Noah Brier | September 10, 2019

Why is this interesting? - The Parenting/Health Picks Edition

On parenting, mental illness, and maternal care

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Noah here. Feedback from WITI readers is that they love the recommendations for longform pieces. We are listening. So, we are indulging your desires. Open some tabs, save to your Pocket or Instapaper and enjoy.

Why is this interesting?

Given our focus on interestingness over timeliness, I thought it might be fun to resurface some amazing articles from 2018 over a few editions. These come from my yearly round-up, which includes a few different categories that I drop my favorites into. For today I’m going to focus on health and parenting, where I highlighted three of my favorite pieces of longform writing last year.

The first is all about parenting. “The diabolical genius of the baby advice industry” plainly spells out how big of an industry parenting advice is, and how much its foundation is built on bullshit. The bit I remember best (also mentioned in WITI 6/18 - The Oldest Child Edition) is this aside about how statistically insignificant most baby advice really is:

(Parenting experts who are childless, such as the “queen of routine” Gina Ford, author of the unavoidable Contented Little Baby series, attract a lot of sharp words for it, but this seems unfair. Where Ford has direct experience of parenting none of the 130 million babies born on Earth each year, most gurus only have direct experience of parenting two or three babies, which isn’t much better as a sample size. The assumption that whatever worked for you will probably work for everyone, which is endemic in the self-help world, reaches an extreme in the pages of baby books.)

The other two are a lot more serious. First is an amazing piece from Guardian writer Hannah Jane Parkinson about her struggle with bipolar disorder. There’s something about reading an accomplished writer using her work to explain why her work is so hard to do that’s particularly impactful. The article’s title “It’s nothing like a broken leg” comes from this passage:

In the last few years I have lost count of the times mental illness has been compared to a broken leg. Mental illness is nothing like a broken leg.

In fairness, I have never broken my leg. Maybe having a broken leg does cause you to lash out at friends, undergo a sudden, terrifying shift in politics and personality, or lead to time slipping away like a Dali clock. Maybe a broken leg makes you doubt what you see in the mirror, or makes you high enough to mistake car bonnets for stepping stones (difficult, with a broken leg) and a thousand other things.

I would also highly recommend this short piece from Parkinson published at the end of December about her riding buses around London in the middle of the night when things get particularly bad.

Finally, my choice for the best piece in this category was the New York Times Magazine story “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis.” The article shocked and saddened me, spelling out just how inadequate the care is for pregnant black mothers. Education and income, as the article explains, doesn’t explain the difference. “In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.” What has most stuck in my mind, though, is this story about how institutional racism manifests itself as obviously bad science amongst doctors:

In 2016, a study by researchers at the University of Virginia examined why African-American patients receive inadequate treatment for pain not only compared with white patients but also relative to World Health Organization guidelines. The study found that white medical students and residents often believed incorrect and sometimes “fantastical” biological fallacies about racial differences in patients. For example, many thought, falsely, that blacks have less-sensitive nerve endings than whites, that black people’s blood coagulates more quickly and that black skin is thicker than white. For these assumptions, researchers blamed not individual prejudice but deeply ingrained unconscious stereotypes about people of color, as well as physicians’ difficulty in empathizing with patients whose experiences differ from their own. In specific research regarding childbirth, the Listening to Mothers Survey III found that one in five black and Hispanic women reported poor treatment from hospital staff because of race, ethnicity, cultural background or language, compared with 8 percent of white mothers.

Go read the whole thing and when you’re done please donate to the Birthmark Doula Collective who are trying to help change the care black mothers receive. (NRB)

Street Art of the Day:

My Modern Met highlighted this piece from Portuguese graffiti artist Vile. “Vile uses his painted letters to “expose” the decaying room within and selects his paint colors based on the actual hues found within the abandoned space. With the light constantly changing throughout the day and transforming the colors, Vile’s selection process is no easy feat.” (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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