Happily waiting…

I’m 38-going-on-39 weeks. It’s amazing how these last weeks of pregnancy tend to blend together. My sister and I were joking the other day that at the beginning, you know exactly how far long you are, by the day (“I’m 5.5 weeks!”). And you breathe multiple sighs of relief whenever you hit a major milestone. Now, each day feels a bit like the last, except now when people ask “When are you due?” I say, “Next week.” Weird.

Dave commented that it feels like only in the past two weeks people out in public have actually begun to gawk. Many strangers ask when I am due and or they just blatantly stare at my stomach (eyes up, people!)  Of course, I’ve been milking the I-actually-look-pregnant stage as much as I can. This Sunday, while driving home, the oil light came on in the car and I pulled into a gas station where an extremely nice attendant helped me top off in between helping customers. And when taking the car the next day to get the oil changed/checked (there was a leak), the nice man at AAA said he would try to get it done asap because “You shouldn’t have to wait in your condition.” Ha. I decided not to tell him that I feel perfectly capable. Instead, I said thanks and waddled away. Dave and I also braved the crowds at the RBC Center to see Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson show (a birthday present from my parents!). This involved walking quite far from the parking lot, marching  up and down multiple flights of stairs (because our seats got reassigned) and walking halfway around the arena to finally get to our tiny stadium seats. Piece of cake (almost).

Also, and surprisingly, I feel great. I thought I would be MISERABLE as I entered the “dreary” trimester. I’ve heard so many women say how sick they are of being pregnant by the end. And these poor women are likely working full time and/or rearing other children. But this isn’t my case. I feel awesome. And I’m going to miss my awesome round belly.

All the aches and growing pains I’ve felt over the last few months have ceased. I’ve only gained 29lbs so I still feel pretty limber. I can (mostly) breathe, except when walking uphill. No constipation. Limited heartburn. No stretch marks on the belly. Sleeping hasn’t been terrible. I’m measuring right on time and blood pressure is low. I’m still pounding the spicy food. But along with that, there’s been very little action. At my last appointment, the midwife noted that the baby hadn’t even dropped. I have a few Braxton-Hicks contractions a day but I’ve been having them for weeks (and they just feel like your belly has gotten tight….nothing else really). I declined a cervical check at my last appointment, though I am tempted to have one done this time. We’ll see. I don’t really want to psyche myself out, especially since I’m pretty content.

But because very little has been happening to indicate that birthing time will happen soon, I don’t want to risk induction if I go two weeks late. Going late is fine by me, esp. since average gestation for first time moms is 274 days from ovulation (or 41 weeks and 1 day from LMP). And only 10% of babies actually come on their “due” date. So, according to more recent studies, the babe is most likely to show up around March 30. I think I can handle that, as long as no one is trying to stick me with pitocin. I imagine the midwives will be pretty restrained.

Either way, though, I’m starting to walk more, doing daily pelvic floor exercises and stretches, sitting primarily on an exercise ball, keeping my stomach hanging forward (rather than lounging on the couch) to encourage an anterior position, mapping my belly,  listening to my hypnosis scripts and affirmations, seeing a chiropractor once a week (to keep my hips in line) and drinking larger doses of red raspberry leaf tea. Last night I ate half a pineapple, which is supposed to ripen your cervix (yum) and I may opt for some acupuncture at this week’s chiro appointment. I may also start using evening primrose oil. So, I’m not exactly sitting around passively waiting. But I am happily waiting, relishing in these last few weeks of this unique time.

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Clear eyes, full term, can’t lose.

I couldn’t resist the shout out to Friday Night Lights. Yes, this means that I am knocking on Full Term’s door (tomorrow!) and the baby could shoot out of me tomorrow and live it’s special little life without much medical intervention, if at all. Crazy! I’ve gotten so used to being pregnant, after moving beyond the anxiety and general nastiness associated with the dreaded first trimester. The idea of NOT being pregnant is a distant memory. Dave and I are enjoying this special time together and it’s bittersweet to imagine it ending.

People ask us if we are excited and we most certainly are. But it’s sort of like being on a plane bound for somewhere exotic and amazing, destination unknown. You have a lot of anticipation, nervousness and giddiness, but you also feel a sense that you should “wait until we get there.” I imagine giving birth is one of those rare moments in life where you can truly pinpoint the moment your life has changed forever. Going to college was one. Meeting Dave was another. You don’t know where these momentous events will take you; you just know that you’ll never be where you are again. Your life, your sense of self, your sense of purpose have all been turned upside-down. Giving birth (not just being born) is a good metaphor for baptism. Or, baptism is a good metaphor for giving birth. Either way, you climb off the bed or out of the pool a different human being. Something astonishing has happened to you, yes, but you have also participated in that change in a profound way. Needless to say, this is exciting…but also terrifying!

Dave and I are currently in go-mode, trying to get our house at least ready for Superpac (yes, that’s our baby’s nickname). We’ve acquired a great number of things from generous family and friends. Most other stuff came from consignment sales and Craigslist. We scored a $5 changing table, a $2 changing pad, several $5 cloth diapers, etc. We’ve spent very little on this child. My sister-in-law gave us a crib, which is still in it’s box and will likely remain there for a while as we intend to sleep-share. My friend Kate gave us a co-sleeper, just in case sleep-sharing doesn’t work out for us. And, for that reason, we haven’t had to invest much in a nursery. We have a room where the baby stuff goes, but most of the time, the kid will be with us. We are cloth-diapering and I plan to breastfeed as a long as possible, which cuts expenses down considerably.  I’ve sewn my own flannel wipes, blankets and burp cloths for Superpac. We have good health insurance and a strong support system. Because of that, we’ve spent about 1/5th of that estimated by the “Don’t Have a Kid Unless You Are A Millionaire” calculators.

