Debate Shifts on HPV Vaccine for Boys

Remember all the controversy surrounding the HPV vaccine for girls? Apparently there are different questions posed now that pharmaceutical companies want to release the vaccine for boys.

From the Washington Post:

Now the vaccine’s maker is trying to get approval to sell the vaccine for boys, and the debate is focusing on something else entirely: Is it worth the money, and is it safe and effective enough?

“We are still more worried about the promiscuity of girls than the promiscuity of boys,” said Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women’s studies and medical history at Wellesley College. “There’s still that double standard.”

The shift in the discussion about Gardasil illustrates the complex interplay of political, economic, scientific, regulatory and social factors that increasingly influence decisions about new types of medical care. For the vaccine, the new dynamic reflects a strategic tack by Gardasil’s critics, growing concern about health-care costs, fears about whether medical treatments are being vetted adequately and stubborn biases about gender, experts say.

In all fairness, I do think this double standard is going away in some circles. Most recently CafeMom had a debate on whether 14-year-old boys or 14-year-old girls should get condoms from their parents. While the girl thread did receive twice as many comments, many of them as in the boy one were from parents who would give their children condoms regardless of gender. I was actually surprised.

But in immigrant and some religious communities, for example, I do think this double standard is more blatant. What say you, MotherTalkers? Do you think there is a double standard regarding teen sexual activity?


Doctors Debate Controversial Test for Down’s Syndrome

At least four biotech companies have developed a non-invasive, but accurate test, to detect Down’s syndrome during the first trimester of pregnancy, according to the Washington Post.

In 2007, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that all women be offered screening tests for Down syndrome, which causes mental retardation and other health problems. The current tests consist of a combination of blood tests and ultrasounds. Depending on the results, the women may then undergo either amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) to confirm or rule out the diagnosis.

But the screening tests often produce imprecise results, and amniocentesis, the most common definitive test, can cause miscarriages and is not usually performed until the second trimester, when the termination of a pregnancy is much more traumatic and difficult to obtain.

The new tests take advantage of techniques that can isolate and analyze tiny bits of genetic information from the fetus that circulate in a woman’s bloodstream, in this case from cells or free-floating snippets of DNA or the related molecule RNA.

At least four companies are developing such tests, including Sequenom of San Diego, which plans to be the first on the market in June. The other companies hope to have their versions on the market within a year.

At a meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in San Diego last month, the company reported that results from 858 women showed that its test did not miss a single case of Down syndrome and produced only one false alarm, making it much more accurate than the currently available screening tests and on a par with amniocentesis.

Initially, Sequenom plans to offer the test as an alternative to the first-trimester screening blood-and-ultrasound test. By reducing false alarms, the test could help many women obtain a more definitive diagnosis without the risks of amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling.

The test has raised brows in the disabled community that is urging Congress to enforce a law passed last year requiring doctors to give mothers accurate information about genetic disorders and let them know there are resources to help them raise their babies.

Advocates worry that such tests could increase the number of women getting inaccurate information that makes life for people with Down syndrome and their families sound worse than it really is.

“We have a nation of physicians who are unprepared for explaining a diagnosis of Down syndrome,” said Brian Skotko, a physician at Children’s Hospital in Boston who works with the National Down Syndrome Society. “Many overemphasize the negative consequences or outright urge women to terminate their pregnancies.”

Skotko, whose sister has Down syndrome, predicted such tests would result in fewer babies being born with the condition.

“Every day my sister teaches me lots of life lessons — to laugh when others are mocking me, to keep on trying when obstacles are thrown my way,” he said. “If there were a world with fewer people with Down syndrome, I think the world would miss all these important lessons.”


Does a Family Need To Share a Last Name?

My favorite parenting magazine, Brain, Child, just came in the mail, which means lots of articles to share with you.

This issue’s debate has set off many a discussion here and will no doubt solicit the magazine tons of mail, good and bad: “Does a Family Need to Share a Surname?”

The two moms, by the way, are freelance writers in New Zealand. Momma No. 1, Laura Williamson, says no and even gave her son her last name rather than her husband’s:

For one thing, the assumption that a mother, a father, and their children should have the same surname is almost always underwritten by a second assumption: that the shared surname should be the father’s. It’s the male’s prerogative.

Late in my pregnancy this thought really started to irk me. There I was, belly distended, ankles inflated, avoiding aioli and red wine while my blood mingled with the blood of the child inside me. I could not be more connected to another being, yet I was supposed to sever our genealogical ties the minute the umbilical cord was cut. It was unfair.

But what about your husband, you ask. Didn’t he get a say? He did, and he agreed with me. It was a brave decision; he must have known that he was condemning himself to a lifetime of beer-induced ribbing from other men. He also must have known that he was in for decades of confused looks at the dentist’s office, immigration checkpoints, and PTA meetings….

