In defense of the CDC

Last week, the CDC published a report on alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Also posted were some handy infographics outlining the many and varied risks of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) to help make the science more relatable and easier to read. The CDC voiced reasonable concerns about FASDs, spelled out the very real consequences they bear on individual children and the country, and posed thoughtful recommendations to prevent them. Along with these facts, they also took the opportunity to outline a few health risks driven by excessive drinking for all females, not just pregnant ones.

God help the CDC for talking about the female body. They were immediately slammed for their “unnecessarily restrictive” (Slate) outlook on alcohol consumption throughout pregnancy. Many reported that the CDC was actively advising any sexually active, fertile women to abstain from alcohol if they were not on birth control or using any form of contraception (JezebelElle, BuzzFeed). The notion that even the women who were not trying to get pregnant were at risk seemed to be unacceptable (no matter that approximately half the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned).

Wait. Stop for a second before taking to social media. Let’s go inch by inch. The basis of the report was to study alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Beyond the stork, we know that the recipe for a pregnancy requires a fertile female, a fertile male, and unprotected sex. If you’ve made it past 6th grade health class, you also know that the fetus grows inside the female body. Therefore, we are limiting our discussion to the female body. Remember that part about the report studying alcohol-exposed pregnancies? The CDC rationally and responsibly included all fertile women who drink in the study, because science doesn’t give a shit if you have feelings. If you can get pregnant and you drink, you are at risk.

Most of the responses were defensive, at best. Ruth Graham for Slate tried to tangle the CDC in its own words, referencing a 2012 report stating that “older and more educated women were significantly likelier to drink during pregnancy than younger, less-educated women are.” Oh, was that Dr. Graham? Right, didn’t think so. Unfortunately, this just proves that no matter how “smart” you are, you are still wrong.

Other pieces rang with righteous outrage and incredulity, as the internet is so good at doing. Most of this anger was generated around the CDC’s choice to include some additional information outlining the potential risks of excessive drinking for any woman, pregnant or not. Within the context of the larger discussion and, moreover, the reevaluation of our national outlook on drinking during pregnancy, I thought it compelling, if not central, material to include. It certainly wasn’t the most important information on the graphic, yet it dominated the conversations on the topic.

I’m disappointed that so many women took the “it’s my body and I’ll do with it what I want” bait. Actually, if you’re bringing your pregnancy to term, it’s not just going to be your body. Apparently it’s not even just your problem, as it cost the United States $5.5 billion (2010) on issues related to drinking while pregnant.

I also noticed many of the women writing about this over the past few days have used their own experience as testimony for how normal drinking while pregnant is, attempting to prove just how wrong the CDC is on this issue. How I Met Your Mother ran a whole episode (The Stinson Missile Crisis) on the acceptance of consuming processed foods and alcohol during pregnancy. So everyone thought it was a certain way for a while. It even worked out for the majority of the women who felt the most threatened.

All of this can be true, and yet CDC can publish new information that pushes up against the previously accepted norm. It’s hard to believe that among so many well-educated, accomplished women, most of them are so outraged by being told by an accepted authority armed with hard facts, to not necessarily even change their own behaviors, but to try to change their minds.



Cultural Compass (part 3: Faigy Mayer & The Extinction of Adults)

A week ago, Faigy Mayer committed suicide…and immediately started trending. I picked through the articles that were posted in my newsfeed. No shred of fact seemed to be shared by anyone about her “tortured” life or “shocking” death. Instead of launching a discussion about mental illness in young adults and support for the suicidal, we strip mined the girl’s social media accounts for sentimental images and meager meanings of her final days–all but calling her a hero.

I don’t care if she had a boyfriend. I don’t want to know what her tragic last Tweet read. I don’t agree that she exemplified “bravery.” Perhaps what she did was radical for her community, but on some level, she did what I consider that most people are expected to do in order to achieve adulthood: establish your own value system, make choices for yourself along those lines, and stop needing permission approval from your parents.

Yes, the process of individuation can be emotional. Sometimes it can even be painful. Nobody said it was easy, but it’s the very notion that it should be that scares me about my generation, in particular. Nobody held Ms. Mayer accountable for taking her own life. This wasn’t a murder. She made her choices and couldn’t live with them. Am I to teach my children that this is the definition of courage?

At the opening, I called Ms. Mayer a girl, but in fact, she was 30. (According to the Jewish law she so desperately tried to escape, she had been a woman for more of her life than not). A recent study of Millennials coming into adulthood, “Mission: Adulthood,” examines a number of Gen Y-ers coming of age and “transforming” this process.

One of Seligson’s subjects, (liberal arts educated, unencumbered by student loans) Lizzie, said in an interview with Huffington Post in 2012 that she felt “like” one of the major hurdles she faced in achieving adulthood was “figuring out all of the things they didn’t teach me.” Am I to believe that this is an argument against the “unfair” portrayal of the Millennial as “entitled”? Nobody held a gun up to her head and made her major in Fine Arts.

Seligson goes on to talk about this phase–one’s 20’s–as being “hugely confusing and disorienting,” and that it’s natural and important to be searching, trying to figure out what you “want to do with your life.” The author, herself, admitted that, even at 30, she doesn’t identify as being an adult. I’m horrified by this championing of extended adolescence–this insistence that life is about amusing ourselves, avoiding pain, and shirking responsibility for our choices and actions.

Faigy Mayer’s death is upsetting–it’s unnatural to bury your child. I wouldn’t call it tragic. In fact, to call it tragic dilutes the pain and sorrow of real tragedy, which is so insensitive and insulting to those who have actually suffered real sorrow and survived horrors. I’m sure she was distressed and confused, but I refuse to call it torture. I’m disappointed in my generation that at 30 years old, we are so willing and happy to blame our parents, the last generation of adults, for what we weren’t given instead of going out and getting it for ourselves. I fear for the time when the last of our parents will die and we’re left only with the myth of the anchor of adulthood.

