Brave Woman

Adventures of a future nurse-midwife


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Sex Tally

Posted by Lucille on October 13, 2011 at 1:05 AM Comments comments (0)

There is a tally in the corner of the whiteboard in the kitchen. Given that it had two marks for a house of seventeen people, I figured it was the number of people who paid their bill on time. Then the morning after a party (that I slept through), the tally jumped to eight. When I passed through the dining room today there was an energetic discussion taking place.

       "What if it's in the living room? That's public, right? I think that should get two points."

       "No way! It has doors. Private, one point."

       "The doors are see through. I vote semi-public, point and a half!"

       "So wait a minute, if it's in your room, it only counts for one?"

       "I think that would depend, is your roommate there?"

       "Is it with your roommate?"

       "What if you're in the triple?"

       "Ooh, am I invited?"

       Cue food fight.

Post Mono Syndrome

Posted by Lucille on October 10, 2011 at 2:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I'M SO HUNGRY. It doesn't seem to matter how much I eat, I just always want more, I feel like I have to have food on me all the time. A housemate was walking down the hall and glanced into the kitchen. "Oh my god, you're eating again? Are you PMSing or what?" Yep. It started with this overwhelming craving for comfort foods, pastries, pasta with olive oil, and then after a few days of that I started craving more nutritious things like those turkey sandwiches and omelets. My clothes are starting to fit a little better.

       Oddly enough I find it reassuring. I was so adamant when the doctor first pressured me to gain weight that my body would get back to whatever weight I'm supposed to be on its own, that when instead of gaining back those ten pounds, I dropped ten more in only a few weeks, I was scared and very confused (and sick, obviously). So I was very relieved to see that when I don't have a virus messing with my appetite and staph causing blisters in my throat, my body really does know what it's doing. I'd make this longer but I want to go eat. Toodeloo!


Posted by Lucille on October 10, 2011 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Wednesday is my drop dead day. I have to be at work at 8 and my chem lab ends at 10 at night. Normally I have a couple breaks during the day, but today it was going to be nonstop. Later in the year this might be easier. Right now I'm still fighting a virus and needing around twelve hours of sleep a day. I maybe got half of that, because my roommate thought it was okay to come into the room, turn on all the lights, put music on, and talk on her cell phone (about how the other people in the house are crazy and she's stuck in 'freakville') while I'm asleep. When she's sleeping I grab my stuff with a flashlight and stay in the common areas until I'm ready for bed. But...letting go of some anger. The point is I was very tired.

       In my one o'clock chem lecture, I was literally falling asleep. I wouldn't let myself put my head down, but I kept suddenly coming back to myself, realizing with surprise that I was in the lecture hall, willing myself to focus, and then finding myself in the chemistry room again five minutes later, with a different slide up on the board and with no idea what had happened in between. I used everything I had, and probably looked like I was paying attention, but I was mentally not in that room. My eyes closed again. Suddenly, I smelled blood and heard a woman screaming. I leapt out of my chair to see if there was anything I could do to help, but there was nothing behind me except rows of annoyed-looking students. Someone made a disdainful comment about students coming to class high and told me to either sit down or leave. My heart was pounding like I’d just run a marathon. I left. I found a place behind some trees to sit down, tried to cry but couldn’t, and just breathed for a while.

Later, I don’t know how much later, I heard a distant voice I recognized. It was an old friend, the only other person from my high school who came to Berkeley (though we’ve been too busy to meet up so far), my stage partner in more than a few musicals. I could hear his voice from all the way across campus, singing. So I took the harmony line. And sang. I sang myself onto my feet and all the way off campus to my room, long after his voice faded.

       After class I resorted to coffee. For a couple hours I actually felt pretty good, got some work done, had dinner, went to chem lab. And then in the first half hour the caffeine wore off and my full tiredness crashed over me. I looked up at the board and tried to focus, and then the minute hand of the clock on the wall leapt forward and the board said something else. I'd try to decipher it but it made zero sense and I didn't even know half the words. I'd missed about two weeks of class by this point, and because they'd started a new unit, I didn't even know the basic vocabulary of whatever we were studying. And then I'd come to again, and discover that I was in lab, and the GSI was writing something on the board. The minute hand jumped forward again.

       Now the board was blank, and the GSI was flipping through a stack of note cards. Oh no. He has this stack of note cards that each have a student's name on it that he uses to randomly select people to solve problems on the board. Not me! Notmenotmenotme...


       Oh god. I raised my hand. "Could I pass just this time? I just got back, and honestly I'm barely managing to follow this..." There were snickers around the room. It's a big class, they don't know I was sick, it would be unreasonable to take it personally. But even though intellectually I knew that, I was in a different state of mind and, emotionally, it got to me. I wouldn't laugh at you.

       The GSI kind of leaned back and looked at me with that look I hate. "No..." Slowly and disdainfully, as though that would be absurd and I was crazy for asking. "Come do it." Firm, weighted, daring me to object again.

       I sat frozen in place. I didn't know what to do. I didn't even have the slightest clue what the question was, and they were all watching me...

