James Baldwin for Esquire magazine in 1960

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What I want you to know about the pain of being told you can't have children

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Laura

On my 21st birthday I was taken into hospital with a suspected infected ovarian cyst. I was living 300 miles away from home for a university years placement, but I wasn't too worried, I was told it wasn't anything serious and I'd be out the next day. I had the surgery that evening, I woke up in the high dependency unit with my mum at my bedside, I had previously called her and told her to stay at home; it wasn't anything to worry about. I was hooked up to IV drugs and I wasn't with it at all. I was released from hospital five days later having been treated for Septicaemia (blood poisoning) caused by the cyst which had ruptured. Still, I wasn't worried. I put it down to one of those things that you deal with and I focused on my healing so I could get back to work, back to exercise, and back to focusing on me.

Two weeks later my world fell apart when I was sitting in the consultants office in the hospital. The cyst they removed had contained a very small tumour. At the age of 21 I was diagnosed with stage 0 ovarian cancer and I was booked in for a laparoscopy straight away to see whether there were any more tumours. I was so relieved when it all came back ok, they couldn't see any more cysts or tumors and I was given the all clear 2 weeks later. I counted myself as one of the lucky ones, it was caught early and I could go on as normal. In time, I returned back to work and back to university to complete my degree. I had a new perspective on life, I didn't take anything for granted anymore, everything I did had a purpose, everything I did was for a reason.

A year later I found myself back in hospital, I knew straight away that something wasn't right and this time I called my mum in tears (she was only 20 miles away at this point). My worst fears were confirmed, a scan showed that there was a growth on my left ovary and it was decided that the best course of action would be to remove my ovary and have an intensive course of radiotherapy. The cancer was back, and this time the tumor was larger, but luckily it hadn't spread further than my ovary. I was 22, I had just graduated uni with a degree in computing, I had my dream job lined up to start in a months time. I was angry, I was angry at the doctors for not picking this up sooner, I was angry at myself for not noticing the signs, I was angry at the world for letting this happen to me, I was the good girl, I worked hard, I looked after myself, this should not have been happening to me.

I got through the surgery and I had the radiotherapy and after getting the all clear, again, I started to rebuild my life and live my life. I lived every second of my life. I didn't take anything for granted and I experienced everything to the fullest. I met a wonderful guy, we moved in together and we talked about our future. Then, early 2013, my world was rocked when I had a scare, my hormone levels peaked and the doctors thought the cancer was back, again. After numerous tests, agonizing waits and lots of tears it was decided that it was all ok. In this process, though, I learned some devastating news.

At 25 years old I was told it was virtually impossible that I would ever be able to conceive, or carry a baby. At 25 years old I was told I was infertile. I struggled so much with this news, I didn't know how to process it or how to explain it to someone. I put on a brave face and wouldn't let anyone help me. I couldn't make my boyfriend understand, we'd just bought a house, we'd been together nearly 4 years. He expected I could take a pill and make it all better. It took me having a minor breakdown and telling him I was going to leave him for him to understand it all. We're working through it; we're building a strong relationship. I was offered fertility tests to find out but we've decided not to find out, at least not yet. When we're ready, then we'll walk that path, together we'll walk it, but until then, we're living our lives. We may not be able to have our own children, but that doesn't mean that we won't be able to be parents. I see him with our neighbors children, he sees me with my best friend's baby boy and we both see in each other the love and care we have to offer.

I want you to know that being told you can't have children is painful. Going through hormone treatment for cancer, Polycystic Ovaries, Endometriosis, is painful. Seeing the look on other people's faces when they find out you can't have children is painful. Having to re-tell the story each time, having to tell your parents that they may not be grandparents is painful. But living your life, seeing the world, experiencing everything you can, that is not painful. This is not the end, this is just the beginning of our lives and our future...

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Why the lack of indictment for Mike Brown's shooting is a devastating blow

My boys are growing so fast. They are almost as tall as me. It's a milestone most mothers will feel bittersweet about, as we watch our boys turn into young men. But for mamas of black boys, it's also tinged with fear. My boys aren't as "cute" anymore. They don't look like little boys. They are nearing an age when their skin color becomes a liability to their safety.

Yesterday, a boy not much older than my own was shot by police while playing with a toy gun in a park. A concerned witness noticed it, and instead of approaching the boy, called the police. He acknowledged twice on the call that it was likely a toy gun, and yet police shot him down on sight. His name was Tamir Rice and he was 12 years old.

It's a story that is all too familiar - police officers reacting quickly - assuming a greater threat and using greater force than a situation warrants. We've seen so many stories like this recently. An unarmed man shot during a traffic stop because he followed the instructions to present his drivers license. A man shot and killed while holding a toy gun in a store. And Mike Brown, stopped for jaywalking, and a confrontation leaves him dead.