Pesach Renewal

My year is marked not by the Gregorian calendar, but by the Jewish holidays. I spent my primary and secondary schooling at Schechter; we would have school sleepovers in the sukkah, tortured our parents with a lengthy Chanukah production, and always had off for the holidays. I am so lucky that I never was made to feel like an outsider for being Jewish. Thus, I grew up loving my religion and practice, living a blissful childhood sans semitic shame.

Like many children, I didn’t always appreciate this in the moment. Now, approaching my adulthood, tasked with having to make meaning of my spirituality for myself, I realize that my childhood spent in this Jewish oasis was idyllic. My community was small and the education was-for the most part-excellent. I only realize now that I am extremely lucky for this Jewish education. Of course, we were taught all the secular subjects. However, some of the most important learning I did was in the dreaded Rabbinics and Torah classes. From a very early age, we were tasked to analyze texts, argue our values, and translate passages. Most kids these days emerge from elementary school with unused notebooks and a social complex.

I grew up in the synagogue. Not because my parents are particularly religious per se, but because it gave us a backbone to our lives and a river for our souls. I know now that I feel the change from balmy summer winds to crisp autumn air as “High Holiday Season.” There is actually a distinct smell in the New England air that marks this association, for me. One of my favorite things about the Jewish holidays is that many of them are centered around the seasons. There is something so beautiful and practical about this–heeding our G-d and the planet that we all inhabit.

It is Pesach. I mentioned in a recent interview I did for First Generation Fashion that I love the Jewish holidays for the “traditions of transition.” There is a mindfulness practice in this celebration of the seasons. Judaism acknowledges change, both personal and planet. We are flowing rivers, time does not stop. I believe that one of the reasons I feel my holidays is for the fact that they stand as seasons, making markers for reflection. Who am I? What am I? How can I be better for myself and for others? What can I do more? What can I do less?

Pesach is important because it marks the spring. It also is the celebration of freedom, our Exodus from Egypt. A lot of Judaism is symbols; we make metaphors and meanings. Sometimes there is more than one meaning. Many times, there is a practical meaning and a spiritual meaning. The idea of the korban pesach or Passover sacrifice (“offering” if you will) speaks directly to our deliverance from slavery. The concept of renewal and the spring season are also prominently featured on the seder plate, not always explicitly mentioned in the practical symbolism (see image below).


My favorite part of the Seder (the feast) is the Four Sons. My younger brother was always Chacham (the wise son…if you’ve met him, you know why). I always read Rasha (the wicked son…since, again, I was obstinate and oppositional like a pint-sized Empress). My favorite, as an adult, and the child I hope to have, is the sh’eino yodea lishol (the child who does not know how to ask). Why? There is another son I did not mention, the simple son. Why would there be a distinction between the two latter sons? If the one who does not know how to ask is simply…simple…then why is there a difference here? I believe there is an implied “yet” worked into the son who does not know hot to ask. He is the son that takes a bit longer to observe before he makes a judgement. He is the son who knows what he doesn’t know and in time, can ask for help when he needs it.

All in all, I am writing this post for my family. The family I have now and the family I hope to have one day. Pesach, above any religious reasons, is a time for family.

Chag sameach.

March is Women’s History Month!

I wanted to jot down a few words for the women. The 2015 theme for Women’s History Month is, “weaving the stories of women’s lives.” Far from being a feminist, I still believe that women should be appreciated every damn day. We weave the loom of life and these stories are simple: it’s in everything.

I don’t mean to devalue you, fellas. I love you and I don’t deny that we need you, too. I am not a “girl’s girl” (frankly, I have no idea what #7 even means). I grew up with two brothers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am who I am and love who I am in a vast part because of you; thank you. I’m inordinately good at, and genuinely interested in, video games, sports, shooting, etc. Actually, a girl gave me the love for shooting, but the impetus was to blow off some steam after a big breakup, so I attribute that also, in some way, to a guy’s role in my life.

It is bittersweet that we still have to make a point of valuing women. If there wasn’t a problem, it wouldn’t have to be fixed. I grew up at Yale University, and one of my favorite public art pieces is ‘The Women’s Table’ by Maya Lin (pictured below). I used to climb on the marble as a kid, running my hands over the engraved numbers that spiral out from the fountainhead. So, this story beings with a long string of zeros. Founded in 1704, Yale only began to officially allow women to attend since 1873. Well, in 2005 I proudly added another number to the Table (and then promptly picked up and brought my womanhood elsewhere, but that’s a different story for a different day).

Women's Table by Maya Lin at Yale University

‘The Women’s Table’ by Maya Lin at Yale University

I love being a woman, and I hope that most of you ladies out there feel that way. This, I think, is a great indicator that things are looking up for us. I am not afraid of anything. I have just as much opportunity and earning potential as the men around me, if not more. Of course, this is certainly not the norm, and it is one of my life commitments to continue to fight for the women in the world who cannot confidently say the same.

Recently, I had the honor to meet the newly appointed Editor-in-Chief of The EconomistZanny Minton Beddoes. I am not the type of person who is easily starstruck. I’ve partied with Chris Brown (no, he didn’t hit me) and brushed shoulders with Steven Spielberg without batting an eyelash. But I’ve gotta say, Ms. Minton Beddoes is an inspiration. Not only do I love being a woman, I am proud to be one. Still, I find it concerning that a woman in a leadership position is shocking headline news.

My story as a woman: I will leave a legacy for women NOT to want to be equal, but to be proud of who and what they are, without having to live up to any standard. Equality is still a standard set by someone else. Let’s liberate ourselves from that man-made measure.