       My study partner reached over and scribbled a few lines of calculations in my notebook. I read it, went up to the board, and copied it out as well as I could.

       "Perfect! Well done, that's very good. Now, as you can see, the conjugate base of the Bronsted-Lowry acid..."

       I wanted to give my friend a hug.

       Finally we got into groups to do lab and he grabbed what we needed, showed the rest of us how to set it up, and explained everything as we went. We ended up with great data. On the walk back we joked a little about how when he introduced himself, it was in the hope I could help him in chemistry. Thank goodness for kind nerds.

This Guy's Name Is Like A Bomb

Posted by Lucille on October 9, 2011 at 11:30 PM Comments comments (1)

I interpreted 'everything's excused' as 'everything can be turned in late' and went up to my GSI at the start of lab with my stack of make up work.

       "Hi, sorry I wasn't in class last week, I've been really sick. This is all the work I missed..."

       He looked at me like I must be kidding. "I have a very strict no late work poli-"

       "I talked with Dr. So-and-so."

       "Oh! Oh, my goodness, umm...Well then. Absolutely, yes, thank you. Let me know if you need anything else."


Chemistry Credit

Posted by Lucille on October 4, 2011 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

The all-powerful head of the chemistry department has the ability to allow you to turn in homework late. I emailed him a week ago when I started missing class, never heard back, and made several attempts to catch him in his office unsuccessfully. Finally he was there.

       "What do you need?" he said. I started explaining about how I had missed class because I was sick, and my GSI had a no late work policy, and he waved his hand distractedly and said, "Just tell him everything's excused, and if he gives you any trouble about it tell him to come talk to me."

       I love college.


Posted by Lucille on October 4, 2011 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (0)

First day back in class. I've gotten a number of greetings, including:

       "Oh my gosh, you're tiny!"

       "Well, you look better."

       And, "Whoa! Your eyes are like...normal looking!"

       Flattering...I guess?

       As I was walking to my next class, a complete stranger stopped me in the street and told me I was beautiful. She was walking by, presumably on her way to class, and then stopped, looked me in the eyes, told me I was beautiful, smiled and went on her way. I think I managed to mumble thank you as she left, but it made my morning. I feel like I need to pass this along by finding a stranger to compliment later today.


Posted by Lucille on October 4, 2011 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (0)

My chemistry GSI is terrible. For example, when we were going through last year's midterm, one of the questions asked you to rank chemicals in order of electronegativity, something we'd never covered in class. He wrote the answer on the board and started reading the next question, so I raised my hand.

       "How do you estimate a chemical's electronegativity?"


       "No, I mean how do you know what the electronegativity is?"

       "Are you serious?"

       "Uhh...yes? This was never gone over in class (a couple students murmured their agreement) and if it could be on tomorrow's midterm... I mean, is there any kind of pattern, or..."

       "No, there's no pattern. You just have to memorize it."

       So I asked my teacher the next day and he said, "Of course! It's how close it is to fluorine." Good to know.

       I got my grade for the midterm...D. Technically it was 69.8%, so only 0.2% from a C, but still. On the one hand, I very much dislike having a D. On the other hand, everyone at Berkeley came here with an A average, and the majority won't leave with one. The standards are different. and the grading is different: no points are awarded for effort. If you solve a long problem and make one tiny mistake (even if you demonstrate full understanding of the concepts, and even if you get the right answer, but include the wrong number of significant figures) it's wrong and that's that. With that style of grading, I'm proud of my D. That was a hard earned D. I'd like to turn it into an A, but still. I talked to two people who took chemistry last year and they both said they got Ds on the first midterm and ended up getting As, so I won't give up hope.

       The email with my chemistry grade included a link to answer a survey about your GSI. I found it very satisfying.

Fruit Loops

Posted by Lucille on October 4, 2011 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (1)

When I first came home I found a box of fruit loops in the cupboard, wondered aloud who had bought them for my brother, and made some comment about their nutritional quality. Over the next few days I ate the said box of fruit loops. Before I check into hypocrites anonymous I should probably buy my brother another box so he doesn't notice.

Yet Another Voyage

Posted by Lucille on October 4, 2011 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (0)

My backpack is packed and my boarding pass in hand. I'm leaving from the same gate where I waited to leave for Africa. Off on another journey.

       I'm so glad I came home. Being well has made me realize just how sick I was. And not just being able to breathe and eat without trouble, but just my ability to think, my level of awareness, as well. Waking up my third day on penicillin was like coming out of a fog.

       Getting so much worse so fast reminded me of that moment when you're leaning back in a chair, and suddenly you tip back just a little too far. It was scary. And it left me with an immense gratitude to my family for taking care of me, and to everyone else who encouraged me to stop being so stubborn about wanting to be self sufficient and go home. I'd slipped past what I could handle, and it was such a relief to be home with people who love me and took care of me. Thank you, I needed it.

       And I'm feeling SO much better. (Mostly. I'm still pretty tired, and I'm going to be taking it easy, don't worry. And eating. A lot.) That penicillin really did its work. So far the tally of things I missed includes a lot of class, a protest, auditions for the vagina monologues, and an aerial silk dancing class. All things I can make up sooner or later. And now that I'm back on my feet, I should have more to blog about soon besides how sick I've been. Yay!