I am growing so weary of posting about these tragedies and having people rationalize and excuse the completely obvious lack of safety inherent in being Black and male in this country. I'm so tired of people finding excuses, minimizing, and victim-blaming. I'm sick of people perpetuating the idea that these people brought death on themselves, or somehow deserved to die, because they weren't following the right script.

 I feel like every time these stories emerge, I get the initial wave of fear and sadness, thinking about my own sons and the world they have to navigate. God forbid they engage in pot-smoking or shoplifting or talking back to adults as teenagers - behaviors I myself did in high school - because for them, it might be the thing that someone cites as an excuse for being shot. But then, to compound those feelings of grief, I also have to deal with round 2: the anger that emerges when our society, and oftentimes our justice system, fails to acknowledge the problem. When police officers are not held accountable. When excuses are made. When I'm told, repeatedly, that this isn't about race. When moms of black boys are viewed as too paranoid or too sensitive or too "obsessed with race."

I could tell you plenty of personal stories about how I've observed the bias against black males manifest towards my own sons. I could share instances that have occurred at their school, in our neighborhoods, and in our community. I could share about times that they've been assumed to be menacing or threatening . . . about the double standards we observe towards them . . . about the way my kids are treated more harshly than others, how the expectations of them don't match their age. I could share, but these stories are painful and private, and more than that . . . I don't want to expose my kids to the predictable character assassination that comes with any discussion of racial bias, as people try to find excuses that wave away the reality of racism in this country. But suffice it to say, when moms of black children are in safe spaces, we discuss these things together. We observe the same patterns. We share the same fears. And while most of us are dealing with micro-aggressions that hurt our children's psyche more than their bodies, the fear of violence is ever present.

But the thing is, I shouldn't have to share our stories to be believed, because there is a plethora of empirical research that illustrates the phenomena so many of us observe. The APA reports that Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime,

The bias inherent in law enforcement has been well documented as well. In repeated psychological tests conducted by the psychology department at the University of Colorado, researchers illustrated the implicit suspicions people hold against people of color: Participants shoot an armed target more quickly and more often when that target is Black, rather than White. However, participants decide not to shoot an unarmed target more quickly and more often when the target is White, rather than Black. In essence, participants seem to process stereotype-consistent targets (armed Blacks and unarmed Whites) more easily than counterstereotypic targets (unarmed Blacks and armed Whites).

This graph, by Mother Jones, illustrates that black individuals are shot during arrests at a much higher rate.

So when you see people rioting and protesting . . . when you witnessed the tears streaming down the faces of the crowd as it was announced that Darren Wilson would not go to trial for Mike Brown's death . . . remember: this is not just about Mike Brown. This is about a community who has witnessed a clear pattern of violence towards their young men at the hands of people charged to protect our citizens. Violence with racial bias that is well documented. And the decision to fail to even charge Darren Wilson in the death of a teen is yet another blow. It's another perceived message: black lives don't matter. (And as a reminder, if there were witness inconsistencies that would have been fleshed out in a trial. This decision prevented a fair trial from even happening in the matter of this boy's death.)

The world is watching as Ferguson reacts, and we are seeing a community of people who are angry. Do not let the criminal acts of a small number of protesters distract from the real issues going on in our country. While some may express anger in ways we find inappropriate, the anger is still valid. If my husband cheated on me and I burned his belongings in front of my house, that would be wrong. But it wouldn't invalidate my anger. It wouldn't cancel out the fact that what he did wrong.

If the anger around the decision made yesterday is confusing to you, it's time to listen. It's time to research. It's time to pull your head out of the sand and face the cold, hard facts about racial bias and police brutality. No one is saying that all police are racists. In fact, it's quite possible that many of the cops who have slain black boys weren't themselves racists by the general definition of the word. But they were living in the context of systemic racism . . . in a country that socializes us to be afraid of black men. Whether we like it or not, society conditions our impulses. We can try to counteract the systemic racism we're living in, and many of us do, but research indicates that racial bias infiltrates our first response, before logic takes over. Please read the psychological studies I linked to above the post to understand more. We are all susceptible to this kind of bias, and that bias is life-threatening for my kids, and the kids of people you know. And nothing will be fixed until we acknowledge that it's there.

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College expectations and the burden of debt

This post was sponsored by Scholarshare.

To say education is important in our family is a bit of an understatement. Our parents were educators. Mark and I both have advanced degrees. Both of us grew up watching our fathers pursue Ph.Ds.
We grew up with the expectation that we would go to college.

But we grew up with another expectation, too: Both of us were made aware from the beginning that we would have to pay for our college education. All of it—room, board, books—was on our shoulders. That's an entirely different kind of expectation. To be perfectly honest, it was a burden. Mark and I left college beneath a ton of student debt. We got married beneath a ton of debt. We spent the majority of our marriage living way below our means, saving and scrimping as we kept chipping away at that debt.  We finally paid it off in 2010. Talk about a relief. Financially, spiritually, psychologically…it's incredibly freeing to climb out from under that burden.

