Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Guest Post: Weaning, The Only Part of Motherhood That Came Naturally To Me

My friend and fellow writer, Erica Heinsman, wrote this beautiful piece on her experiences with breastfeeding and weaning.  Erica runs I’m Totally Faking It. You may remember her from her guest post Thou Shalt Not Judge The Pregnant Woman. I met and grew to love Erica while playing coed touch football with her when I lived in greater DC. She’s a smart, funny woman raising two adorable babes with her lovely husband. Like her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter @imtotllyfakngit. You’ll love her WTF Wednesdays and probably develop a Mom Crush on her.

Weaning, The Only Part of Motherhood That Came Naturally To Me
When I began the adventure into motherhood there were very few things I was sure about. One thing I knew I wanted was to breastfeed my baby. There were health benefits for him, and health benefits for me, including the promises from moms before me that the caloric burn that would aid in dropping the baby weight (which turns out doesn't happen for everyone, especially when you need to eat more than normal to keep your production up). 

Breastfeeding was not the beautiful and natural bonding activity I had read about. It was hard. I had a hard time producing a decent supply for him; a prior breast reduction left me with a lot of scar tissue and less milk ducts than I was born with. My cesarean with subsequent pain meds also didn't help us any. With the aid of a lactation consultant I was able to produce enough milk to keep him exclusively breastfed. Our regime for the first month involved nursing, pumping immediately after and then syringe feeding the baby with the pumped milk. I also had to swap out the potent pain meds for some tylenol, because even though the hospital told me it wouldn't happen, he was clearly getting knocked out when he would nurse as the medication was making its way into my supply. 

I went back to work when he was only 10 weeks old. We really had only started having success breastfeeding a few weeks prior, so I was determined to keep my supply going while I was at work. This was not easy. My designated pumping spot was the office cafe, so I had to be sure I pumped before anyone started their lunch break, and couldn't pump again until after everyone had finished. On top of that, the door didn't have a lock, so I had to put a rolling cart in front of it to keep people from just walking in and seeing my nipples being distorted by the milking machine. Combine that with the fact that before or after I pumped, I got dirty looks about my time away from my desk (it's okay for smokers, not for breastfeeders), my supply was starting to take a dive. In order to keep up with the demand the baby had, I made sure I was also pumping after he went to bed, before I went to bed, and before I left for work in the morning. 

Fast forward a few months, baby was 7 months old and I left that job and got one with more flexibility. It was also around this time that I was fed up with still holding onto an extra 20lbs of baby weight. I decided to rejoin Weight Watchers (for what is probably the 5th time in my life) and drop some of it. I really thought I could balance cutting calories and keeping my milk supply up...I was delusional. Even though I was focused on eating healthy, nutrient filled food, the drop in calorie intake took its toll on my production. At this point baby was eating some mashed veggies, so I didn't think it was much of an issue. Then we went for his 9 month checkup, and when the nurse weighed him twice after checking his chart I knew, he hadn't gained any weight since his 8 month appointment. 

We were 9 months in, I had overcome so many hurdles, I was tired of the struggle, and I wanted my body back to myself. Though we knew that formula was full of crap we didn't particularly want in our child's system, my husband and I agreed that it was time to ween our little man. 

Our plan of action was pretty simple, I would nurse in the morning before breakfast, and then again before bed. Because little man was very interested in our food, we made sure we always had mashed veggies available for meal times, and then bottles would be formula. We did have a small stash of breastmilk in the freezer, but instead of using it all before moving to formula we decided to ration it so it would last longer. 

With baby 10 months old now, my job was sending me for a week long training in California. It was at this point that I went cold turkey on breastfeeding. The hubby and I figured it would probably be easiest to go cold turkey when I wasn't going to be around, so it's not like we were depriving him of nursing, it wasn't an option without me there. I was a little concerned that I would be dealing with with the pain of engorgement, or leaking out in front of my new colleagues, but it turns out my body was ready to be done. I didn't have any suffering at all, my boobs went back to normal status within the week. 

I know there are a lot of moms that are sad when they are done nursing their little ones. I was sad too, but only a little bit. I was sad that this meant that he was growing up, and sad that this was the first time in his life he didn't need me for nourishment. In all honesty, I was mostly relieved to be done with it. I no longer had to schedule my life around feeding schedules, or hook my boobs up to a pump to be milked like a cow. I was free to function as individual again, not always having a person or machine latched on to me. 
I'm glad that I breastfed for as long as I did, and I'm proud of myself for working as hard as I did in order to do it for so long... and I saved us a crap-ton of money, because formula is not cheap. 

