Reflections On Pregnancy

 

My giant stomach, while pregnant with my daughter.

My giant stomach, while pregnant with my daughter.

This week, I am releasing a post from the Cappuccino Queen vault that had been archived.  I wrote this post while I was pregnant with my daughter.  I hope you enjoy my reflections on pregnancy. :)


 

By the time this blog post is posted, I will be on the way to the hospital to have my little girl.  As I enjoy my last warm cup of coffee on a Sunday morning (which has become a routine for me), I reflect on the last ten months I have had with my daughter.

Yes, I said ten months – I will never understand why people insist on saying women are only pregnant for nine months when 40 weeks is really ten months. I digress…

Here are some things that this pregnancy has taught me that I thought you all would enjoy:

You really do forget:  Though the last month of my pregnancy of Prince was terrible, I vaguely remember people assuring me that as soon as I saw him I would completely forget.  I can only just now remember wearing the same Muumuu and flip flops during the last weeks leading up to Prince being born.  When my male coworkers raised an eyebrow about this inappropriately casual choice of dress, I would constantly remind them that I had gotten my big butt out of bed (even though I could barely walk) and this was the only thing in my closet that would fit.  I would also show them my swollen feet and dare them to say something about my flip flops.  Needless to say, my coworkers never said a word about my hideous outfit.

As I waddled around in those last few weeks (in the height of what was one of the hottest summers in the DC area), I swore that I never wanted to be pregnant again.  Then, something amazing happened – my son was born.  As soon as I looked into his chocolate chip brown eyes, I instantly had a form of Mama amnesia.  All of a sudden the entire experience was colored by rainbows and butterflies.

So while I swore I would never get pregnant again (and was considering adoption for any future children), when I made the decision to have my daughter I was still under the influence of Mama amnesia.  I thought, ‘eh, it wasn’t so bad the first time.  Sure, I was huge and a bit uncomfortable toward the end…but it’s temporary and all worth it at the end.’  It wasn’t until I found myself doubled over in the parking lot at work throwing up for what seemed like the sixth month in a row (yet still gaining weight) that the memories from my first pregnancy started coming back to me.  ‘Really?!?!  Did I really forget this?  Damn, I guess I really did,’ I thought.

Babies are different – even in utero:  Though I had suffered from a healthy dose of Mama amnesia after my pregnancy with Prince, I didn’t forget some of the more pleasant things about pregnancy like learning my son’s personality.  Until my pregnancy with my daughter, I didn’t even think about how different a baby could be even before they were born.  For example, my son was very laid back – both before and after he was born.  I would be at work and he would gently punch me in the side, and after playing tag for a few minutes he would stop and fall asleep.  While he occasionally lodged his feet in my ribs, it didn’t take much manipulating to get him to realize this was not cool with Mama and he would move.  When I would walk and jog during my pregnancy, this seemed to lull my son to sleep.  He continued this trend on the outside with his love for the baby swing while watching Ann Curry on The Today Show.

My daughter, on the other hand, is a yoga baby.  She is always moving, bouncing, dancing, and stretching.  She loves to show off during business meetings by making my entire stomach shake.  When I turn the music on in the car, she actually seems to have favorite stations which I can assess by her level of movement.  Unlike with Prince, my walks and workouts don’t lull her to sleep.  Instead, this wakes her up and makes her think its time to dance.  When she stretches and finds a spot she likes, she is not easily moved.  They are both very different, but I find myself falling in love with her little fire of a personality even before I have officially met her.

Society and pregnant women:  One of the most intriguing things about being pregnant is watching the way the world treats you when it becomes obvious you are growing a small person inside of you.  With Prince, I didn’t “show” until I was almost six months.  With my daughter, however, it seemed that as soon as I peed on the stick my hips spread and I was forced into maternity wear.  I tried to hold out in telling my job until I was well past the first trimester; however, my college -aged sister didn’t hold back in giving me some tough advice.  “Hera, you are throwing up everyday and getting fat.  You are going to need to tell them soon because its getting obvious,” she said with the clear tact of someone who had never been pregnant.

After telling people at work, it was funny how many of the men began to move way out of the way as I walked down the hall – as if touching me by accident would cause me to give birth immediately and right in front of them.  This only seemed to get more hilarious as I got bigger.  People who tended to have a scowl on their faces would act more friendly when they started to see me waddle (note:  this I appreciated).  Finally, many people treat pregnant women as though they shouldn’t be doing anything themselves.  Carrying a package, pushing an office chair, or even grocery shopping on my own elicited gaping stares and constant offers from complete strangers to help me.  Given my tendency toward independence, I often found myself smiling and saying, “It’s ok…it looks heavier than it is.  I got this.”