(me, in my college dorm room freshman year. Yeah, that's a scrunchie on my head.)

As we've raised our own kids, we have similar expectations about education. We want them to go to college, or at least pursue some kind of post-high school education. But we don't want them to bear the financial burden of that education on their own. Debt can be limiting. It can be stressful. It can even be unhealthy. We don't want that for our kids. I also want my kids to be able to focus on college while they are in college, without having to work several jobs to pay for their living expenses in addition to tuition.

So we're determined to save for college by contributing to Scholarshare funds for each of them. We did a lot of research before opening their accounts, and one of the stats I encountered is the fact that, according to this study, kids are seven times more likely to attend college when there is a dedicated account in their name. Having an available college savings plan can actually encourage a child to attend college.

I didn't need encouragement. Attending college was so much a part of our culture and expectations that I never really considered any alternatives—even though I knew I'd have to foot the bill myself. But my kids aren't me. Theirs is a different generation. Attitudes are changing about higher education as costs continue to rise. By the time they graduate from high school, going to college might not be the automatic next step in their lives.

Not when they've grown up hearing stories of wealthy and successful people who never attended college or dropped out before graduating. The WordPress guy. The DropBox guy. The Tumblr guy. The Mashable guy. The Spotify guy

I won't complain if my boys and girls become tech multimillionaires, of course. (I might even have prayed for it once or twice.) But I don't want them to write off the university experience just yet. I want them to strive for a college degree. I want it to be a goal. I want the dedicated college savings account in their name to be something that propels them toward continuing their education.

So, now that Mark and I are out of debt, we're still saving like crazy. We have high expectations in our family, and one of those is that high school won't be the end of the Howertons' education. But we're not expecting our kids to pay for it—at least not all of it.

What about you? What kinds of higher education expectations does your family have? Do you think the presence of a college fund will have any impact on your kids?

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What I want you to know about being a Special Needs Mom

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Suzanne Perryman.

I am a special needs mom. And I have secrets. Things I don’t talk about and stuff that other mom’s don’t know or may have forgotten along the way...

Special Needs Moms are lonely. I yearn for more time with friends and family. Authentically, I have a positive attitude and most often you see me smiling. I may even look like I have this SuperMom thing down, am super busy, and have enough help, but I am lonely. Being a Special Needs Mom doesn’t leave me the time to nurture and maintain the relationships I really need. I could get super detailed here about the hands-on caring for my child (Do you remember when your kids were toddlers? That hovering thing you had to do? It’s that plus some.) The plus-some includes spreading my Mom love around to my other child and my husband, who on a daily basis are put on hold, waiting for my attention. I don’t have much time to call or email my friends and even family...and if they don’t call or email me, well then I feel massive guilt about the time that has passed. More negative stuff that I pile on my shoulders. Getting out is tough. I really miss the day’s when I had playgroups with other Mom’s, open-house style, dropping in and drinking coffee at a friends’  kitchen table with my child playing nearby.  

Special Needs Moms have to work extra hard to preserve their marriage. This goes with counter-balancing the high stress of special needs parenting and directly combats the sky-high divorce rates for special needs families. I put extra pressure on my husband, he is my best friend and sometimes I expect unrealistic BFF behavior from him at the end of the day( see #1). He is my hero, supportive, patient and loving- and my kids would be totally lost without him. The success of our marriage, will affect the health of our children. My husband and I haven’t spent a night away from our kids for six years, we do “date night” out of the house every few months, for a two-hour sushi date. Our marriage is a priority so we “steal” our moments when we can.

Special Needs Moms are not easily offended. Despite what our social media status updates say, we are vulnerable and life messes with us daily. So really, ask what you want to ask and it’s okay to start with “I don’t really know how to say this, how to ask you..” I am especially touched when someone cares enough to ask me how my child is feeling, or how to include my child in a social gathering, meal or other event and am happy to collaborate on what will work for us.

Special Needs Moms worry about dying. We worry about our kids getting sick and dying, we worry about our husbands dying and leaving us alone, but most of all we worry a lot under the surface, and especially about being around to care for our child.We watch people we know grieve the loss of their children and try not to think about it. On the up side-we live life fully and don’t take it for granted.

Special Needs Moms are fluent in the transforming body language of touch. This is the first language we learn, and sometimes the language our kids know best. This therapeutic natural language can relax, redirect and heal. This should be the first language “spoken” in every home. 

Special Needs Moms know to savor the gift of a child saying “I Love You.” For the longest time I wasn’t sure if my daughter, Zoe, would ever speak the words. As a newborn, it was her sighs of contentment, as I held her against my breast, that told me how much she loved me. When she was a baby, it was that peaceful calm that came over her, when I carried her in my arms. The first time she found her words, she was already a little girl, and every time she spoke them I cried. She is ten now, and her words, even more tender and wise. I leaned into her at bedtime the other night, as her hand reached up, caressing my cheek, she whispered...“ I love you Mom, for taking such good care of me.”

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