Looking Forward , Sarah Verbiest, founder of Every Woman Southeast, reflects on the new year and what it holds.
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duck with santa hatOver the years, I’ve had lots of people ask me how I manage to “do it all”. And I certainly have asked other women the same question. While the smile and shrug response is the quickest rejoinder, I think that we need to be more transparent with each other and either admit that we don’t actually always “do it all” particularly well and/or share a fuller response as to how we do pull it off sometimes.

So in all disclosure, I was very fortunate to have found an amazing partner who believes our home/family responsibilities are to be shared. We have complimentary skill sets, which help us juggle. He is self-employed which gives him the opportunity to flex work into the weekend so he can help with things like picking up a sick kid early from school or dropping off a forgotten backpack. He makes the kids’ lunches, cooks dinner, and does all the grocery shopping and the majority of school pick-ups. Having a partner who truly has my back and supports my career is how I am able to do so much. Gloria Steinem teaches that feminism must include support for men as they take on roles in families that may have traditionally fallen in the “nurturing” category. She is completely right on that point in my opinion.

For my part, I may work 60 hours a week but the academic environment also allows flexibility so I don’t have to be at my desk in order to be working. This means that I too can be flexible to help out at my son’s school sometimes or leave work early for a PTA meeting, then pick up my laptop later in the evening. It may provide an opportunity to work all the time but it also gives me a chance to juggle more efficiently. I also will admit that my car is a mess. I often freak out on Sunday nights when I look at the week ahead. At times, I don’t keep up with my kids on social media as I should, or overlook dust for a very long period of time. I can get overly list oriented and I have been known to drink a glass of wine when I have to help my son (who has ADD) with his homework in the evening.

I find the most solace from women friends who can also admit that they are holding it together with strings sometimes. It is the rare day that I’m good at pulling off all my different roles well. Julie Zaharatos, EWSE Leadership Team member, reflected that she and her friends often feel like they are ducks. They may look calm on the surface, but underneath the water they are furiously peddling their feet to stay afloat. At the end of the day, knowing that I did my best is what matters to me. As we begin this busy time of festivities and expectations, I hope we all can embrace the mess, mania and magic of the season. And also maybe turn off email and sleep in!

Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH is the Director and Co-Founder of the Every Woman Southeast Coalition. She is also the Executive Director for UNC Center for Maternal and Infant Health and the CDC Senior Consultant to the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative.

During my teenage years, my girlfriends always provided good advice. From who to date and what outfit to wear to school, to what colleges to apply to and how to bargain shop. They did not have a say, however, in my figuring out when to have children. Planning for my reproductive future was always a tricky subject. Between talks with my dad about the consequences of being a teen mom, and the dirty looks given to my fellow students who got pregnant as teenagers, it was a distant goal and definitely not something I intended at a young age. However, there is far more talk today about reproductive life planning, especially among young adults.

RLP-Infographic-WebReproductive life planning is a readiness tool to help women and men of reproductive age develop and work towards their personal goals for having or not having children. Almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned – in North Carolina that is more than 50,000 pregnancies each year. A baby’s vital organs and tissues develop very early in pregnancy, often times even before a woman knows that she is pregnant. The healthier a woman is before pregnancy, the more likely she and her baby are to be healthy during and after pregnancy.

Research has shown that nearly 50% of all medical conditions that complicate pregnancies and negatively impact birth outcomes can be traced back to the preconception period. Since women are likely to go to their friends for advice (like me), experts have determined that providers and consumers should become knowledgeable about reproductive life planning. For instance, providers are now encouraged to ask one key question during each patient encounter, “Are you planning to become pregnant in the next year?” And there are more programs than ever before like the North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign, which educates consumers and providers on counseling strategies that can be used to start the reproductive life planning dialogue.

Planning how many children you want (if any at all), or when you intend to have them, may seem far-fetched. In reality though, there is so much planning that happens day to day, why not consider your reproductive future? You may feel that these decisions are beyond your immediate reach or that you have little control over this aspect of your life. Trust me, time passes quickly and before you know it, if you are a sexually active individual, you could become a parent. So why not plan for it (or plan to delay it) until you and your partner are ready? Your plan could help you consider what form of birth control to use or whether to wait until marriage before having sex. Think of it as your overall guidepost to help you spell out your life goals. It could help you answer questions like what are your plans for school or career, and your plan for finding a life partner. And, how would having children fit into those plans?

Of course, we all know that plans can change. Your reproductive life plan can change too, however it is never too late to start planning or to modify the plan you have. Even if you have children already, your plan can help you think about any other future children you might want. You can also speak with your health provider about how early you can start to try to get pregnant again. Research has shown that waiting 18-23 months is the safest interval between births. Given the high numbers of unintentional pregnancies and the related complications during pregnancy and beyond, health providers are now having more of these conversations with their patients.

Had someone given me a reproductive life planning guide when I was younger, or even asked me about my life plans, I would have paid attention. If nothing else, I definitely would have passed it along to my girlfriends so that I could finally be the one to offer up some sound advice!

Re-Posted Blog from Every Woman North Carolina.

Kweli Rashied-Henry, MPH is the North Carolina March of Dimes State Coordinator for the NC Preconception Health Campaign, and a Leadership Team member for the Every Woman Southeast Coalition.
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