Being single and pregnant has been great:  I used to be one of those women who was terrified at the idea of being a single parent.  That was, of course, until I experienced being in an abusive relationship.  One of the reasons I stayed with Luc for so long was because I had convinced myself that it would somehow be worse to be single and pregnant than with a man who clearly didn’t give a damn about me (or anyone else for that matter).  When I was pregnant with Prince, I would come home from working a full day (while Luc had been sleeping and playing xbox) and Luc would ask me to rub his feet.  I would cook him dinner and take care of him as if he was the person growing the baby.

Being pregnant and single has been great in comparison to the stress I was under being pregnant and living with a demon.  I come home from work, put my feet up, and thank God that I am not sleeping next to a psychopath.  I feel empowered from my decision, and I am confident that I can be a great mom regardless of my marital status.  I am less stressed out this time around, and I am extremely hopeful for the future.  Looking back on what I faced during my pregnancy with Prince makes me sad.  It makes me sad that it took me so long to realize that I could do this on my own.  It makes me sad that I spent the majority of Prince’s life being scared, anxious, and confused.  That said, I am not that woman anymore.

The best decision of my life:  In the past three years, I have lived through some bad times.  I have made some astronomically bad decisions (the most obvious being my relationship with Luc).  There is one thing I can say, however, without a doubt – my decision to have my daughter has been the best decision I have made in my entire life.  When I first started telling people about my choice to have another child, I was not met with over whelming positivity.  Many people made ugly judgements, and told me that I needed to wait.  A lot of people in my life insisted that I was making a decision driven by grief, and that I would change my mind.  Having been a victim of societies belief in what was appropriate, I chose my own path instead.  I had never felt stronger about anything in my life.  I knew that it was the right time to make this decision, and I didn’t let anyone’s prejudice stand in my way.

During the last ten months, I have gone through my fare share of pain – both emotionally and physically. Getting to know my daughter in this last ten months, however, has kept me living.  It has allowed me to have hope for the future, and it has proven to me that I have come out on top and stronger in the face of tragedy.  Some of my close friends have told me that my daughter will be lucky to have such a good mother.  Every time I hear this I respond by saying, “I am the lucky one.  I am pretty sure this little girl has saved my life.”

Finally, the best moment of pregnancy happens when it’s over.  As I hit the publish button on this post, and head to the hospital, I feel almost delirious with excitement about meeting my daughter face to face.  I remember the moment I met my son as if it were yesterday.  There is nothing more incredible than meeting someone for the first time who you feel like you have known your whole life.  That is what meeting my children feels like it me.

 

 

 

Michael Brown’s Murder And The Death Of Justice

 

Michael Brown, who was set to begin college in August 2014

Michael Brown, who was set to begin college in August 2014

 

On August 9th, Michael Brown was shot six times, twice in the head by a Ferguson, Mo police officer.  While it has been a couple of weeks since this happened, many heavy emotions continue to rush through me about this incident.  I am stunned, afraid, ashamed, and I have a deep anger burning inside of me that I cannot begin to describe in writing.  I have sat watching the news, at times in complete shock that these events are taking place in my own country.  As a nation, we have a tendency to pass judgment on other nations for the atrocities that occur between their foreign borders.  What occurred in Ferguson, and continues to occur across our pious nation, is something we should all be ashamed of.

Media Spin:

While the media seems to be doing an effective job of covering how peaceful protestors are being gassed and beaten by police officers, they are also making sure to focus on how they believed Michael had been using drugs and had robbed a store. (Note: there has been no definitive evidence that there was a crime committed, and Michael Brown had no prior criminal record.)  Having been a victim of a violent crime (my son being murdered), I am the first person to stand in line to watch criminals be prosecuted.  That said, this officer had no clue that a crime had occurred.  He saw an unarmed black man, and decided to kill him in cold blood.  Even if we were to accept that Michael had done something wrong before he was murdered (which I don’t really believe he did), since when do robbers get sentenced to a firing squad before their trial?  If we are going to start doing things like this as a country, I would kindly ask that we start with murderers and rapists – not a young adult who decided to make the poor choice of stealing a pack of cigarettes.

I would also like to address the fact that the kid had pot in his system.  (And yes, I still think 18 year-olds are kids.)  From reading some of these articles, it would appear as though the media were trying to make references as though the kid was hopped up on crack and acting aggressive.  I have never done any drugs, but from what I know about weed it doesn’t seem as though the kid would have been acting particularly aggressive from having some of it in his system.  Having weed in his system should also not be seen as an excuse to why the kid should have been gunned down.

