Sunday, July 20, 2008

TV my drug of choice

I confess tv is my drug of choice when life is stressful. When things are bad with Little T, I watch a lot of tv. In the hospital, at home holding him being human pillow, I watched a lot of tv. When life gets too overwhelming and talking about it just won't help, I watch tv. Being a Silicon Valley mom, I have a Tivo, so I only watch tv of my choice. The tv my kids watch is always educational.

As drugs go, tv is wonderful, the best. It lets you forget about life for a while. It relaxes you. It produces a trance like state similar to that found in a good narcotic. Then you can turn the thing off,and except for perhaps wasting some time, there are no side effects. And you might even learn something.

The righteous parents who decry how tv rots children's brains must have forgotten how much tv they watched as kids. The studies that show kids IQs dropping or speech delays with a few hours of tv a week seem extremely flawed to me. They are often based on self-reported data. Sure if you sit your child in front of the tv all damn day, their brain will rot. Not necessarily because of the tv watching, but because kids need stimulation besides tv.

Or maybe the parents of kids with problems sit them in front of tv because they don't know what else to do with them. These parents will probably not admit in a survey that their child watches tv all day. Instead they'll respond 'a few hours a week' like the rest of us.

Both my children watch tv as part of a balanced diet of activities. Special K also eats treats as part of a balanced diet of food. I feel sorry for those kids who never get to watch tv. I regard them the same as the child who never got to eat anything sweet growing up. She was always sneaking candy, because it was this forbidden treat. Once your kids go to school, you can not escape tv or sweet things, so you may as well teach your kids to be responsible consumers.

We don't watch commercials, though sometimes we zip by them. I've told my daughter how ads make things frequently look better than they are and people are trying to sell things. She notices ads all the time anyway. Ads are not restricted to the tv. Step outside and billboards are everywhere. Another silly argument for avoiding tv, shot down.

The Tivo saved my breastfeeding. Sure breastfeeding is magical for five minutes, but then your baby breastfeeds for another fifteen to twenty minutes. I had limits to how long I could stare at my baby's guzzling mouth and the back of my baby's head.

The Baby Einstein video or any video has allowed me to regain my sanity during the midafternoon crazies when the kids are getting way too punchy and I'm too tired to wind them down myself. The alternative is me yelling at them or putting them screaming in their crib or bed. Instant calm. We all relax.

I'm not saying hand over the remote control to your toddler and let her watch hours of tv unsupervised, but this parent is really tired of reading about how tv or any technology is the cause of a host of ills and therefore should be avoided. Cars accidents are a leading cause of death for children. Nonetheless I drive my children in cars everyday. No one suggests banning children from cars.

I believe my job as a parent is to use technology responsibly. I use tv like any other parenting tool I have. I have no problems with tv rating systems. I do have a problem with parents who expect the rating system to supervise their children when they use tv instead of themselves and then make it harder for me to have access to tv. Unlike a movie on the big screen, it costs nothing but time to watch a tv show.

I personally have watched every show my kids have watched, not every episode, but every show. I plan to do this until my kids are old enough to be saavy media consumers. I don't think any rating system can tell me what my child finds scary or disturbing. My daughter doesn't find hospitals at all scary, so any medical drama is fine. However arguing is scary to her, so Cinderella is scary.

If I had to do slogans for tv education, it would go like this: "TV's a powerful and useful drug, so please watch it responsibly."

A healthy birth is not a US birthright

I read a post that made me cry. It was about a child that died. But what stunned me and made me feel both sad and angry was the fact the post implied that babies are safe in the US. Unfortunately according to a CNN headline, the The U.S. has second worst newborn death rate in modern world.

My baby was almost one of the newborns that died. It took three hours to stabilize him, then he was whisked away to another hospital. My husband frantically followed the ambulance in our car. As I sat bereft in my maternity room, a doctor called and told me "We have to operate on him to save his life." and "He probably won't make it."

My son has faced death several times since then and survived. I'm very thankful and I feel I must whisper this lest I jinx anything. --I start 2007 for the first time not worried he might die.

Like many newborns, a contributing cause of his problems was inadequate prenatal health care. A simple prenatal ultrasound done at any point in the second trimester would have shown there was a problem. And a vaginal birth was nearly impossible. His left arm had a massive tumor of 24 cm. Larger than the usual cervix dilation of 10cm. No one knew until his arm got stuck as he was born, and he was deprived of oxgyen for three minutes. In addition the strain of being squeezed during birth exacerbated his condition of low platelets and red blood cells. He was completely depleted of clotting factors by the time he emerged and almost died at birth.

