Like a Pill (#208)

I had headaches most of my childhood. Maybe it was my poor eyesight. Maybe it was bad nutrition. Maybe it was the stress of divorces, remarrying parents, and more siblings. I tried all the drugs in various parents’ medicine cabinets, to no avail. I learned to power through head-pounding misery.

I worked as a cashier in high school. An assistant manager noticed one night that I was more sullen than usual. She asked if I was okay. I explained that I had a headache.

She said, “I have something that will fix that right up.”

“It won’t work,” I told her. “I’ve tried aspirin, Tylenol, Excedrin. Nothing helps.”

“Give it a shot,” she said, handing me a maroonish, brownish pill with “Advil” written on it.

Twenty minutes later, my headache was gone. I turned cartwheels and called it a miracle.

I’ve worshipped at the altar of Advil ever since. Or at least until the generic version of ibuprofen came out, because that is way cheaper. If I feel a headache coming on and I can get to ibuprofen fast enough, I can prevent migraines, even the ones with nausea and stabbing pain in my eye.

I carry a bottle in my purse, my gym bag, and my backpack. I’ve taken it for the flu and torn muscles. Ibuprofen was the only pain reliever that made menstrual cramps bearable until I went on birth control pills in my twenties.

But you know what? When you’re trying to get pregnant, ibuprofen is forbidden. Early in pregnancy, it can cause a miscarriage. Later, a fetal heart defect.

When my gynecologist broke the news, I let out an involuntary moan. Okay, maybe it was more like a loud shriek. A nurse poked her head into the room to ask if everything was okay.

“NO!” I howled. “The mean doctor says I can’t take ibuprofen while trying to get pregnant or being pregnant! And it’s the only thing that works!”

The nurse clucked sympathetically and left.

“You can take Tylenol,” the doctor said.

“Oh, yay,” I told her. “I’ll take it with some fairy dust and foo cha tea and I’m sure any headache will disappear immediately.”

“Some of my clients swear by acupuncture,” she offered.

“That’ll go great with my vasovagal response to needles,” I shot back. “We’ll get to spend a lot of quality time together in the Emergency Room after I pass out.”

“Essential oils—”

“Essentially useless!”

“Then you’re down to icepacks and moist heat on your forehead. Good luck and take your prenatal vitamins.”


My luck lasted three weeks.

I missed my ibuprofen the day after a grueling volleyball tournament, but the hot tub at the Y and some stretching got me through.

When a loose pit bull mix went after my dogs on a walk, I got knocked down and dragged before my ferocious Fey sent him on his way (with scabs). I pined for my ibuprofen that afternoon as I covered my bruises with ice packs.

Then came the evening when my forehead started to throb. My stomach grew queasy. The pain spread over my head, down to my neck. I lay in a dark room for a while before crawling to the bathroom.

“Want me to get anything?” Andy called out. “Some ice?”

After I finished retching, I weakly called back, “A gun. So you can shoot me.”

Bastard only brought me a pillow and a blanket, though.

I fell asleep some time before dawn, and woke up pain-free.

I repeatedly congratulated myself on surviving a migraine without ibuprofen throughout the day.

The next day I got my period.

And I cursed. I could have taken ibuprofen and spared myself all that misery because there was no fetus in danger of being miscarried, damn it.

I called Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and bitched. “I can’t believe it. I was so sure I’d get pregnant right away!”

“You might be lucky you didn’t. There’s no official stats on it, but when I was working my OB rotation, this one super experienced obstetrician talked about how she’d just seen too many weird pregnancies with multiple embryos and complications when her patients got pregnant on their first cycle after going off the pill. She always advised at least one regular menstrual cycle before attempting to get pregnant.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that.”

“It’s just anecdotal,” Dr. Sis said. “It’s not like there’s any research to back it up.” Dr. Sis is a mega-fan of peer-reviewed studies and has killed no small number of mice in her own research. “But I found it moderately interesting. And hey, how are you enjoying your first period off the pill?”

“Oh, it’s fabulous.”


“Of course not, Dr. Sadist! It’s come back with interest or a vengeance. I felt like there was a knife in my gut and now I’m bleeding like there’s a knife in my gut.”

“You don’t sound that bad.”

“Of course not,” I told her.

“Because I already took four ibuprofen.”

Spun (#206)

You may have noticed some outrage on my page these days. And those are only the public messages, not the private ones. Some people are seriously pissed at me for writing posts that do not laud childbearing.

