Monday, March 27, 2017

Three Year Reprieve

In the late fall of 1999 I was living in a house of women who were seniors in college. One day a housemate came home and announced that we were now close enough to graduation that if any of us got pregnant, we would still be able to graduate college before the baby would be born. The relief in our household was palpable. Up to that point, I’m not sure I’d realized the extent to which I’d been holding my breath, determined to carry out my life plan, which did not involve having a baby before I’d finished school and gotten a start in life.

Maybe it’s that sharp feeling of reprieve that made the work I did last week so satisfying.

I was translating for a volunteer gynecologist as she taught our Clinic staff how to place birth control implants. The implants are tiny – they’re placed underneath the layer of skin and on top of the layer of fat inside the inner arm. They release a low dose of progesterone, preventing pregnancy…

…For three years.

Three years…long enough to get through high school, or maybe college. Long enough for a new mother to nurture her baby safely into toddlerhood. Long enough for a harried mom to concentrate on raising her kids. And maybe then get another implant.

I’ve got no idea if boys and men feel the same anxiety about unwanted pregnancy, but I know that women are rarely out from the shadow of it. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of us start getting anxious about being pregnant before we’re even sexually active.

Maybe that’s why I’m so excited about these implants. Or maybe it’s working with teenage girls, knowing that no matter how accessible birth control is for adult women, for a teenager it can feel like there is a long, wide river of mortification between you and condoms or pills or monthly injections.  Just getting what you need can feel insurmountable when embarrassment looms large.

So what if you could place a tiny tube in your arm that no one would ever have to see? What if it meant you knew you couldn’t get pregnant for three years? What if you could concentrate on finishing high school without having to wait anxiously for your period each month?

So last week gynecologist Emily Parent, a Bucknell University alumnus who first became interested in medicine when she came to

Nicaragua on their Brigade, brought an implant placement training kit and I translated while she taught nurse Isamar and doctors Jorge and Elizabeth to place them. All week, patients kept walking into the exam room and saying, “I want the implant.” 

“Have you heard about what it does and how it works?” Emily would ask.

“I’ve heard it goes in your arm and lasts for three years and I want it.”

In two days, they placed the 20 implants we’d raised money for – each one takes about 5 minutes total. They put them in for young women with no kids yet, a teenager with a newborn, a nineteen year old with four kids, a mom of seven. 

Now word has gotten out about the implants and our health promoter Jessenia says she can’t go out into the community without being accosted by women asking for the implant – she’s now got a waiting list as long as her arm. Thanks to those giving online and the continued fundraising of Emily and others, we have 10 more implants ready to be placed, and hope to have 15 more before the week is out, but we’re far from done yet. 

Currently we are sourcing them from an organization that is selling them to us for $45 each. To help cover the cost of local anesthetic and lab tests (routine pregnancy, HIV and STI screening), we are asking folks to donate $50 to place one implant. Three years…long enough for a young woman to get her high school diploma…and you can help make it possible. 

To donate, Click here and mark your donation for Health care “birth control implant.”

Thank you! – Becca 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reflections Before Going Under the Knife

Today I'm having repair my hernias that developed from the splenectomy I had in 2015. Although I will be under general anesthesia and cannot have laparoscopic surgery, everyone assures me it will be easy worries.

But I am worried.  It is not logical, but the fear resides in my gut and I know that fear comes from the last time I was in the hospital... when I almost died; when I was in ICU for nine days; when I lost so much brain function.  And THEN..even though I know in my head that the following events of my dad's and brother's deaths and my mother surviving 3 very damaging strokes were not a result of my hospital stay, I am afraid.

When I get afraid or depressed, let me tell you I can wallow in it with the best of 'em.  I can lay awake at night and imagine the worst, but when I can look around me it is my fear and sadness that help me begin to touch the pain and horrors of those who walk through our clinic doors.

From my 2015  trauma and now resulting fear, I can just begin to understand how people live in dread of their own future.    

  • Parents afraid to die because who would feed their children? 
  • The constant waiting for the other shoe to drop.  
  • The guilt and shame of feeling stuck and not able to move and do what needs to be done.
  • The feeling of hopelessness.
  • The stress...the constant stress of not being able to provide for one's family.
  • The physical aches and pains that come from grief, trauma, and poverty.
We, who have what we need, cannot understand what it is like to not have what one needs to prevent suffering.  And because we cannot understand,  we minimize the pain and suffering of others.

There is another way though...we could end the suffering over which we have control.  

There need not be any person on this earth who lives in poverty.  Our world has plenty, we just have to share. 

There need not be any person on this earth who lives with war.  We as humans can learn to negotiate and put our resources to peace not weapons.

There need not be any person on this earth who lives the results of others  raping this planet. We as humans are brilliant and can work for different solutions to the crisis of climate change.

In today's time, many of us think that we as the human race are racing backwards in time, but we must not resign ourselves to that fate of destruction, hate, and death.

I will not choose that fate, instead  I choose to end suffering; I choose life; I choose love.

What will you choose?

photo by Greg Ewart

Monday, March 13, 2017

When Bullies Run the World

Daniel showed me a YouTube video of two boys on "Britain’s Got Talent".  The younger boy wrote the song that the two of them performed about bullying and how he felt when he was bullied.