That my child’s father was willing to let go of his name made me feel closer to him then, and continues to make me proud. What could be better for our family?

New Zealand writer No. 2, Liz Breslin, argued in favor of adopting one family name — the father’s:

It’s true that passing on the father’s name gives precedence to the paternal line, but is that really a bad thing? Children need fathers, research says. It also shows that masculinity is being shoved to the sidelines in the family. I’m grateful (albeit in a staunchly feminist way) that my significant other cares so much. Let’s celebrate dads and families. I don’t want to use my family to make a political point.

Why is having a public, shared name so important? Ask the clans in Scotland or the small-towners with streets named after them. Living, working, warring together promotes a sense of unity. And this is what it’s really about: a collective family identity. Christmas cards come to our house addressed to us, to the family. The simplicity of this is poignant. We are exclusively, inclusively us.

Of course, our shared name is only a symbol of our togetherness. What makes us a family are the shared time, meals, songs, traditions, and customs. These come from our histories and the futures we’re creating. We have schnitzel nights like my fiance’s family did; we celebrate name days the way my Polish grandmother does; we’ve started our very own tradition of going for an early morning Christmas Day swim no matter what the weather.

We could do all that with separate names, but what are the implications? How strange would it be if, for example, my daughter took my last name and my son took his father’s? Or vice versa? What message would that give our children about our family unit? To me it would set up exclusions: My daughter’s mine. Our son is yours. Names have the power to unite or divide. And I want my family united.

The  authors touched upon a subject even I have not been able to express: Choosing a name other than the father’s is a political land mine. Besides confusion with bureaucracy, I can’t tell you how many brows I have raised and comments like “she is one of those” by merely keeping my last name. Our children, by the way, have two last names: Moulitsas Batista.

But it works for our family. At first glance, “The Moulitsas-Batista Family” may be a mouthful, but after years of receiving greeting cards with that salutation, it has blended in the background. It’s us. Even my mother-in-law has come around, giving us a hand-made wooden welcome sign for our front door, reading “Familia Moulitsas Batista.”

Of course, I am not “one of those” — if by that you mean I am militant about my choice. I recognize it is only a name. If my children grow up to choose one name over the other — or take their spouse’s last name — I will not be offended. Ultimately, as Breslin pointed out, the time we have spent together is what counts not whether we shared a last name.

What say you, MotherTalkers? I am particularly curious if any of your husbands have adopted your last name or if your children have different last names — for example, your daughter has your last name and your son has his father’s last name. As progressive as I am, I have never met anyone with these names. Please do share!


The First & Last VP Debate: This Soccer Mom Isn’t Buying

Thoughts after watching the first and last vice presidential debate.

The other night, as the first and only vice presidential debate was starting; I was scrambling to get to my car from a rainy soccer field where I’d been standing on the sidelines with other parents while watching kids play.  Jumping over mud puddles and dodging fast moving vehicles in the parking lot, my two soccer-playing kids and I scurried to the warm dry safety of our car.

Yes, I’m an official soccer mom.

Turns out I’m also a barometer too.  First thing we did in our car was turn on the heat.  Second was the debate.  And my ears, I have to admit, perked right up because in her opening statement Gov. Palin said, “You know, I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out has this been a good time or a bad time in America’s economy, is go to a kid’s soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, ‘How are you feeling about the economy?’ And I’ll bet you, you’re going to hear some fear in that parent’s voice, fear regarding the few investments that some of us have in the stock market. Did we just take a major hit with those investments?”

Soccer game? Did someone say parents? Stock market?  Let me tell you something: This barometer of a soccer mom isn’t hearing about investments, Wall Street, or the stock market on the sidelines.  Nope. I’m hearing about healthcare, or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

Just last week on that same field, but different game, in warm, sunnier weather the talk among the soccer moms on the sidelines was glum.  The conversation went something like this: “Where,” someone asked, “can you get a part-time job with healthcare coverage for the family?”  Another said, “Starbucks, I think.  Heard you can work there as a barista for 20 hours per week and qualify for healthcare coverage for the whole family.”  “Not sure they’re still hiring,” someone else said, “but I’m trying to figure out how to make my schedule work so I can do it–not for the pay, but just for the healthcare coverage.”

Times are tough.

Yet even in these tough times, most of the talk during the vice presidential debate was of stock markets, investments, foreign policy, and “the economy,” which was more often than not a code word for “Fanny and Freddy,” than Dick and Jane.

Sure, the economy matters (of course!), but the economy is about more than just Wall Street bailouts.  It’s about how we’re going to pay for escalating childcare, how we can pull together healthcare coverage for our kids, and what’s going to happen when we make less for the same job as a man and still need to pay the same mortgage or rent.