To which I say, why? Why is it so important that we revere pregnancy and procreation?

I’m gonna go with the marketing of Big Religion. Once birth control went mainstream, women suddenly had the option of not spending their lives trapped in an endless cycle of what The Women’s Room termed “[baby] shit and string beans.” More and more women saw they’d been denied the opportunities of their male counterparts. They got angry. They demanded the pill and equal rights.

Big Religion pushed back, utilizing Christian conservatives. Religious types blasted feminists as harlots and undesirables, while praising traditional, stay-at-home mothers. Conservatives labeled women shrill. Ball-busters. And don’t think this ended in the 1970s. Rush Limbaugh is still obsessed with Hillary Rodham Clinton, mocking her 70s pants, hair, and glasses this century.

Much of America couldn’t get past the avalanche of conservative spin. The Bible Belt certainly couldn’t. Hillary Rodham took Bill Clinton’s last name. She ditched the glasses, dyed her hair blonde, and traded in her pants for pink suits with skirts.

It worked. Arkansas embraced her. America embraced her.

And Hillary bided her time until she thought America had evolved enough to accept a strong woman in pants.

Turns out, we hadn’t. 53% of white women voters went for Trump instead. A guy who bragged about assaulting women.

Last week, 63% of white women in Alabama went for alleged child molester Roy Moore. Were we going backwards or what?

Not all of us. If you break down the numbers, those women think of themselves as Evangelical Christians. The same group that went for Trump. How can two such sinful men get so much of the so-called Christian vote?

Religious spin, of course. (Racism, too, but that’s another post.) The same Big Religious Patriarchy that went all in on feminist harlots went all in on abortion. They made the embryo the most sacred of all cows, and motherhood the holiest of all callings. (Once you have a kid, though, it can starve to death or die from lack of medical attention, especially if it’s poor or not white.) And the southern states bought in, big time. They ignore other issues, because abortion is murder and murder is bad, and you don’t vote for what is bad and that makes voter research quick. It’s a win for the lazy voter and religion, a loss for the country.

Big, Religious Patriarchy has been effectively spinning for years. The more kids their adherents have, the more their power religious leaders wield. No wonder the womb is sacred. Of course religious leaders praise women for fulfilling their “traditional” roles and being “obedient and “feminine.”

And even if you aren’t religious, this reactionary spin seeps into our media, our culture, and our bones.


Spin is everywhere. Even here, on my pages. On my previous posts, where I list reasons not to have children. That doesn’t mean those reasons aren’t legitimate, mind you.

And I still think people should think – long and hard – before having kids. I wish we all hit puberty with a form of birth control. Then humans would have to consciously opt in to have children, rather than consciously having to opt out.

But, perhaps like the religious right, some of my spin came from fear. Big Religion fears women gaining power, realizing they’ve been complicit in their own repression, and screaming “I’m outta here!”

I feared being a terrible parent, with a terrible temper, like my father. I feared that, like my mom, I’d be worn out, an emotionally empty vessel after all the years of taking care of children. I feared I wouldn’t be able to give a child all that it needs.

I got past those fears — mostly. I came to terms with adopting a child in need. Singular. One kid only, I could manage. But then my husband didn’t want to adopt. He wanted that one child to have half of my genes, and half of his.

And that’s even more terrifying. That’s goddamned genetic roulette.

Especially if your family has some, er, atypical genetics.

Like mine.

Starting with triplets. Yes, triplets. On her second pregnancy, my mother’s overachieving ovaries released three eggs. THREE! There were complications, including one stupid male doctor. Mom lost all three embryos, plus a fallopian tube and an ovary. (Don’t worry, she rallied and made up for it by having another five kids.)

There was no way in hell I could be a decent parent to 3 infants at once. Andy and I were on our own. We couldn’t afford a nanny. I told Andy that, in case of triplets, we would offer two of the babies up to two of my girlfriends who were planning to adopt. He thought I was joking.

I wasn’t.

He came around, grudgingly, when I pointed out that the alternative was not having kids.

But that still left us with one other genetic issue:

Asperger’s syndrome.

Asperger’s runs – nay, GALLOPS — in my family. If you’re familiar with Asperger’s, then you know it’s not officially called by that name anymore, but you’ll also know  the type of high functioning autism spectrum disorder that I’m referencing.

If you aren’t familiar, the character of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory is probably the best example of Asperger’s in pop culture. Enigma code breaker Alan Turing is an excellent historical example.