For a time I was very angry about this but at least in my case I realised that no one would have expected me to carry this child to term. He with a blood tumor and me with a blood condition where half of my blood cells are smaller than others. It's a miracle. So much of pregnancy is still unknown.

But when I tell women from other industrialized countries about the lack of ultrasound, they're horrified. Most routinely offer two ultrasounds - one at about 13 weeks, and another at 20 weeks to look for physical abnormalities. At 13 weeks, my son's tumor was too small. At 20 weeks, his left arm would have been visibly deformed.

We have good insurance. My husband is a software engineer. If my family was like millions of Americans, and my husband had the typical 80-20 insurance or no insurance, the costs of our son's medical care would have bankrupted our family, even with my husband's relatively high income. The billed costs (not the costs the insurance paid) for my son's medical care are over a million dollars and are still ongoing. He visits a specialist about once a month (down from 5-6 a month). Billed cost:$300-500. The insurance pays about $60 a visit.

However the insurance company pays for very little of his care, because a dirty little secret is that while HMOs whine about the high cost of health care, they don't actually pay for their most expensive patients. For very expensive patients like my son, the HMO has secondary insurance that pays for all of his care.

But we're the lucky ones. The number one reason for bankruptcy is medical bills. The Washington Post states,"Most of the medically bankrupt were middle-class homeowners who had been to college and had responsible jobs -- until illness struck."

Before my daughter was born, I had this naive idea that "babies don't die anymore". Unexamined, but I suppose due to our advanced health care. Now I know several children who died as newborns. In fact two babies died while my son was in the NICU.

In all these cases, except one, there was a failure of our medical system. In all the cases I know about, the mom desperately tried and failed to get the help she needed. But due to bureaucratic problems designed to "save hospitals money" or lack of insurance, the mother didn't get the medical help she needed in time. I dunno if getting help earlier would have prevented the baby's death. I'm not a doctor. I do know it caused the mom a great deal of unnecessary anguish.

In my darkest moments I can imagine what it feels like to experience the loss of a child. But my experience was like gazing down at a huge abyss versus falling into it.

But I can't imagine what life is like for the millions of expectant mothers who don't have insurance and literally can't afford to get adequate prenatal care. I can't imagine what it must be like to have a child born with serious health problems and have to worry about money to pay for it all. I can't imagine the anguish of wondering if my child would be healthier if only I had scraped enough money to go to the doctor earlier. I can't imagine having to go into bankruptcy to pay for my family's medical bills.

We have the latest and greatest neonatal intensive care, but do so little for most pregnant mothers.

I'm thankful for the good birth, the healthy birth I had with my older daughter. My daughter had jaundice, a common problem. For most babies, jaundice is resolved easily if treated quickly. In this country getting quick treatment for jaundice is a privilege I have due to my relative wealth, the fact that our family has health insurance unlike 13.4 of pregnant women. Furthermore, this March of Dimes article says the income thresholds for infants are often higher than for moms, so moms are denied health insurance as soon as their babies are born.

Our health system is the most expensive in the world and it is the worst in providing basic health coverage. It ends up costing a lot more, because an ounce of prevention often costs a lot less than treating something after the fact. The US spends billions of dollars treating NICU babies. I wonder how many are there simply because the mom wasn't treated adequately during her pregnancy. It all makes me cry when I think about that. It also makes me very angry.

I'm definitely not a socialist. I believe in the free market. However I also believe a few things are public goods. For example most people accept the idea that everyone is entitled to a free education through high school, because it's a public good. Everyone is worse off if education isn't provided to everyone. I don't understand why unlike the rest of the industrialized world, people in the US don't feel that health care is also a public good. This country does accept health care is good for senior citizens and children in very low income families.

I originally wrote "Will it take a national health crisis before the country wakes up?" Then sadly I realized we already have one. The rate of premature births is rapidly rising. 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely. No one knows why. Based on my experience, I'd have to say a contributing cause is inadequate prenatal care, even for women who have insurance.

I read recently that Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (sadly a representative of my town) and a Democrat wants to ban spanking. Meanwhile our Republican governator is proposing state health insurance. I will not vote for Sally Lieber ever again although I have voted for her every single time she ran for office and I could cast a vote. Before this proposal I would never have voted for Arnie. However I will if he gets this though.