Erica is a native Buffalonian (Go Bills!) now living just outside of Washington, DC in Silver Spring, MD. She’s a working mom and wife attempting to make it through the day without crying or murdering someone.  Her basic life necessities are Amazon Prime, screw top wine, coffee, and her DVR. If she’s not drinking and/or online shopping, she’s probably at the playground giving the stink eye to parents who look too well dressed to be at the playground.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

9 Tips for 9 Months

After reflecting on my pregnancy, I’ve compiled 9 tips to help you get through your 9 months of pregnancy as happy and healthy as possible. My suggestions come from my personal experience as a first time mom and my doctorate in child development.

In general, you’ll notice that my recommendations are based on a foundation of evolutionary theory, which guides the field of child development. Basically, I tried to avoid anything that wasn’t around during our development into Homo sapiens. My remedies were also chosen based on how long humans have been using them during pregnancy without incidence. Thus, you’ll notice lots of natural, homeopathic, and Eastern medicine advice.

When the natural, time and evolution tested treatments didn’t work, my Western medicine choices were ones that had been used the longest by preggos without incidence. My Western medicine choices, however, were kept to a minimum in terms of frequency and dosage (again, because of evolution and lack of experimental research due to ethics). I also avoided modern medical interventions as much as humanly possible during the first trimester because of the bajillion prenatal sensitive/critical periods. You'll find this advice timely given the mixed evidence surrounding using Zofran off-label for pregnancy sickness combined with the fact that pregnancy sickness is usually worst during the most vulnerable period for prenatal development.

Prenatal sensitive/critical periods.
1. Nausea: I was nauseated constantly from weeks 5 through 14 of my pregnancy. Despite the nausea, I expertly handled the situation and NEVER threw up.  My expertise was gained in college and graduate school via extensive experience with hangovers. Given that the first trimester of pregnancy basically felt like a 14-week hangover, I had that situation on lock-down. Here’s what worked for me:  
-Try to keep a little food in your tummy at all times. Protein (although probably absolutely disgusting to you early in pregnancy) helped knock my nausea level down a few notches. It didn’t make the nausea disappear, but it made it so I could at least shower and get some work done. I basically ate only eggs, mangos, and watermelon for the first three months.
-Get some food in your belly before you even get out of bed. My husband, God bless him, made me a plate of eggs and mangos and put them next to my pillow every day. I simply opened my swollen pregnant eyelids, ate, and waddled out of bed. 
-As long as I had a ginger candy or gum in my mouth, I didn’t feel like I was going to upchuck.

2. Get a Recliner: A comfortable recliner (preferably in front of a TV) will alleviate heartburn, leg swelling, crazy pregnancy snoring, and the discomfort associated with carrying a watermelon on your bladder. You will sleep here, nurse here, and hold fussy baby who won’t go the eff to sleep here. Thus, invest in a good one that will hold up through marathon breastfeeding sessions, rocking your newborn to sleep five times a day, and sick babies who will sleep only if snuggled on your neck. I particularly urge you to get a recliner that is free of stain-repellants and flame-retardants. Neither of these chemicals has received the amount or type of research that make me able to say whether they are safe for humans, let alone pregnant women and fetuses. More importantly, there’s a growing body of solidly conducted research that shows flame-retardants are detrimental for human development and human health. I had a hard time finding a company that made recliners without flame-retardants. You should have an easier time now that IKEA, Crate and Barrel, Room & Board, Pottery Barn, West Elm, La-Z-Boy, and Wal-Mart have stopped adding flame-retardants to their furniture. Make sure you check the label, which should indicate whether flame-retardants were added. If the tag doesn’t indicate as such, it’s from 2014 or earlier and likely has flame-retardants.

3. Supplements: You already know to take prenatal vitamins. You should also take fish oil that is certified free of toxins and contains as much DHA and EPA as you can find. If your vitamin D levels haven’t been checked, do it. You are probably low and should supplement.

4. Maternity Clothes: Only God knows why, but those who make maternity clothes have not sized the clothes so you can say to yourself, “I’m a medium not pregnant, so I should buy medium-sized maternity clothes.” I’m 100% positive that maternity clothes manufacturers take non-pregnant, regularly shaped mannequins and simply make the tummy of the garment more forgiving.  This means that your fat ass, thunder thighs, trunk legs, sausage arms, and porn star boobs will not fit into maternity clothes that the same “size” as your non-pregnant clothes. I got so frustrated that I decided not to buy maternity clothes. I simply bought XL winter leggings from American Apparel and wore my wrap dresses like blouses and my husband’s shirts. Eventually, however, I did find a maternity clothing company I liked. Pink Blush Maternity makes adorable pregnancy and nursing clothes that are affordable and mostly made in the USA. They also do a much better job of sizing clothes to accommodate your expanding overall size without making you feel like a walrus. The clothes also don’t really look very “maternity” and I still sometimes wear them because they are cute.