The Aftermath:

Another disappointing, shocking, and appalling issue that has come up during this tragedy is how many criminals take advantage of bad situations and make them worse.  Store owners in Ferguson didn’t have anything to do with the police officer murdering Michael Brown.  Seeing people rioting in the streets, and ruining businesses in their neighborhood infuriates me.  This sort of behavior is not justified, and will end up hurting the very people that are most impacted by this level of police brutality.

Police Accountability:

Those of you who have followed me from the beginning of my blog know that I have experienced first hand what it’s like to be mistreated by police officers.  Just weeks after I fled an abusive and dangerous man, the police arrested me for removing something I owned from a house that I had been paying for.  After paying thousands of dollars to an attorney to clear my name, I forced a police investigation.  While the Police Captain admitted that his officers had not handled the situation appropriately, or even within their own policies, he refused to hold his officers accountable in any way that would stop the same atrocity from occurring in the future.  I firmly believe that the Prince William County police have a problem with corruption.  I am hopeful that the police officers who allowed my ex (who is now in jail awaiting trial for the murder of my son, and the murder of his ex-girlfriend) to remain a free man, by turning a blind eye to his crimes, will some day be exposed for their unethical behavior.

While some people have chosen to have sympathy for the police officer who shot Michael Brown, I am not one of them.  I believe that the police should be treated as common citizens when they commit crimes.  It is injustice at its worst to see police officers behaving poorly, while obtaining the shield of safety merely because of their badge.  If someone without a badge had murdered Michael Brown, in cold blood, he would be in jail awaiting his trial.

Despite what has happened to me and my family, as a result of police activity, I am not one to believe that all police officers are bad people.  There are many officers who take their oath seriously – people who accept the job to serve and protect.  Criminal police who abuse their power bring shame to the profession.  They also bring shame to our entire justice system.  Police officers are people too, and when they show themselves as criminals – they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Racism remains a problem in America.  Stories like the murder of Treyvon Martin, and now Michael Brown, prove that we still have a long way to go as a country before we can say that we don’t have a race problem.  I am disturbed that in 2014 our police officers are still gunning down unarmed black men in the streets, and trying to justify their actions afterward.

When I saw Michael Brown’s parents on television, my heart ached for them as I looked into their eyes.  I saw the same look that I had in the days after my son was brutally murdered.  I saw sadness, despair, hopelessness, and anger.  I have not taken to the streets in Ferguson, however, I am thankful for the people who have peacefully done so.  I know first hand about how, even when the murderer is held accountable, it doesn’t take away the pain of never being able to hold your son again.

I waited three months before my ex was finally arrested for the murder of my son.  Those three months were arguably the worst three months of my entire life.    Every single day that my son’s killer walked free, I felt as though another piece of me died.  The flame of justice that had burned inside of me was extinguished.  I pray that the Brown’s will get to see the justice that they deserve.  I stand with the thousands of peaceful protestors who are demanding justice – and demanding our system to practice the core of what it is that we as a country preach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kelly Rutherford Files Emergency Order To Keep Her Children In US

 

Kelly with her two children

Kelly with her two children

 

Almost two years ago, just a month before my son was killed as the result of a Family Court disaster, I heard about what happened to Kelly Rutherford’s children.  Reading Kelly’s story terrified me.  Here was a woman who was so successful, someone who most would assume could wield tremendous political power, and someone whose financial success could far rival your average American.  Even with all these things, she still lost her children in what seemed to be one of the most blatant attacks against the civil rights of a child that I had ever seen.  While many people likely went about their day as usual after hearing her story, maybe chalking this up as just another celebrity divorce in the news, I was glued to the news and terrified.  At the time, I was still in Family Court.  I wondered what a decision like this meant for my son’s future, when it was clear that the civil rights of children did not matter at all.

For those who don’t know the story, what it boils down to is that Kelly’s children were forced to leave their country to live in France with their father.  The strange thing about this story is that the children are not French citizens, they are American.  A California judge believed that since their father could no longer return to the United States, due to some sort of attempted visa fraud, they would have to go live with him.  This judge made the decision that their father’s parental rights were more important to the rights of these children to remain in their home country.  What also seemed bizarre was that the judge believed the decision to send the children to France would allow for equal parenting.

There are two reasons I chose to write about this case this week.  One is because Kelly has filed an emergency petition with the US District Court asking the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security for a temporary restraining order to keep her children in the US.  The second is that I believe this case exposes many terrible realities that is exist in our broken Family Court system.