The debate moderator missed the mark by not asking including family issues in the ninety minutes of questions last night.

With a quarter of families with young children now in poverty, and the economic headlines looking like something that should only appear on Halloween, we can’t forget about the everyday issues that families who aren’t part of Wall Street are facing.

Indeed, now is the time when families need more help in the form of healthcare reform, paid sick days, fair pay, paid family and medical leave, and early learning opportunities; not less.  And we soccer moms know it: A recent poll found that 89% of Americans are in favor of paid sick days, and 75% favor paid family and medical leave.

There are win-win solutions. The New Deal reforms which came out of the Great Depression of the 1930s uplifted the economy and the middle class–and weren’t limited to financial institution bailouts.  

It’s time to start thinking more broadly about the reforms that are needed in our nation right now. And, it’s time to include questions in all debates about where all candidates–male, female, Democrat, Republican and other–stand on family issues.

Everyone wants the soccer mom vote.  After all, over 80% of American women have children by the time they are forty-four years old, and women make up more than half the electorate.  But this soccer mom, this apparent barometer of a voter, isn’t buying that Wall Street’s woes are the only economic problems facing families right now.  It’s time to broaden the field.

Kristin is an author and executive director of


McCain Looks Worse Than Nixon…And Some Actual Issues From Last Night’s Debate

First some of the soft stuff: I watched the debate on MSNBC, which had the candidates in split screen most of the time. I think I had a more favorable opinion of McCain’s performance (as opposed to his points) than did those who watched him avoid looking at Obama all night. When I saw it from a different angle in later footage, it definitely gave me a more negative impression of McCain. Definitely reminiscent of the Kennedy/Nixon debate, not that I was alive to see that in real time.

[Not sure how to make video work in this platform, but I’d put it here.]

Watching that video clip I am struck by something: McCain’s performance may actually have been worse than Nixon, who appeared gracious and acknowledged the areas in which he and Kennedy agreed.

Anyone who watched the debate last night, from any angle, couldn’t miss McCain’s dismissiveness and attempts to diminish Obama’s opinions as naivete. Nixon actually looked quite hail and hearty in comparison to McCain’s sideways snicker, hunched back and continual blinking. (Yes, I realize some of these things may have been due to his long-ago injuries, I’m just describing how it looked.) And nobody can fail to notice that the stars come out when Obama smiles, which he did often, and spectacularly.

But on to the issues. McCain looked pleased to pull this rabbit out of his hat, although it’s been in his economic plan all along – a fact the press doesn’t seem to acknowledge:


MCCAIN: How about a spending freeze on everything but defense, veteran affairs and entitlement programs.

   LEHRER: Spending freeze?

   MCCAIN: I think we ought to seriously consider with the exceptions the caring of veterans national defense and several other vital issues.

Yes, Jim Lehrer, a spending freeze. A one-year freeze on all discretionary spending with the exception of “caring of veterans”? and national defense. This has been in McCain’s platform for some time, and the thought of someone that erratic and arbitrary determining what is and isn’t “vital” makes my blood run cold.

I thought Obama had a great response, one which showed he, at least, had read his opponent’s platform and was waiting for this to come up:


OBAMA: The problem with a spending freeze is you’re using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are under funded. I went to increase early childhood education and the notion that we should freeze that when there may be, for example, this Medicare subsidy doesn’t make sense.

   Let me tell you another place to look for some savings. We are currently spending $10 billion a month in Iraq when they have a $79 billion surplus. It seems to me that if we’re going to be strong at home as well as strong abroad, that we have to look at bringing that war to a close.

Great response, yes? Well, I guess it depends on your opinion of how the Iraq war should play out, although that hatchet remark was a great soundbite. But notice something else that cropped up there: Early Childhood Education.

A few days ago, I wrote about the huge problems with McCain’s pre-k plan. Why does the Obama campaign not seize upon this as an example of the extremely poor effort of the McCain campaign on domestic issues? I don’t know, but they should. If I were able to whisper into Obama’s ear, I’d have told him to take that example and run with it – not just as a program that he wants, but as an example of why McCain cannot be trusted to make these huge budgetary cuts. Hopefully, future debates will provide more of an opportunity to corner McCain on some of these domestic issues.
Another telling soundbite, which everyone seems to have missed:


And have no doubt about the magnitude of this crisis. And we’re not talking about failure of institutions on Wall Street. We’re talking about failures on Main Street, and people who will lose their jobs, and their credits, and their homes…

OK, losing jobs, homes…credits? What? It may be a minor thing, but I think it is a little bit of a “tell” – I think it has been a long time since John McCain has had to worry about his credit (if ever) but most of us just would never make an error like that, since “credit” tends to rule our lives, but “credits” are something that rolls down the screen at the end of a movie. Credit does not have a plural, it is not any one thing but rather the big wheel in the sky that grinds us all into dust….Not to get too macro-cosmic, there.