“Aspies,” as some self-label, are characterized by being brilliant thinkers and social nightmares. Like one of my nephews, they might teach themselves to read and do long division by age three. Like one of my sisters, they may spend kindergarten in a corner, reading a book, painfully aware of their classmates’ ridicule.

They miss social cues. Their speech is sometimes flat, sometimes grating, and often alienating.

Aspies often require early, intensive intervention in order to fit in with their peers and make friends. Until recently, most Aspies didn’t get that intervention.

My father certainly didn’t. He’d never heard of Asperger’s until I informed him that he clearly had Adult Residual Asperger’s. I don’t think he believed me until one sister, her son, and another grandchild were officially diagnosed a few years later.

Dad had manners and social graces pounded into his head by his mother, though. He learned to fake neurotypical behavior well enough to achieve some career success (aided by being a white male with familial connections). Conversations with Dad often devolve into lectures, however, with the focus on HIS thoughts about HIS favorite topics.

That’s not surprising. Perseveration and one-sided conversations are two common indicators of Asperger’s.

It’s not just my genetics that are problematic, though. Do you remember who else on this blog perseverated relentlessly? On everything from doors to male grandchildren? And lacked the slightest bit of social grace or awareness?

Andy’s father Jay. There’s no way that man did not also have Adult Residual Asperger’s.

I pointed this out to Andy. Andy agreed.

I asked, once more, “Are you sure you want our own kid? We could have triplets. All. With. Asperger’s.”

Andy is an optimist. He said, “Or we might have one sweet, charming little girl.”

I snorted. “First, I already told you, we’d have a boy. Boys are something like five times more likely to be on the spectrum. Second, the Bossy Ashbough Tyrant gene is dominant. Are any females in my family sweet and charming?”


“She was only an Ashbough by marriage and you know it. So let me ask again: are you absolutely sure you want to spin that genetic roulette wheel? Because there’s a good chance it could land on a red three.”

Andy’s a gambling man. He set his jaw and said, “Yes.”

And we spun.

Color Me What? (#199)

My mother was blonde when I was a little girl – courtesy of Clairol. She had been white-blonde as a child, but her hair darkened as she aged. I don’t know whether she was dirty blonde or chestnut, though, underneath her cheap, brassy dye. Everyone assumed blonde was her natural color, however, since she was always surrounded by a horde of screaming towheaded children. We were the perfect camouflage for her unnatural hair.

I hated her dye job. I harangued her about being a natural brunette incessantly. She ignored me. I swore I would never, ever color my own hair, even though my own locks were brown by Junior High.

You know what’s coming, right?

Hellloooo, irony.

When I was sixteen, a friend French-braiding my hair stopped mid-plait. “No way,” she breathed. “Autumn, you’re not going to believe this.”

“It’s not lice, is it?!” I shrieked. “Tell me it’s not lice!” Lice in a household with five daughters and ten feet of hair is a goddamned nightmare, and one my family went through at least four times. If I brought home lice, I was toast.

“No, no, nothing like that. It’s just…I think you have a grey hair.”

“What? No. Can’t be. It’s a leftover blonde one from my childhood.”

“Nope, it’s definitely not blonde. It’s kinda silvery, actually. Catches the light—”


She did, handing it to me immediately. Sure enough, it was a silvery grey hair.

I shared my news at the dinner table that night. “Can you believe this? Who gets grey hair at sixteen?”

Future Doctor Sister snickered. “Too bad. Grey will really show up with your hair being so dark.” She smugly patted her own golden locks.

Stepmother #1 tried to be comforting, saying, “I’m sure it’s just an aberration. You probably won’t get anymore until you’re forty.”

My dad cleared his throat. “Well, actually, she will. It’s genetic.”

“Is this why Mom dyed her hair?” Mom had died two years earlier, or I’d have run howling to her first.

Dad shook his head. “Much as I’d like to blame your mother for this,” which was true, Dad blamed his first ex-wife for everything from crap contraception to crap car selection, “it’s not her genes. My mom was completely grey by the time she was forty.” And then Dad smiled, like he was all proud of those prematurely old genes.

For the next several years, my mischievous baby siblings taunted me mercilessly about going grey.

When I turned twenty-one, my OCD boyfriend pulled out fifty silvery hairs before I insisted he stop.

When I was twenty-five, guys I met on the dance floor were guessing I was at least thirty.

After a particularly bad breakup, I decided to dye my hair. The stylist said, “What color? You’ve got some red highlights naturally, but blonde would be perfect– ”

I said, “Not blonde!”