5. Massages: Get as many massages as you can afford. Not only do they alleviate swelling, pain, discomfort, and cortisol, they also have been shown to reduce the likelihood that your have a fussy, difficult, or irritable newborn.

6. Swelling: The recliner will help with swelling by elevating your feet. Exercise will help get fluids moving. Changing positions and moving around will also help. I highly recommend not taking long car trips (longer than 30 minutes). Every time I was in the car longer than 30 minutes, my ankles and feet had pitting edema (see picture). Most importantly, however, DRINK WATER! Drink at least a gallon a day.

Pitting edema resultant from a 1.5 hour car ride.
7. Weight Gain: I gained 60 pounds because I ate all the food and exercised 5(?) times. It was my first pregnancy and it took fertility treatments and 20 months to get me pregnant so I was going to enjoy it and do whatever I felt like. I also spent most of my free time justifying this behavior by finding people who assured me that they lost all 9,764 pounds of baby weight by breastfeeding. THIS DID NOT HAPPEN, PEOPLE. I lost 20 quick pounds after giving birth. Breastfeeding took off 15 pounds. The other 25 pounds I had to lose the hard way, which I called, “Don’t eat anything!” because that’s what it feels like and exercising more. Fifteen months after giving birth, I still have 10 pounds to lose. Looking back, I wish I’d stuffed myself with vegetables and treated myself with fruit instead of three pints of ice cream in one week and several instances of eating 6 donuts in one sitting. I wish I’d exercised more too. I share my regrets with you because I want to be perfectly honest, not because I’m trying to scare or shame you into eating better and exercising more. In the long term, however, eating better and exercising would have made my postpartum weight struggle and related body image issues a little easier.

8. People Are Rude: They will also annoy the shit out of you. They do not mean to annoy or offend you. They are trying to be nice, complimentary, or simply have an interaction with an adorably pregnant life-giving goddess. Except, sometimes people talk to you because they are unconsciously trying to make themselves feel better by judging you and your choices. These people need to be shut down. You need to come up with a way of handling them. My go-to way of getting people to leave me alone was to tell them with a super serious face and slight confusion: “I’m not pregnant.”

9. Opposite Reactions/Symptoms: Almost everything that happens to you during pregnancy could be the opposite of what people tell you to expect. For example, you could be STARVING the entire pregnancy or you could have no appetite at all. You could sleep all the time or you could have terrible insomnia. Your acne might disappear or it could become life threatening. You could be constipated or you could have the runs. This point also relates back to my 8th point that people are rude. You will inevitably say something that is happening to you, like you have already gained 35 pounds at 6 months, and someone will take the opportunity to tell you that she gained only 17 pounds while pregnant and left the hospital in jeans she wore before she was pregnant (SHUT UP, MOM!). People can be terrible at recognizing others’ needs for understanding and empathy, and what they do instead is use the opportunity to take the interaction over and make it all about them. These people were raised by parents who ignored their emotional needs and used leather belts to discipline them. Perhaps your pity for these people will keep you from slashing their tires.

Bonus Tip #10 (because by the time you are past your due date, you have entered your 10th month of pregnancy): When you are close to your due date, people will start asking you, “When are they going to induce you?” or “How long will they let you go?” These people should be murdered because they have forgotten that YOU are in charge of that decision. Just because your doctor keeps pressuring you to induce doesn’t mean you have to consent to it. You have the right to refuse medical interventions. These questions chip away at your autonomy and sense of agency. Feel free to tear into people who ask this question by telling them in no uncertain terms that this is your body and you will make that decision. Letting them know the error of their ways will make you feel better and more in charge. It will also serve as a PSA that will help change the culture of treating pregnant women like incompetent idiots. With regards to the fetus, the fetus is also yours and you are in charge of making decisions in his or her best interest. You are smart, capable, and the person who loves your fetus the most—remember this when you feel shamed, bullied, and ridiculed.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Reader Q: My Baby Thinks Throwing Toys on the Floor is Hilarious

How do I stop the vicious cycle of my baby throwing things on the ground and me picking them up times infinity because my baby thinks its hilarious? She cries when I don’t give it back.