First Lady Melania Trump said that she was going to make cyber-bullying her priority while her husband, Pres. Trump, was in office.  While Trump was on the campaign trail and even after he was inaugurated, cyber-bullying has seemed to be his style… actually, bullying in general is more his style.

Most people agree that bullying is bad.  Pushing other kids or adults to do what you want them to do through mean words, threats and even violence is wrong.  I think that if you sat 100 people down and asked them if they thought bullying was an ethical/moral way to go about getting your way, most - if not all - would say no… but….

That sentiment seems to never have included businesses, governments, or international affairs.

While we, most of us as U.S. citizens, like to think of our government as a protector of all its people, we are seeing a whole new level of bullying… and though it seems more extreme, this is not a new phenomenon. 

Historically, government and those in power blame disenfranchised people for all the ills of the nation… the crime, the violence, the slums.  We bully them into thinking they are to blame instead of looking at where most of the problems REALLY come from… a huge gap in the distribution of wealth and power.

With our last group (from Haverhill, MA, and Raleigh NC), we were asked to share about the history and reality of Nicaragua back in the 1980s... when the new revolutionary people's government tried to ease the back-breaking poverty of most of its people, while our U.S. government waged a covert war against the Nicaraguan people.

As we talked, I remembered images of mothers planting crosses of their children taken, tortured, and murdered from public buses by the U.S.-backed Contra forces simply because their children dared to be teachers, nurses, and doctors.  It was a war of terror… it was bullying at its ugliest.  And the bully won.

The U.S. basically told the Nicaraguan people in 1989… if you vote the Sandinista party in again, we will continue the war... OR vote the other party that we formed and choose that presidential candidate and we will stop the war.  The Nicaraguan people, tired of war, cried "UNCLE."

This is not the only time that big, powerful nations have bullied small nations, but it was the first that I saw with my own eyes and I was deeply, deeply ashamed of my country.

As the current U.S. government wants to slash domestic spending and increase the defense budget for what is already the most powerful military in the world… one wonders if the bullying will ever stop.

As a Christian, Jesus taught his followers to not grab power, but to be servants.  And though I know the Christian faith has had, and continues to have, its bullies en masse… JESUS taught us to be servants.

As a moral/ethical person, I truly believe there is no place for bullying.  For the Nicaraguan people, the poor around the world, and for the security of the world… we have to resist the bullies.

There is no place for bullying in a world of ethical/moral people…no place…not in schools, not on the internet, not in businesses, and definitely not in places of power.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Collateral Beauty

Last Sunday we watched a movie called Collateral Beauty.  I highly recommend the movie, especially if your heart has been broken by death of a loved one.

I was touched by the beauty of the film, but it also brought up the grief I'm often too busy to feel… the loss of my father and brother in 2015.  The depth of the sadness I have felt since watching the movie has surprised me.    Watching the movie also coincides with the time of year that I often feel blue, but this year the grief welled up inside of me…it was a loss due to a miscarriage I had less than a year after we moved to Nicaragua.

Joseph playing with nephew and niece, Elliot and Charlotte

I always felt it was wrong or ungrateful to feel that grief because not long after the miscarriage, we were blessed with Joseph being conceived and he is a such a joy to our family.

But as Mike reminded me yesterday, a loss is a loss…despite the collateral beauty we have found in the life and love of our Joseph.

Many years ago, a delegation member asked me if Nicaraguan parents felt the depth of sadness that parents in the U.S. felt after losing a child, because many of these desperately poor parents had lost three, four, five children.  Some in birth, some in infancy, some as wee ones and some as teens. 

I responded – I thought – quite calmly in face of such an insensitive question…or so I thought then.

Now, I think it was an honest question, because people of wealthier nations…nations of power…stick their heads in the sands and think no one out there feels what they feel.  And at least ASKING the question is place to begin.

Powerful nations drop bombs, send drones, send armies whenever they think they are in danger…and all those bombs, drones, and soldiers kill children.  Children of parents, who, if not dead themselves, have their hearts ripped out of their chests when they hold their precious dead children in their arms.  

Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki, 8 years old, died recently, and she was not the first.

Wealthy nations that abuse countries like Nicaragua and keep them poor, or even keep their own people poor, hide from the truth that hunger and disease kill children…or they refuse to accept their role in these children’s deaths.

It is bad enough to lose a child to an illness with no cure but to lose a child to a curable illness is beyond imagination as a parent lowers their little child’s coffin into the ground.

I have been blessed to have in my life 3 wonderful sons and 2 amazing step children.  They fill my life with goodness that I cannot begin to express, and yet, today, I weep for that little 12-week fetus I lost 21 years ago…

So in answer to that question posed to me long ago…Yes, no matter how many children they have lost, parents here feel the same heart-wrenching grief that parents in the U.S. feel…maybe deeper because keeping their children safe is completely out of their hands.

I wish everyone could understand the pain…not experience it but understand it in order to stop the senseless deaths of children to war, bombs, disease, hunger, violence, and poverty...then maybe Nawar Anwar al-Awlaki could be the last.