Courtesy of Maryah Lily’s amazing updos/ before & after Instagram — SweetnDandyHair. (Yes, this is a “before” picture!)

“Then red,” the stylist told me. “It’ll be stunning with your green eyes.”

I became a redhead, which turned out to trickier than the stylist thought. Grey hair likes to grab the orange in most dyes, but orange highlights are only attractive on clowns (and even that’s kind of dubious). My original stylist had to hand me and my orange hair over to a master colorist. It took the master colorist several attempts to turn the orange into a more sedate auburn.

My red hair must have been a pretty good fit, because everyone I met as a redhead assumed it was my natural color.

As my hair got greyer, though, it got harder to keep the orange out. So I went brunette. My grey hair still tried to grab the orange, but my long-suffering stylist eventually tamed my hair to a nice light brown.

But as the grey won the scalp domination war, I wound up with stripe of silver roots between colorings — expensive colorings.

So I gritted my teeth and took the stylist’s suggestion.

I went blonde, which hides my silvery roots better, longer, and cheaper.

I’m an atheist, but you know what?

I still think Mom is laughing her brassy blonde head off somewhere.

The Boyfriend Thieves (#194)

Being an Amazonian brunette sandwiched between prettier, blonder, more petite sisters sucks. More than one guy ditched me after meeting my sisters.

Take the Boy Next Door. I pined after him for the entirety of seventh grade. He finally asked me to the last dance before school ended. Then Older Sister, who lived with Dad (I lived with our Mom) came for the summer. The Boy Next Door told me we were done, because he was in love with Older Sister. Continue reading The Boyfriend Thieves (#194)

An Atheist on Easter (#183)

Back when I was in high school in Virginia, an atheist was an anomaly. Christians were always asking me how I could possibly be an atheist. I had two flippant answers.

  1. “I was born on Black Saturday – you know, the day between Christ’s death and his resurrection. I’m doomed to be shut away from God’s light. It’s easier not to fight it.”
  2. “Well, my family used to be Catholic, but my great-grandfather was excommunicated.”

Continue reading An Atheist on Easter (#183)

When the Cavalry Sucks (#181)

You know those big, dysfunctional but lovable white families you used to see in television and film? They were all about siblings being super shitty to each other. Yet when one member of the family was threatened, the family closed ranks and fended off the attacker.

I grew up in a huge, white, broken, dysfunctional family.

I thought those stories were bullshit. Continue reading When the Cavalry Sucks (#181)

Marching on Washington (#170)

In case you missed it, there was a Women’s March on Washington the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. (No, I can’t bring myself to call him President. Since facts no longer matter, I guess I don’t have to.) The organizers had a permit for 200,000 anti-Trump protesters.

Over a half-million people showed up, with pink hats and hilarious signs.

I was one of them. Continue reading Marching on Washington (#170)

Stocking Savior (#164)

My family collects college degrees. We have some BAs, a lot of BS, an MD, a JD, an MBA, a MSW, an MFA, and a Masters of Education. Big Brother added second MBA when he married. Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister married a second lawyer. I brought the most, though, when I added Andy — a Masters of Engineering AND a Masters in Cyber Security (so, HA, you Russian hackers, give up attacking my website already).

I think the only degree we missed was a PhD. Bummer. Continue reading Stocking Savior (#164)

A Walgreens Christmas (#162)

When Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister settled down with Georgia Boy, I thought they were doomed. Dr. Sis typical of our overachieving white family: type A squared, super competent, goal-oriented, impatient, and INCREDIBLY judgmental. She worked hard for her full scholarship to college, she won her medical school graduation, she kicked ass in her residency, and she destroyed her oncology fellowship at MD Anderson while coping with a difficult pregnancy. (For five months, Dr. Sis operated on patients while wearing a shitload of icepacks to stay conscious.)

Georgia Boy, well, as Dr. Sis put it, “fell into every bit of good luck possible.” Continue reading A Walgreens Christmas (#162)

Countdown to Christmas (#161)


When I was a little girl, I couldn’t wait for December 2nd. Not December 1st, not December 25th, but December 2nd.

That was my day to open a window on the Christmas Advent Calendar.

For my heathen readers and fellow atheists, Advent Calendars have numbered windows. On the first day of December, you open window #1. You might see a Bible verse, or the first line of The Night Before Christmas. There’s a window to open every day until Christmas Day, when you will have plenty of presents to open instead. Continue reading Countdown to Christmas (#161)