One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mobile device apps for contraction monitoring

In this post, I review some apps I found for mobile devices for monitoring contractions during labor. Please note that I did not use these during labor. In fact, I did not use these at all at any point.

Name: Contraction Calc (US$2.99)
Platform: Blackberry
Claim to fame: Has a Contraction Alert Notification feature that reminds you to go to the hospital. Because when in labor, sometimes you forget to have your baby.

Name: Contraction Master (US$0.99) by Bill Snebold Design
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: It has nearly 3,000 fans on Facebook, so it must be good!

Name: Labor and Contraction Timer (Free) by Michael Kale of Earlybird Software
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch, Android
Claim to fame: With a 20-minute average, you can see the current contraction trend. That is, when contractions are 5 minutes apart, you can see the average of the last four contractions, which, if you have taken any kind of statistics, you know is totally meaningless.

Name: Contraction Timer (Free) by Deltaworks
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: Oh, where to start. Exhibit A (not shown): The background for the application is pink and white, vertically striped, with stripes of varying widths. No, no, no. Horizontal stripes are used in art to convey calmness, relaxation, peace, and strength. Vertical stripes portray energy, and height. Deltaworks should ask itself: Do I want to energize and possibly annoy the woman in labor (or her partner), or soothe her? Let's move on to Exhibit B. Check out this graph of duration of contractions and interval between contractions, and recall that stats class again. Would you use a bar graph to represent these things? A bar graph suggests volume or quantity. The graphing style here is inappropriate.

Name: NineMonths - Pregnancy Contraction Timer and Kick Count ($0.99) by Philip Defatta of Useful Mobile Apps
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: Maybe I'm cynical. Maybe I'm the only one. The lack of apostrophe bothers me now, and I'm not even in labor. When I was in labor, every little thing that could possibly bother me normally was magnified a hundred-fold, so I could easily see myself throwing the iPhone across the room after timing just a couple contractions with NineMonths, simply because of that missing apostrophe. The baby movement meter (Kick Count) also sports some fantastic grammar problems: "You can reset and repeat this test according your physician instructions."

Next, the user is presented with three options to describe the contractions. This is a neat idea. However --- am I nuts? --- I can think of much more colorful adjectives to describe labor contractions than "Firm," "Moderate," and "Mild." Which one is the strongest, most intense of those three? "Firm" is a handshake. "Moderate" is middle-of-the-road. "Mild" is a salsa flavor. Although possibly good for early labor, not one of those is descriptive enough of contractions in active labor. A suggestion: Have the adjectives change intensity as contractions are seen to get closer together. Early labor adjectives can be light, medium, and intense. As labor progresses, replace the adjectives with more emotional ones. Gentle, manageable, and unpleasant. I don't know.
Another alternative is the Likert-like scale. If the app is already treating the user as a participant, ask questions.

Please read the statement and select from the following options.
This contraction was manageable.
  • Strongly disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Agree
  • Strongly agree

On the other hand, this is the only app I have seen that uses a fun font, reminding the laboring mom that, indeed, a baby is coming.

Name: Contraction Tracker USA ($1.99) by hexaZen
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: Pretty neat tracking and graphing capabilities. It shows the stage of labor, and shows how long the laboring mom has been in each stage. On the other hand, mom is the one that has to select the stage of labor, and she is unlikely to look positively on selecting Transition from Active Labor when she gets there. Also, this app is much more interesting if a complete picture of each contraction is shown. Unfortunately, tracking each contraction is as tedious as it is unnecessary (and, indeed, has been shown to be medically and emotionally detrimental).

Name: Contraction (Free) by Eric Viegas of
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: It's simple. In fact, it's text-only. Nothing like reading a wall of text when you're in labor!

Name: Contraction Timer and Fetal Kick Counter ($0.99) by Quality Work Software, LLC
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: I hope you like Comic Sans. The whole app is covered with it! Comic Sans is like a blackberry bush that never dies, but the thorns are scary clowns from 1994 that make you cry. Remember that apostrophe? "When a Contraction Ends, Rank It's Strength." Don't worry, mom-to-be: contractions are statistically proven to be less painful when viewed with Comic Sans.
This app provides tons of information, including perceived contraction strength, interval, and duration, as well as the trend among the last three contractions. If you are prone to worrying, there is a myriad of information about the progress of your labor about which you can worry between contractions.

Name: Baby Time - Pregnancy Contraction Timer ($3.99) by Slave Turtle, LLC
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Claim to fame: The front screen (with the timer) shows a creepy lady grinning from ear to ear. If I were in the throes of labor, I may punch her. Now, check out the reviews. If you accidentally start the timer, you're stuck with a contraction in your history that will throw off your data, unless you're cool with deleting your entire log. On the other hand, this app has information about contraction patterns and stages of labor, and the analysis tool takes your charted contractions and tells you which stage of labor you are most likely experiencing, based on the last seven contractions. Contraction intensity is self-reported on a slider, which, because it is a continuous measurement, has the benefit of being as precise as you like. The endpoints of the slider are adaptive, as they are part of the mom's (or her partner's, if he is the one charting the contractions) mental model, and their meanings can change over time.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Chilly support at all-women conference

What follows is a letter to the CRA-W Grad Cohort staff and organizers about my experiences at the CRA-W Grad Cohort in 2008 and 2009.

