goal is to encourage women to give birth vaginally and they are willing to distort data if need be.

Interestingly enough I came across a site called “sisters in chains,” which is all about midwives who are being persecuted for helping women give birth the way they want to give birth. They support letting women have control of their bodies and choose for themselves how they want to be handled and make decisions for themselves and birth how they want to birth. I also support these things. However, birth is one of those situations where you experience asymmetrical information. Just like when you take your car to the mechanics and have no idea if what the mechanic says is wrong with your care is actually wrong with your car or if he’s just making things up to get more money, you have no idea if your care provider is actually telling you accurate information in regards to your birth or pregnancy. In the end, it all comes down to trust. Women, especially women in labor, have to trust that their care providers have their best interests at heart. That they are not working for some larger objective, but specifically to provide the best outcomes for that woman and that baby.

But this is not the case with many midwives. Many of them say that their main objective is to empower women to birth the way they choose, but what if the way I choose isn’t the way they think I should choose? I’ve had two natural births. I’ve been there, done that. What if the next time I give birth, I want to have an epidural? What if I want to experience the other side? People who have had both natural and drugged births have said that the only difference between them was that the latter was painless.

Will women’s advocates support me in this decision? My guess is no, because their vision is one where every woman gives birth naturally, a world in which women are united by the pain of childbirth.

Some friends Aren’t

Before I had my second child, a friend promised me she’d bring me a meal after the baby was born.

Except she didn’t.

I would have thought she’d forgotten, if she hadn’t constantly reminded me that she hadn’t yet brought me a meal. At 3 weeks postpartum, she still hadn’t been by yet and she messaged me, saying “I feel so guilty I haven’t brought you a meal yet. Do you still need one?” I responded that yes, I could really use the help since Beta was colicky and I was having a really hard time adjusting to two kids and felt exhausted. A meal, a nice chat with a comforting friend would have done me a world of good.

Except she didn’t come over or bring me a meal.

At four weeks postpartum, her husband went on a work trip and so I decided to invite her over, figuring she would have a hard time managing all of her kids with her husband gone for so long and getting out of the house is a great way to manage it. “We’re so lucky,” she enthused when she arrived, “we have so many friends wanting us over and ready to help us out!” I smiled tightly, mentally comparing that to the…no one we had had over to help us out after our baby was born. Things went downhill from there. She hadn’t brought a meal, no one even brought it up. Presumably, it hadn’t crossed her mind. Her kids then proceeded to wreck every single room in my house, which I knew I would have to clean up. My friend might apologize, but she would never dream of cleaning it herself or having her kids do it because it’s just so hard having 3 kids, 4 and under.

She eagerly asked to hold the baby and I hadn’t her over and she oooohed and awwwed over how cute she was and enthused, “How could you not want another one of these?” It was a rhetorical question she was asking herself, not me. Her husband was pressuring her to have a fourth child and I got the feeling she was none-to-enthusiastic about it. I myself didn’t feel remotely like having any more at that time since I was so stressed out due to the colick, lack of help, and lack of a break.

The kids played; we chatted.

She told me how well her oldest two were doing. “He’s reading and doing math at a 2nd grade level, he’s reading and doing math at a 1st grade level!” The children in question were 4 and 3, respectively. Little did I know, her 18 month old was going to start reading just a month shy of his second birthday. Later when we were upstairs, her two oldest were looking at one of the fake window panes laying on the floor. “How many squares are in it?” My friend asked her second oldest. Moving like a trained monkey, he counted: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.” “And how many in each coumn?” He counted, “1,2,3.” “So 2 x 3 is …..?” He wandered away bored. So she tried with her oldest, who had been vaguely paying attention. “2 x 3 is…?” He looked from the window pane, to her, then back at the window pane. She held up the correct answer, 6, on her fingers. He looked at her fingers intently and answered, “8!”

I decided the polite response would be to pretend I hadn’t noticed.

I tried to talk to her about how worn out I was feeling and how hard I was finding having 2 kids, but she didn’t seem to register my feelings. “Having a newborn is easy,” she enthused. “It’s so much harder when they’re older.” I disagreed silently. Now I realize that she wasn’t even trying to say what I needed to hear, namely that having newborns is hard, even if they’re not colicky, because they require so much from the parent and it’s a time of transistion, during which every member of the family is trying to refind their place in it. Instead, she told me what she needed to hear since she was considering having another baby; namely, that having a newborn is easy and doesn’t require any effort at all. I wonder if she would still agree with her assessment of the newborn situation after having her fourth, but then again, it’s always so much harder for her than it is for me since she has four kids and they’re so close together. But I wonder how close she figured her kids were going to be, since they decided to have 4 kids, started at 30 and had to be done by 35. That doesn’t leave much room between each child.

Then my husband called and informed me that he had just found out he had type 2 diabetes. I handled it with my usual aplumb, but inwardly it felt like my whole world was collapsing around me. I didn’t want to be alone and didn’t want my friend to leave, but they soon went home.

The weeks passed. She reminded me a few more times that she still hadn’t brought me a meal and she felt so bad about it! The last time she reminded me, at 8 weeks post partum, was after having a really rough day with the baby screaming, Alpha misbehaving, and DH being in a rotten mood from carb withdrawal. I had decided to screw making dinner and had settled down with a bowl of ice cream. She messaged me, “I fee so guilty I haven’t brought you a meal yet.” I had learned a while ago that she whenever she says she’s feeling guilty about something, what she really means is that she doesn’t want to do it, but doesn’t want you to get mad at her for not doing it. Hence the guilt. She doesn’t feel bad for not helping, she’s just worried you’l get mad at her for not helping. I was mad. I needed the help and she wasn’t doing jack shit. “Forget about it,” I replied. “I’ve just decided that whenever I have a bad day, I’m just going to have ice cream for dinner. Like tonight.” “But if you’re having ice cream for dinner, you obviously still need the help,” she responded. “Obviously,” I typed, “and obviously it isn’t going to happen so stop bringing it up.”

She never brought me a meal and I tried to be okay with it. I reminded myself that she had 3 kids, really close together and that was so much harder than what I was going through, thus minimizing my own struggles. But I was not okay with it. I was extremely deeply hurt. Matters only got worse when I remembered that she had brought a meal for another woman we knew after she had a baby, even though my friend had had 3 kids then as well. I realized my friend never planned on helping me because as far as she was concerned, my situation wasn’t as bad as hers, so I didn’t need any help. Offering the meal was a mere formality, designed to make her feel good for offering and me saying, “oh no! I couldn’t possibly! And thank her profusely for offering to help me in spite of her own difficulties because that is usually the way it played out. Except this time I did need the help, more than she or I could have imagined at that time.

I began to question our friendship. I had helped her so many times and after the birth of my second child, she couldn’t even offer me emotional support or validate any of the feelings I was having. It seemed like all that mattered to her was the way she felt: she felt too busy, she felt her life was too hard, she felt my life wasn’t as hard, she felt I didn’t need the help.

Really, with a friend like that, who needs enemies?