 The answer to this one is pretty simple: Stop returning the items she throws on the ground. I understand that she cries when you don’t give it back, but so what? Have you ever done something that resulted in things not coming up in your favor and then felt sad or frustrated? What am I thinking? Of course you have—you are a parent. My point is that your baby crying isn’t a problem. It’s actually a completely normal and healthy reaction to frustration. Sometimes you have to learn lessons the hard way. Eventually, your baby will learn that throwing things on the floor means they are on the floor, but I suspect you already know this and your real concern is the baby’s crying. As such, I’m going to spend my time talking about the baby’s crying. Perhaps you are concerned that by not giving the toy back you are being insensitive to your baby’s signals. As long as you are not mean about not giving the toy back and do so as kindly and empathically as possible, you are not being insensitive.

This brings me to a critically important component of this situation. Being sensitive does not mean giving in to your child. In fact, being a pushover can be just as bad as being a bully or being cold and unsympathetic. Being sensitive means kindly explaining to your child: (a) the toy is on the floor,  (b) you aren’t going to pick it up, and (c) you understand that she is upset. You could also explain kindly how to fix the situation. Insensitive responses would be coldly ignoring the baby’s crying, teasing the baby, and telling the baby to stop crying (e.g., “Get over it,” “Hush!” or “Stop it.”).  This recommendation is simply based on the general advice that you need to teach your child that feelings are okay to have, they are normal, and they are manageable. The insensitive approach teaches your baby that emotions are not okay and they are scary.

You didn’t mention how old your baby is, but given my knowledge of babies, I’m guessing you have a toddler. Toddlers are COMPLETELY capable of learning associations between events. They can learn that throwing things on the ground either: (a) results in a hilarious game or (b) results in not having access to that object. I know for a fact that your baby is capable of learning because she has invented a hilarious throwing game. Given that you seem frustrated by this game, the only way out is to stop returning the object with kindness.

Another possibility is that you want your kid to learn that throwing is not okay. If that’s your goal, you may have to add a very brief (roughly a minute) time-out for your toddler when she throws objects. Kindly inform your toddler that throwing is not allowed and will result in time-outs. Do not give time outs for emotions, but rather, give time outs for misbehaving. Again, your toddler is completely capable of learning this boundary.  I recently had a similar situation in which my knowledge of kids collided head on with having an actual toddler. Frankie kept playing in the dog bowl and he thought that the resultant “No, no, no!” and subsequent chase away from the dog bowl was hilarious. After four time-outs within 18 hours, he quit playing in the dog bowl. In fact, four months later, he sometimes slowly walks by the dog bowl and shakes his head no. We did the same thing with outlets with the same outcome. #Winning

I want to take a moment to talk about the possibility that baby’s cries make you anxious or uncomfortable. If your parents responded to your cries with harsh demands that your crying cease or they coldly ignored most of your cries, then there is a strong possibility that babies crying makes your heart rate increase and panic start to set in.  If this is true, your parents taught you that crying is not okay, that it is scary, and it is unmanageable, which makes you anxious when baby cries. To override your anxious response, when the baby starts to cry, recognize your feelings of anxiety and discomfort, take a deep breath from your tummy (It’s really important that you breathe correctly, so read this to be sure.). Keep taking deep belly breaths until you can kindly respond to the baby. If you give the baby the thrown object upon the baby's cries, you are reinforcing yourself for playing the throwing game because you giving the toy back makes the baby stop crying which makes your anxiety attenuate. This game that you have learned also needs to stop, and unfortunately, it’s the harder game to win because it took years for you to get like that. It’s critically important that you deal with these issues, and I recommend consulting a good therapist who has a solid understanding of attachment theory to help you work through how your childhood is shaping your responses to your baby.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Another Open Letter to Alma College

Dear Alma College:
Recently, I expressed my opinion on Carson’s visit to Alma College. I’ve received several responses on the issue. Most have been supportive and encouraging. A few have been the voice of opposition. With one exception, my detractors have been men my father’s age who have expressed in one way or another that I should be a good little girl and keep my mouth shut—that’s never going to happen. I will not sit silently as I receive hate mail meant to terrorize me. I’m not going to be silenced like Alma College silenced its LGBTQIA and feminist Scots when they allowed Dr. Benjamin Carson to speak.