1)  Money Doesn’t Always Mean Power:  Lawyers will eat you alive financially in Family Court.  They will take every penny you have, and the battle will continue until you don’t have two pennies to rub together.  I spent my entire life savings, my entire 401k, and the majority of my salary for 15 months trying to save my son.  Nearly two years after my son has died, I am still paying off the debt I acquired trying to pay attorneys.  Kelly has been very public about how, even though she acquired huge financial success in her acting career, her Family Court battle forced her to file bankruptcy.  The bottom line here is that no matter how wealthy you are, Family Court will ruin you.

2)  Children Are Objects – Not People:  No matter what state you live in, Judges typically like to split children in half.  In many cases, it appears as though the easiest decision is just to tell people to “share” by awarding joint custody.  While this judgement might make perfect sense for parents who live in the same community, and in situations where both parents are healthy and have the best interest of their children at heart, this is not realistic for many families.  If children were viewed as people, vice objects, judges would more often try to make judgements that would be comfortable for the children and not just what is convenient for parents.  For example, in Kelly’s case, since the father couldn’t travel to the US, the judge decided it would be better for the father if the children relocated with him.  The children had been raised in the United States, however, this judge believed it make more sense for the family for the children to be uprooted and moved with their father.

3)  One Size Fits All:  This lesson is similar to the one above.  What I find extremely disappointing about Family Court is that despite the billions of dollars of taxes and family contributions, the court still seems to have an inability to cater decisions.  Sawing children in half never works, however, this is often what happens when you try to apply current laws to “outside the box” cases.  Most divorces and custody conflicts ends with some sort of amicable agreement between two parties.  It is only the most contentious cases that end up in court, and most of the time these cases include someone who intends to legally abuse the other party.  Kelly’s case highlights this “one size fits all” mentality in the court, as it appears here that the judge just tried to force a 50/50 custody situation on two people who weren’t even able to remain in the same country.

 

Just the other day, when I heard that Kelly had filed an emergency order to try and keep her children in the United States, all the anxiety that I remember from my own Family Court War came rushing back to me.  I remember the panic I felt every time I had to turn my son over for a visit.  I distinctly remember the last night my son was alive.  I was trying to think of a million and one ways to keep him with me the next day instead of sending him for the visit, fully knowing that if I did I would likely get criminally charged for disobeying a court order.

I know there are people who read about Kelly’s story, and think that what she is doing is extreme.  I, however, read her story and see a mother who is willing to fight tooth and nail with every fiber in her body to protect the rights of her children.  She is trying to be a mother, even though her own country has told her she has no right to keep her children safe.  I pray that Attorney General Holder will take notice, and I pray that he will take a stand.  I pray he will stop the injustice that is evident in this case.  I pray he will allow these American citizens to remain in their home country – that he will allow their mother to take care of them.

 

 

 

The Parallels between Family Court and the Tobacco Industry: What We Can Do as a Nation to Protect Innocent Lives

Protest Photo of Grandparents 10-21-13

This week’s post comes from a my friend and fellow child advocate, Patrice Lenowitz.  Patrice is the founder and co-facilitator of The Nurtured Parent Support Group for survivors of domestic abuse. She is also the co-playwright of FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT, a three year play project written with author and dv expert Lundy Bancroft. FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT is a theatrical production that tells the true stories of family court victims, and raises questions about the improper court response to domestic violence and child abuse. FORBIDDEN TO PROTECT is expected to open to audiences in the fall of 2014. Most recently, Patrice and actress Kelly Rutherford co-founded the CHILDRENS JUSTICE CAMPAIGN, a non-profit that seeks to educate the public through the media about the injustices occurring to innocent children in the U.S. family court system.


In January of this year, Liz Szabo wrote an article in USA TODAY entitled U.S. smoking warning made history, saved lives. The article was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s 1964 Report on Smoking and Health. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that with the Surgeon General’s report, “this was the first time that the government was saying, no, there is no doubt that smoking causes cancer.” Although the tobacco industry has extreme economic and political might, America quickly began to question the health related risks of smoking due to the new research being presented. Responding to public concern, Congress was forced to take action. Although it took another six years to implement, in 1971 Congress passed legislation requiring a “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING” be placed on all cigarette packages. The tobacco industry responded in kind by switching up their advertising tactics, and began targeting women, children, and minorities.