I am writing this letter because my experience at CRA-W Grad Cohort in 2009 still weighs heavily on my mind, and I would like to share my thoughts with you in the hopes that other women will not have my experience. At the end of this letter, I include constructive recommendations for future grad cohorts.

I will preface this letter by saying that my first CRA-W Grad Cohort in 2008 was an amazing experience. As a result of attending, I switched to the Ph. D. program; I met several women that still advise and mentor me to this day; I felt empowered as a woman and as a student to boundlessly pursue academia. It was with great excitement and purpose that I applied to attend CRA-W Grad Cohort again the following year.

In 2009, I attended CRA-W Grad Cohort for the second time as a second-year grad student, and a brand-new mom. The conference was an out-of-town Friday-Saturday endeavor and I brought with me my six-week-old infant son. Because of the conference's proximity to my university, and in order to cut costs for CRA-W, who provided generous scholarships to all its attendees --- me included --- I did not stay at the hotel, but instead stayed with family that lived in town.

There was no real breastfeeding room set up, and certainly no child care, and I was the only one who had brought a child to the conference. I contacted one of the organizers in advance and mentioned that I would need a space to breastfeed and/or pump, and she said I could use her hotel room. (I did not; instead I breastfed in the back of the seminar rooms and in the hallways -- anywhere the baby wanted to nurse. Because, after all, aside from the conference staff, we were all women, so I was not concerned about societal pressures to hide my infant eating.)

The baby slept through the morning seminars in my front-pack like a champ. However, after lunch, he became less patient and more fussy. It was a challenge... but we would leave the seminar room when he started crying, and everywhere I looked I got encouraging, understanding, and kind smiles. Several women approached me during the conference curiously, and asked questions about having a child in graduate school ("There is never a great time," I replied, "but it's always a good time"). Some women who had had a child came to speak to me, and gave useful advice from their own experience. Not one conference attendee, including both students and professors, said anything negative.

In lectures, I did everything possible to keep distractions to a minimum. I sat in the back or near the door. If leaving in the middle of a lecture, I would approach the speaker later and apologize. She would say, "Oh, don't worry, honey, I have one at home. I think it's great you brought your little one!"

Near the end of the first day, the organizer, the one that had offered me her hotel room earlier, came up to me as I was nursing my grumpy baby outside the main lecture hall.

"Do you plan to bring your baby tomorrow too?" she asked.
"Yes," I answered. "Why?"
"Oh..." she said, "one of the other organizers was wondering. They find it kind of disturbing to have a baby here."
"He's just six weeks old," I said. "I don't have anywhere else to leave him."
(There was a pause as I died a little on the inside.)
"Well, it's OK, don't worry about it. It's fine." She said, blushing.
"I'm sorry," I stammered. "There is no other way."

She went away and chatted with the other organizers, and for the first time at any Grad Cohort, I felt terribly alone and awfully unsupported.

I have been thinking about this encounter for a long time. I wish I could have said something more. Something about how we as women should support one another, and how this support and encouragement is exactly the reason I came here with a baby. The glass ceiling is enough to struggle against; we should not bring each other down as well.

Life does not end when you have a baby. It is unfair to assume that graduate student women that have a baby either stop coming to these kind of events, or find offsite child care for their too-young infants. When women stop attending events, and stop doing their job as graduate students and as women in industry, they admit defeat. They set back years of work that other women have undertaken that would enable them to continue their career, despite personal setbacks and family situations. On the other hand, offsite child care for a six-week-old undermines the breastfeeding relationship between mother and child, which is, at times (including for me, at the time), painstakingly difficult to establish.

I came to the event expecting unilateral support from the other women (which I received, except for this one case). I used the baby as an icebreaker, because graduate student women frequently have questions about starting a family.

Instead of feeling empowered as a new mom and a continuing student, I left feeling undersupported and underrepresented. I felt like a minority, and like I nearly was asked to leave. Unfortunately, instead of remembering the multitude of positive encounters, I remember this one best.

In fact, many women are pressured by society --- and, unfortunately, by family and friends --- to give up their education, career, and accomplishments, even before they have children; the prime childbearing age is the same age at which women can make the most professional progress in life. Women need support from each other before, during, and after this critical time in their lives. Children are not incompatible with academia and professional careers. Graduate students with children are particularly at a disadvantage because university parental leave policies for employees do not apply to them.

I recommend careful consideration for women in the future. I recommend encouraging graduate students (and faculty, and other attendees) who are also new mothers to attend CRA-W Grad Cohort and other events by providing a breastfeeding room, providing an on-site child care option, and, most importantly, providing positive reinforcement to continue in academia. I recommend a positive attitude towards children in an academic environment. I recommend listening to the mothers, and listening to the participants, and making it easier for women with children in general and newborns in particular to attend CRA-W Grad Cohort in the future.

I wish the CRA-W Grad Cohort program luck in the future.

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