Blood Mysteries

Posted by Lucille on October 4, 2011 at 2:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Last year I took a wonderful class called Theory of Knowledge. There is too much to say about this class for me to describe it here, so I'll simply say that it brought a lot of books/questions/ideas into my life at the right time. One of these books was Ishmael. In this book a student is guided by a teacher who uses several definitions, including 'Story'- an interrelation between gods, man, and the earth and 'Culture'- a people enacting a story, to try to piece together the right way to live. The student is asked to pay attention to the culture around him in order to find the story that guides it. From there the book delves into concepts of sustainability.

I decided to go through this exercise, too. The tricky part is that you're not looking for something that stands out, but for a whisper, something so fundamental that it's overlooked. The first thing I noticed was our consumerism, then our extreme individualism, but after that, I was surprised to find a deep-rooted belief that women's bodily functions are inherently painful. It was everywhere, not stated in those words on a billboard, but in conversations, an embarrassed glance aside, a flinch, a disapproving silence. Ever notice how commercials for pads and tampons act like the main goal is pretending you're not on your period? (For another excellent book, check out Flow: A History of Menstruation.) It would seem that such a widespread belief was evidence of a physical fact, with one problem: not all cultures experience this. American women are famous for having unbelievably painful births. In many indigenous cultures, women look forward to birth as an empowering, pleasurable, and even ecstatic process. (Until missionaries came with their stories.) Okay, so maybe there's a physical difference. Birth attendants through the centuries wondered, and they tracked down the people that offered a clue: it turns out that indigenous women raised by colonialists experienced significant pain during childbirth, while white women raised by natives reported little or no pain at all.

This seemed like a pretty big difference to be purely psychosomatic, but women's sexuality and psychology are intimately intertwined, and I wanted to test it. I was one of those girls that couldn't wait to get their period, and as soon as I got it I couldn't believe I'd ever wished for it in my life. I nicknamed it 'the curse', a popular euphemism, I later learned. I'd been told that it was something to celebrate and a sign of my maturity and becoming a woman. In practice, I learned quickly that the goal was to act exactly how you did before, only it took a lot more effort. I got terrible cramps and headaches that sometimes forced me to miss school for days at a time. In my junior year, fed up, I decided to go on birth control pills continuously. It was an immense relief.

But this was making me wonder. The more I recognized this belief, the more I noticed it, until it was almost overwhelming. And I realized, "My god, I've been surrounded by this belief my whole life!" My question was no longer, "Is it possible this has affected my experience," but, "How could it not?"

In most indigenous cultures, periods are not connected with pain. Often women look forward to them as a time of creativity and spiritual power. What if I decided to look forward to them? The catch to this was that, for it to work, I would have to be fully committed to it. I had to banish all notion that this was an experiment and believe whole-heartedly that menstruation was a beautiful, life-enhancing process. (I succeeded only partially.)

But a funny thing happened. The headaches went away. I stopped getting cramps. The chocolate cravings (or as I now think of it, 'enhanced food appreciation') stayed, but I wasn't bothered by that. And gradually I started to notice other things, delightful things. There was a sort of serenity in getting my period. It brought a calmness after the energy of the week before, a sense of release. It was when I was the most empathetic, patient, and peaceful, and when I did my best writing.

There are too many factors that affect periods for me to claim this was pure cause and effect. They're called mysteries for a reason. But the change was so astounding to me that I thought it was worth investigating. Ishmael had some advice for what to do when your culture doesn't satisfy your needs: find another story to be in.

This is how I found myself at a pagan vagina-worshipping ritual. Honestly, it was a little weird. First we went around and shared what had led us to come, and there were a number of stories I could relate to. "Getting my period was a rather traumatic experience, for two reasons. One, it meant that I was a woman in this culture. And two, as a woman in this culture, I wanted nothing to do with it." But the rest of the presentation was a little lost on me. She was a fierce speaker who spent most of the time talking about a goddess named Kali who is always on her period and walks around with severed heads in her hand, and then announced rather suddenly that we were going to bow before a statue of a yoni and chant. I got some brochures about other events in the area, though, and some good smelling soap, so I still think it was worth the trip.

Meanwhile, I keep running into other people who are also looking for a more empowering story to be in. I've gotten into four separate conversations so far on the merits of the word cunt. (For reference, I'm not the only one who finds 'cunt' unappealing, people don't like that 'vulva' and 'vagina' are mutually exclusive, and this is the reasoning behind the adoption of the Sanscrit word 'yoni'.) Within these circles, I'm somewhat in the minority for liking birth control pills. I don't plan on taking them again- at least not the way I was, and not any time soon- but I love that they gave me a choice. I think that was an important piece of learning to love my cycles.

I visited a close friend whose creativity never ceases to inspire me this weekend, and we decided to print a uterus on some of my underwear. It turned out really well and is now one of my favorite pairs. It reminded me a bit of the phrase, 'Come to the dark side! We have cookies." Join the feminists. We have stencils!