Fortunately throughout the years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health have continued doing research, and have been responsible for 29 reports on the numerous health consequences of smoking. It was research that inspired the Surgeon General’s 1986 report determining that secondhand smoke was dangerous to non-smokers and smokers alike, and because of which, more life-saving measures were set in motion by public outrage. In 1989, Congress banned smoking on domestic flights, which lead to restaurants, offices, and most public spaces being declared non-smoking. Despite the powerful economic and lobbying influence of the tobacco industry to promote something that not only makes the public sick, but kills, the public’s anti-smoking campaigns have continued to take a stand to protect innocent lives by educating the public about the health risks of smoking. As Szabo’s article states, the U.S. smoking “WARNING” did make history, and because of which, it has saved countless lives.

So what does this have to do with Family Court?

1n 1998, the first Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This study, led by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda, is the largest study of its kind ever conducted to examine the health and social effects of adverse childhood experiences over the lifespan. What they discovered is that adverse childhood experiences will represent medical and social problems of national importance. A child being exposed to certain traumas, such as an alcohol or drug-addicted parent, domestic violence in the home, being sexual abused, or being separated from a primary attachment parent, are strong predictors of childhood illnesses and injuries, later health risks, disease, and premature death. Similar to the harm caused by smoking tobacco, adverse childhood experiences will determine the likelihood of the 10 most common causes of death in the United States. The good news? Just like with tobacco related illnesses, adverse childhood experiences are preventable.

Beginning in the late 1990’s however, a most catastrophic trend began to emerge. Family court judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem, parenting evaluators/coordinators, therapists and child protective service organizations began to ignore the health and safety of children in divorce and custody litigation. Comparable to the tobacco industry who knowingly concealed evidence that demonstrated how harmful nicotine was, family court vendors began to take children away from safe loving protective parents, and placed them with parents that pose a risk to their short and long-term health and safety – for money.And they continue to get away with it today due to a complete lack of transparency and accountability within our courts.

Is family court really a “kids for cash” business?

An estimated 58,000 children a year are court-ordered for custody or unsupervised visitation with reported abusers. That means in many cases, children are being ordered to live with their rapists. Child custody courts are generating approximately $50 billion dollars a year from the business of exploiting families in crisis and putting children in direct harm’s way. Adverse childhood experiences are the most basic cause of health risk behaviors, morbidity, disability, mortality, and health care costs. In fact, it costs taxpayers $500 billion dollars a year in health care related costs due to adverse childhood experiences.

In Jane Ellen Stevens article entitled, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study – the largest most important public health study you never heard of…, she references a subsequent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in 2012 that estimates just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment costs $124 billion over the lifetimes of the traumatized children. She states that the researchers based their calculations on only confirmed cases of physical, sexual and verbal abuse and neglect, which child maltreatment experts say is a small percentage of what actually occurs. Stevens remarks that the breakdown per child looks like this:

•       $32,648 in childhood health care costs

•       $10,530 in adult medical costs

•       $144,360 in productivity losses

•       $7,728 in child welfare costs

•       $6,747 in criminal justice costs

•       $7,999 in special education costs

“You’d think the overwhelming amount of money spent on the fallout of adverse childhood experiences would have inspired the medical community, the public health community, and federal, state and local governments to integrate this knowledge and fund programs that have been proven to prevent ACEs. But adoption of concepts from the ACE Study and the brain research has been remarkably slow and uneven,” said Stevens.

 

So what can we do as a nation to protect innocent lives?

The public cannot protest what it does not know, so let’s tell them! It is time to stand up and speak out America! We need to educate and inspire the unsuspecting public to take action. Reference the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ACE’s study to start the conversation. Hold family court rallies and protests. Write to your local newspapers, policy makers, medical community, and contact the media demanding that they begin to expose and address one of the greatest social injustices of our time. Eventually, our outrage will inspire Congress to hold our governors responsible for their respective judicial branches of government partaking in dirty deeds. The research is indisputable, and as such, illuminates what our hearts and minds already know to be true. It is our duty to honor the precious life and spirit of a child, and because of which, we must do everything we can to ensure that our courts will protect them from adverse childhood experiences.

Mr. Boris Lushniak, Surgeon General of the United States of America, we call upon you to issue your first WARNING on the U.S. family court system. It will make history, and save countless lives.

 

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Children exposed to the U.S. Family Court System (i.e. judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem), and their vendors (i.e. parenting evaluators/coordinators, social workers from Child Protective Services and Mental Health professionals not properly trained in domestic violence and/or trauma), will likely suffer childhood injuries and illnesses, later health risks, disease, and PREMATURE DEATH.

 

Cappuccino Queen with the lovely ladies of The Children's Justice Campaign.  (Far left: Kelly Rutherford, Far right: Patrice Lenowitz)

Cappuccino Queen with the lovely ladies of The Children’s Justice Campaign. (Far left: Kelly Rutherford, Far right: Patrice Lenowitz)