I treasure free speech and open dialogue. The College’s handling of Carson’s visit did not, in any way, encourage free speech and open dialogue. In fact, the situation actively discouraged it. Specifically, we were all forbidden to talk about Carson’s politics, including Carson himself. By having Carson speak, yet forbidding open dialogue to comply with FEC rules, the College became a wet blanket on the First Amendment. In other words, by having Carson speak under such restrictions, the College censored it’s own students, faculty, and staff. Censorship is not something I stand for as a professor. Censorship only prevents our students and future leaders from becoming thoughtful, analytical, and critical thinkers capable of making their own decisions and articulating their positions.

It’s worth taking a quick detour here to note that neither Carson nor the College held up their ends of the bargain. Carson did not hold up his end of this deal when he rallied the crowd with the clearly political statement that marriage is between a man and a woman. In addition, Alma College also faulted by allowing political questions at the end of the talk. The situation gave neither side justice.  

The College further became an impediment to our First Amendment rights when students were required to go to Carson’s talk. Not only did this situation serve as a roadblock to students exercising their right to free speech by boycotting the talk, it also created a situation in which many Scots were made to feel less than human. By making Carson’s talk a course requirement, LGBTQIA and feminist students were, in effect, forced to sit in a room and listen to a man say that marriage is between a man and a woman, yet they were forbidden from speaking out or questioning such a position.  To add insult to injury, these students also had to witness an auditorium full of people give Carson a standing ovation in response to his dehumanizing statement. As a developmental psychologist, I will tell you in no uncertain terms that these types of situations directly contribute to feelings of alienation and thoughts of suicide. As such, it is this choice that the College made that saddens me most and it is this situation in particular that led me to write my first open letter to Alma College demanding an apology and reparation. My position has not changed. The College should apologize for the hurt that it caused its LGBTQIA and feminist Scots, and a genuine effort to repair the relationships that it damaged is in order.

In closing, I’ll speak directly to my new “fan club.” You can threaten me, degrade me, attack my qualifications, and tattle on me all you want, but you will not bully me into submission. You might even be successful in your attempts to get me fired, but you will not rob me of my right to speak up when LGBTQIA and feminist Scots have been dehumanized and censored.

Dr. Brandi Stupica
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Alma College

Thursday, April 2, 2015

An Open Letter to Alma College

Dear Alma College:

Dr. Benjamin Carson’s visit to the College is over, and I’ve survived, but not without some bumps and bruises. His visit at the invitation of the College has left me feeling violated and abused.  My colleagues and I asked you politely several times (here and here, for example) not to provide a platform for a man who makes daily headlines for his hateful comments about the LGBTQIA community and feminists. You ignored us. You proudly and publicly invited him to campus. Somehow, you managed to escalate the hurt even further by cordially inviting me to lunch with Dr. Carson, hosted by Alma College’s Diversity and Inclusion Office.

My invitation to Dr. Carson’s lunch is a funny story: At first I accepted the invitation because I thought the Diversity and Inclusion Office was hosting a lunch about Dr. Carson’s visit. I thought, surely, that there was no way that the office in charge of promoting equality on campus would host a lunch with Dr. Carson. I sincerely thought the lunch (if it were about Dr. Carson’s visit) was the College’s way of trying to make amends for the wave of hurt and insult that followed on the tide of Dr. Carson’s visit. The day of the lunch, however, and much to my horror, I realized that the lunch was with Dr. Carson. I quickly rescinded my acceptance of the invitation after I realized my mistake because I choose not socialize with or give my precious time and resources away to people who publicly and brazenly spew hate for the people and the causes I love.

Before I start talking about my mistakes, however, let me first discuss the College’s mistakes. The College hosted Dr. Carson under the guise that we value tolerating opinions that are diverse from our own. In doing so, you stood on the throat of inclusion. You’ve left many of us feeling dismissed and disenfranchised. Your cowardly “fix” to the situation (i.e., demoting Dr. Carson from Honor’s Day speaker to a mere guest speaker and facilitating a Diversity Dialogue) was simply a dressed up way of “negotiating with terrorists” who adore a man threatening, with his run for political office, the livelihood and well-being of the LBGTQIA community and people who strive for the end of sexism and gender inequality. The College should have been brave and refused to dedicate time socializing with a person who hates homosexuality and feminism. You should have rescinded your invitation and taught our students a valuable lesson: The First Amendment does, indeed, guarantee everyone freedom of speech, but this freedom does not guarantee free speech without consequences. Sometimes the consequences of being a public bully are that people don’t want to hang out with you and they don’t invite you to come over and play (or in this case pay you to speak to their students). Instead, you punted and it landed on the noses of your LGBTQIA and feminist Scots.

