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Goodbye Blogger...


Within an hour, if all goes well, the domain http://www.leavethelightson.info/ should point to the brand-new site. The Blogger posts will remain at http://ginkgo100.blogspot.com. If there is a particular post you would like to see transferred to the new site, please let me know! Some of the best posts have already been moved over.

The RSS feed may do strange things until the transfer is complete. Please have patience with the technical issues. And if you are using a feed reader or e-mail subscription, make sure you click through and check out the new site! Contact me if you would like to contribute as a writer. Also please let me know about bugs, suggestions, problems, etc. Thank you to my wonderful readers!


Leave the Lights On is on Twitter!


I just started a Twitter account for this site, LTLOtweets. Unfortunately, the username "leavethelightson" was one character too long. I'll use this account for updates on new posts and site news. Also, my personal Twitter account is ginkgo100.


Women's Health and Other Shameful Women's Magazines

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The blog World of Psychology published an excellent post by Margarita Tartakovsky that examined an atrocious "editor's letter" that recently appeared in the chick mag Women's Health. The letter, by editor-in-chief Michele Promaulayko, was an abysmal failure in women's ongoing search for dignity in a world that demeans us at every turn. You can go over to World of Psychology to read the heinous text, then the five insightful criticisms of it made by Ms. Tartakovsky.

I cannot contain within myself a sixth criticism that was no doubt omitted only due to lack of space (really, a lot more than just five criticisms could have been made, but that would have required a whole series of blog posts). Ms. Promaulayko boasts, "We came up with a plan to help you look great naked—or in a barely there swimsuit."

Why exactly, Ms. Promaulayko, should women be so eager to parade around naked—or nearly so—in public? You did not say "nude," which implies a certain dignity in the natural human form—you said "naked," which is a much more sordidly suggestive word. Why should we do this? Because modern women should have no self-respect whatsoever? Because we should have no sense of modesty, nor view our bodies as temples? Is it because you feel it's important to women's health to manipulate and frustrate men (not to mention, the Catholic in me must add, tempt them to sin), or to to play petty games of intimidation with other women? Really, Ms. Promaulayko.

And no, the answer is not "it's encoded in our DNA."


Natural infertility treatments v. the IVF band-aid

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In a culture that promotes alternative medicine, natural childbirth, and sometimes-bizarre dietary supplements, it seems strange that natural infertility treatments are not well-known. A natural infertility treatment is not necessarily alternative medicine, but rather a conventional-medicine approach that seeks to cure the underlying cause of infertility, allowing natural conception. It stands in contrast to assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is stick a "band-aid" solution that does nothing about the underlying causes of fertility problems.

Why is assisted reproductive technology the current standard of care for infertility? If you type "fertility treatment" into Wikipedia, you are redirected to "assisted reproductive technology." Wikipedia, being written collaboratively by people around the world, reflects the biases and attitudes of those people. Fertility drugs and IVF are what people think of when they think about infertility treatments.

I think the reason IVF is so popular — despite its astronomical cost and mediocre success rate (only 1 in 3 attempts results in a live birth) — is because it is a "magic pill" approach. It is a silver bullet, a straightforward process left in the hands of doctors. Natural fertility treatments are more complicated because they start with diagnostics, rather than jumping immediately into treatment.

Among the diagnostic steps used in natural fertility treatments for women are ultrasound, laparoscopy, and sonohysterosalpingography (SHSG) to look for structural problems in the reproductive organs, as well as hormone level checks. During her menstrual cycle, a woman's estrogen and progesterone levels can change significantly in as little as 24 hours, so daily or every-other-day tests are best. Any underlying disease or structural abnormality that is uncovered is treated to increase the odds of a naturally conceived pregnancy.

How successful is natural infertility treatment compared to assisted reproductive technology? IVF has a maximum success (pregnancy) rate well under 50% (for 27-year-old women), with an average success rate closer to 35%. Statistics for live birth are even worse, with an average of only about 27% of attempts resulting in live births. That means that an average of 8% of attempts result in a miscarriage or stillbirth (or, if the fetus is imperfect, abortion). The poor success rates reflect, in part, the fact that over 50% of embryos conceived in vitro have chromosomal abnormalities, as reported by Rebecca Taylor of Mary Meets Dolly. Natural fertility technology also has treatments for male infertility.

According to the Pope Paul VI institute, a major proponent of natural infertility treatment, so-called "natural reproductive technology" has higher success rates than IVF for various infertility diagnoses. These results are both statistically significant (i.e. not due to chance) and personally significant (i.e. they're a lot higher). For example, for a diagnosis of endometriosis, IVF has a success (pregnancy) rate of about 21%, while natural reproductive treatment has a success rate of about 57%. It reports a 37% success rate for tubal occlusion compared to IVF's 27%. The whopping 82% success rate reported for natural fertility treatment of anovulation (not producing mature eggs) may be due to straightforward treatment of the most obvious cause of anovulation, hormonal insufficiency (although I am speculating here).

I find it amazing that natural treatments for infertility are not better-known, even though they are more effective than current approaches. That's right: for infertile couples, it is more effective to try to conceive a baby the way nature always has than to inject a sperm into an egg under a microscope, with less chance of complications like chromosomal abnormalities and multiple gestation. Who wouldn't choose that first, if they knew it was available?

Image credit: "Test tube baby" by Brendan Dolan-Gavitt. (CC) Some rights reserved.