Opinion on the debate seems to vary from “not a game changer” to “McCain won on points” to “Obama in a landslide” and only time will tell. But let’s not forget to listen to what the candidates say, while we’re busy watching snap polls.


The Debate Over Licensing Midwives

Via The Motherhood: The Detroit News had a comprehensive story about the debate surrounding the licensing of midwives.

The laws vary from state-to-state, but Michigan, for example, does not license certified professional midwives (CPMs) who do not hold nursing certificates.

The debate centers not only on where a woman should give birth, but also on who’s best qualified to perform the delivery. Experts with the AMA (American Medical Association) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say a hospital is the safest setting because it offers the best resources to handle unexpected complications. And, they say, physicians and midwives with a nursing background are best suited for the job.

That stance has outraged midwife advocates who say nursing certification isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for a successful home birth. They say home births are a safe alternative for women who choose them — some for religious reasons, some because they prefer more privacy and less medical intervention.

The issue is complicated because states have different rules regarding use of midwives, and there are several different levels of midwife certification. Some include formal nursing certification, some do not.

The medical community’s scrutiny is focused primarily on a category of midwives without nursing certification known as Certified Professional Midwives, or what some call lay midwives. CPMs are credentialed by the North American Registry of Midwives, which is not a medical group.

CPMs differ from Certified Nurse Midwives, who have formal nursing certification and most often practice in hospitals or medical centers, not homes.

Nurse-midwives are licensed in all states; only about half the states license CPMs. Michigan is among those states that do not license CPMs.

Midwife advocates want all states to license CPMs to offer them credibility and legal protection. But the medical groups worry about that because they are only required to deliver 40 in-hospital births before they are certified, and that they don’t get enough training to handle unexpected problems.

The doctors quoted in the story say their interns are expected to deliver 40 babies in a month. But the midwives insist they are equipped to handle an emergency until they get their patients to a hospital.

What are the actual stats on home versus hospital deliveries?

On average, only 1 percent of all births are conducted out of hospitals annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. In Michigan, 855 babies — or .65 percent — were delivered in homes, while 128,677 — or 99.2 percent — were delivered in a hospital, according to Michigan Department of Community Health statistics for 2004, the most recent available….

(Midwife advocate Steffany) Hedenkamp says there’s no evidence that home births are unsafe for healthy, low-risk women and their babies. But doctors note the neonatal mortality rate is 1.9 times higher in home births than those in a hospital, according to the CDC’s 2004 statistics.

This article was peppered with anecdotes of families who chose home births and families who felt more comfortable at the hospital. Overall, a balanced story IMHO.

On the one hand, the doctors came off as powerful lobbyists who didn’t want competition. On the other hand, this is the first article in which I have seen neonatal mortality rates for home births.

What say you? Should midwives be licensed like hospital staff?


Democrats Debate in Iowa

Between Ari’s holiday concert last night and more school stuff this morning, I missed the debate in Iowa between the Democratic presidential candidates.

The debate, sponsored by the Des Moines Register, focused a lot on fiscal matters, according to the Associated Press. I was glad to read that the candidates were on the same page in regards to making rich individuals and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. But only Richardson mentioned balancing the budget, a worthy goal completely abandoned by the Right.

The opening moments of the event underscored the gulf between the two parties on economic issues. Republicans called repeatedly on Wednesday for elimination of the estate tax — which falls principally on the largest of estates — and reduction in the corporation income tax.

Those differences will have to wait for the general election campaign, however. For now, all presidential hopefuls in both parties are pointing with single-minded determination on their nomination campaigns, beginning with the Iowa caucuses on Jan 3 and the New Hampshire primary five days later.

Only New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said balancing the budget would be a high priority. He noted that as governor, he is required to do so, and he called for a presidential line-item veto, a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, the elimination of “corporate welfare“ and elimination of congressional earmarks to help get rid of federal red ink.

I like Richardson and am disappointed he has not placed higher than fourth place in the polls. Still, I was glad to see that all our candidates blamed the Bush tax cuts for draining our treasury and giving away cash to people who don’t need it.

But I am irked that the Des Moines Register excluded Rep. Dennis Kucinich for not having a campaign office in Iowa, yet allowed Alan Keyes to participate in the Republican debate. I agree that active campaigning in Iowa should be a basic tenet to participate in the Iowa debate, but what’s up with the double standard?

Did any of you catch the debate? What did you think? Who are you early state voters supporting?