Somehow, you made the situation infinitely worse, yet again, when some students were required to attend his talk as part of a course requirement. I understand that “Due to FEC rules Dr. Carson will be unable to discuss any political matters during his time here on Alma's campus, but will be happy to chat about his rich legacy as an accomplished neurosurgeon, author, and philanthropist” (Direct quote from my invitation to lunch with Carson). Your “compromise” didn’t make the situation any better. In fact, it merely added to the cowardice of the College’s reaction. Perhaps you need to read what you did in black and white: You invited someone with an apparent agenda to marginalize gay and feminist Scots and decided it would be okay as long as everyone promised not to bring up the pink elephant in the room. Shame on you.

Now, let me talk about my role in this disaster. I should have been more persistent and vocal. I should have organized a day without women. I should have rallied people to boycott the talk. Instead, I was passive. I was complicit. I’ve let my students down, especially those who may see me as a role model. Students, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I realize that many of you were hurt by Carson’s visit and I feel responsible because I should have done more. I should have protected you. I’ve learned my lesson about being complicit and quiet. I’ll never again stand on the sidelines while the College invites a bully to campus.

The damage is done, and I’m in my office licking my wounds. So, what’s to be done now? First, a public apology is in order. You’ve hurt many Scots with your actions. You should say you are sorry. Next, you should make it right. I suggest one way to make amends is to state publicly and in no uncertain terms that Alma College is an ally to the LGBTQIA community, that we support marriage equality, and that we’re feminist (Yes, you have to use the f-word.). Don’t use euphemisms in your statement like you’ve done in the past. Although I believe that you never intended to hurt anyone, good intentions and doing the right thing are different. It’s not too late to do the right thing.

Dr. Brandi Stupica
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Alma College

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fellow Professors: I’m Sick and It’s Your Fault

I’m writing this post through watery eyes while I sit sniffling on a bus with 28 of my colleagues heading to a meeting with the Board of Trustees. I’m mad, and I’m mad at you. I’m mad at you because you’re the reason I’m sick. I’m not mad at the dozens of sick students I’ve had in class this past week who got me sick. I’m not mad at the students, because it’s not the students’ fault. It’s your fault I’m sick, because you’ve created and perpetuated a culture that makes students feel like they have to come to class when they are sick.

You got me sick, because you get annoyed with your students when they’re sick. You whine when they miss your exams due to illness and you have to schedule a make-up exam. You’re put out by your students’ petty sniffles and sneezes. You have restrictive attendance policies that make students nervous about missing class. Some of your attendance policies make it clear that you think your students will take any opportunity to lie to you about their health and skip every class possible. Even if you don’t say it out-right, your students know you are vexed by their illnesses, so the students bend to the point of breaking in response to your annoyance and come to class sick. I’ve seen students sneeze and violently cough all over stacks of exams before they continue passing the stack to the end of the row—for this I blame you. These policies, both explicit and implicit, and the resultant student behavior are sick and need to change.

As a developmental psychologist, I question what we’re teaching our students and future workers about the importance of their own health. We should be teaching them that their well-being is their first priority—or at least more important than showing up on quiz day. Instead, we are teaching our students how to navigate the Protestant work ethic that so many of us eschewed by going into academia. We pride ourselves as inspiring change and progress, yet we act like The Establishment with our arcane attendance policies. We’re teaching them to prioritize someone else’s agenda over their own. We’re teaching them to go to work sick and save their sick days for vacation rather than demanding more annual leave from their employers. We’re teaching them to suffer. We’re punishing them for taking time to be well. Our inflexibility with our students’ illnesses is subjecting them to unnecessary stress, which is probably making them sicker.

Almost all of the major diseases that millions of Americans suffer from have been linked to stress. In other words, stress is killing us. The culture that we are creating in our colleges and universities is one that teaches students to be stressed out and sick. We’re setting them up for increased rates of depression, anxiety, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, insomnia, diabetes, obesity, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. We’re accelerating their rate of aging and sending them to early graves all because we implicitly expect them never to get sick and never inconvenience us by asking to take a make-up exam.

Please join me in my crusade to reduce our dependence on tissues and cold medicine by letting our students be sick in the comfort of their messy dorm rooms. Let’s start seeing them as innately motivated to learn like Piaget and Vygotsky before me and believing them when they say they’re ill. Together we can change our attendance policies to reflect our true values rather than reflecting how easily annoyed we are when our students ask for accommodations.