Are parents selfish if they have a big family?

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Why do people think it's selfish to have lots of kids?

Recently there was a bit of a dust-up in the combox at my sister's blog, Mama Says*, in which one commenter in particular charged that only selfish parents have big families. Having lots of kids (eight, in this case) allegedly is harmful to the older children in the family.

This is a mainstream attitude in modern American culture. Big families are viewed with scorn and derision, the parents accused of being selfish because either (a) they are dividing their love and attention among too many kids, (b) they are contributing to overpopulation, (c) they are using more than their share of natural resources, or (d) all of the above.

As a cradle Catholic, I have known a lot of big families. I even grew up in one, as the oldest of a brood of eight. But I have yet to meet a big family with selfish parents who are focused on fulfilling their own desires at the expense of either their family or our larger society.

I think this attitude stems from the discomfort people feel when they see large families. They cannot imagine themselves having a baseball team's worth of children, so they feel subconsciously threatened when they see one. That statement is not intended to be judgmental; it's human nature, and everyone experiences feelings like that when confronted with behavior that falls outside of social norms.

Why it is not selfish to have a big family

Let me present a picture of a typical big family. This fictional family has two parents and a startling number of kids. They have a strong religious faith, perhaps Catholic or Mormon or Evangelical. The parents at times feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of people underfoot. They know they could easily take steps to prevent themselves from having so many children, but they don't, because they have decided to trust God. They see each kid as a gift and have faith that God will provide for the kids he gave them. This is not a decision made lightly. This is radical, and they know it.

All the members of the family make a lot of sacrifices in order to follow this path. Maybe the kids aren't in as many organized activities, sports, and lessons as most of their peers. Maybe they go to restaurants less often, take fewer vacations, and share bedrooms. Maybe the younger kids rarely see a new article of clothing, being clad instead in hand-me-downs.

But they also have a lot of privileges that their peers will never know. They are never lonely. Their house is the neighborhood social hub for the 18-and-under set. They probably have a groupie or two, lonely children with no siblings whose parents work all day. They have a precocious understanding of the important things in life, like love and sharing. The older ones help their parents and learn child-care skills. They all learn practical life skills by doing chores, such as how to do laundry. They see what it is like to really live according to one's ideals and values.

They never have to hear their parents say that children are burdens, or that they are "so glad" they're done having kids.

And above all, they never, ever feel unloved. Big families like to repeat the saying that "love doesn't divide, it multiplies." It's more than a cute saying, it's literally true: the kids all love each other. Each new baby has a live-in fan club. Each older child has a crowd of younger devotees who think he is the coolest person on the planet.

The truth is, every parent of a crowd has no choice but to give of the deepest part of themselves, every single day. They are practically forced to be unselfish.

Selfish parents could not do this job.

* (cough cough) Which I helped design, by the way (ahem) not that I'm boasting or anything, but I have mad skillz don't I? Nevermind that I didn't do most of the work.


7 Quick Takes 2: Scientist Christians, a blessed Mythbusters event, and more

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I'm mulling over a move from Blogger to my own site. I know what content-management system I'll use (and it's not Wordpress), have hosting already, and really just have to bite the bullet and start setting it up. I'd like to make this a science-and-faith site, not just a science-and-faith blog. The new site will probably have separate feeds for different topics (like science, Catholicism, health), a combined feed if you want all the posts in one place, and ... a forum! I might be looking for new writers or guest posters, too. I am open to feedback about what changes you might like to see here.

This Sunday is Pentecost, the day the terrified and confused apostles were sent out from the second-floor room where they hid after Christ ascended into heaven. The Bible records that the Holy Spirit provided "tongues of fire" that let them be understood to speakers of all languages. Kind of makes Pentecostal "speaking in tongues" (untranslatable tongues, that is) pale by comparison. Wear red to church!

Father Alberto Cutie is not cute. After being caught fooling around with a woman on a public beach, he was put on leave by Archbishop of Miami John C. Favalora. That was scarcely three weeks ago, and now he has already decided to convert to Episcopalianism so he can "be with the woman he loves." (Also, as he did not say in the statement, so he can break his vows without being chastised.) Presumably, he chose his new faith so he can still be a priest, since as a Catholic, he can be married or be a priest, but not both. What kind of priestly formation did Fr. Cutie go through, that he finds switching faiths as easy as buying a new car or repainting a house? Three weeks?

The acting director of the National Institutes of Health is Dr. Raynard Kington, but some (unfortunately not very current) rumors hint that Dr. Francis Collins is a "top contender" for the permanent spot. Dr. Collins is the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. H/T to Rebecca Taylor of Mary Meets Dolly.

My "Animals and Catholics" series will continue. Really. It's just been a distracting month, what with National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week and everything else. Stay tuned.

Tropical depressions are forming in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, there was a bumper crop of named storms after two lean years, though not as many as in 2005. Let us pray that this year resembles more 2006 and 2007. After all, if another storm hits southeast Texas, this blog will suffer. I had a very hard time posting last year when the power went out!

Kari Byron is pregnant. You don't know who Kari Byron is? Then you lose geek points! She's the red-headed chick on Mythbusters. The growing belly is growing obvious on the show, and she's been sitting out on the bungee jumping and skydiving. I'm just waiting for her to bust the myth that what you crave during pregnancy will tell you whether it's a boy or a girl. (I thought they had a chromosome for that.)