Dave and I just finished our 6th and final birth class last weekend. We are using Hypnobabies (yeah, yeah, the name is weird and the passed-out lady with lots of makeup on the website doesn’t help). But I’ve been very satisfied with the techniques we’ve learned and feel equipped and confident to enter my birthing time without fear. I’ve read story after story (and seen video after video!) of women who have used hypnosis for childbirth and have been really amazed at what I’ve seen. Hypnosis has been used for patients who are allergic to traditional anesthesia – you can google videos (if you dare) of people undergoing breast surgery or root canals without any medical anesthesia whatsoever. My dad has used hypnosis on patients in the past, mainly for anxiety issues, but it has also proven successful for addiction and weight loss. Check out this Time article. So, why not for childbirth?

The main focus of the class is to rewire the way you think about childbirth, recognizing that other people’s negative experiences, as well as tv shows and movies, have programmed us (in this culture) to fear childbirth. Hypnobabies is like cognitive behavioral therapy – if you can change the way you think, you can change what you experience. When I get on a plane, my negative associations with flying cause my heart begins to pound and I start to sweat, thus triggering more fear (“Why am I sweating? I must be terrified!”) and more bodily responses, like a vicious cycle.

Hypnobabies seeks to rewire your brain to translate the tightening of a contraction into pressure, not pain. In doing so, you remain relaxed, not fighting your body but allowing your body to do what it needs to do, often resulting in remarkably shorter, more comfortable labors. Unlike some hypnosis for childbirth classes, Hypnobabies really focuses on birth education, teaching good nutrition, exercise, optimal fetal positioning, less intervention (i.e., induction) and other ways to increase the likelihood of a complication-free birth. Obviously, someone who experiences cord prolapse, placental abruption or other complicating factors will not be using these techniques to have a normal, vaginal birth. And more often than not, pain is an appropriate bodily response to complication, alerting you to a problem. But for the 90% of us that are able to have uncomplicated natural births (even with big or posterior babies), Hypnobabies seeks to equip mothers-to-be with the skills and the confidence to enjoy labor without having to endure hours and hours of excruciating pain. And I intend to do just that!

Woah. I just went on a Hypnobabies rant. I guess I’ve become a true believer. I will definitely post more on this.

Anyway, I’m off to write my birth plan. Happy (and solemn) Lent to all!

DIY Baby

Many people ask me what I do all day, as I am not working. A good portion of the early morning is spent sleeping and a good portion of the afternoon is spent on Facebook (or watching the Biggest Loser on Hulu). Sometimes I am meeting a friend for coffee or lunch, getting my back cracked at the chiropractor or getting my blood pressure taken at the ob-gyn. I’m often cooking or baking (yesterday – pizza; today – granola and homemade fig newtons; tonight – chard and white bean gratin). Occasionally I can be found searching local listings and thrift stores for baby items.

But more often than not, I can be found in front of my sewing machine, stitching away at various baby items. This is my version of nesting, I guess. Below are some projects I’ve been working on over the last few weeks.

Reusable flannel baby wipes

Flannel receiving blankets (more of these in progress!)

Burp cloths! I used terrycloth or flannel for the back.

Awesome embellished baby clothes. This was my sister’s idea for my baby shower back in October. My friends cut out and ironed on these appliques. So cute!

Felt black and white baby book.

Black and white baby play mat. It’s so nice that I may just hang it on the wall. Like the baby book, I cut the shapes out of felt and ironed them onto fabric.

A pregnant lady’s nightstand, annotated

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1. Water glass, for pill-taking and nighttime dry-mouth.

2. Bedside lamp, hopefully unobtrusive enough not to wake your sleeping husband when you turn it on at 3am with insomnia.

3. Prenatal vitamins that smell gross (to be taken before bed).

4. Fish oil capsules that, surprisingly, don’t smell gross (to be taken before bed and upon waking).

5. Clock to remind you that you were awake at 1am, 3:30am, 6:30am and then 9am.

6. Box of tissues. This should last you about two nights of pregnancy rhinitis. 

7. Chapstick to reapply several times during the night because your mouth feels SO DRY.

8. Tums. Take one before bed, then at 3:30 when heartburn kicks in again. 

9. Empty box of tissues you have hastily discarded from your nightstand. 

10. A giant slew of pregnancy and child-rearing books that may or may not keep you awake at night (or, if you are lucky, they may put you to sleep). 

11. A heating pad hidden under giant slew of books, to be used all night long on aching hips and upperback. 

When your body goes absolutely nuts: Part II

Welcome to the second installment of  “Pregnancy: When your body goes absolutely nuts.” I wasn’t sure if there would be a part 2, given the thorough (and graphic) detail of the first post, not to mention the fact that my hormones (the primary culprits of crazy-making) have leveled off since the first trimester. However, I have experienced some particularly weird things over the past few months that I can’t help but share. And don’t worry. This isn’t nearly as TMI.

Gigantic hair – I joked in one of my progressive pregnancy photos that my hair was also pregnant because it is so large and in charge. In fact, pregnant women DO have pregnant hair, in that their hair doesn’t fall out for 9 months (give or take). The average person loses 50 to 100 hairs a day (you’ll see this on your hair brush or in the drain). As someone who doesn’t brush her hair and washes it only every once in a while, I always rake out globs and globs of hair during a shower. I mean, I could donate the stuff for a wig. The last few months or so, I’ve managed to gather about 5 hairs with each shower. The first time I noticed, I found this so phenomenal, I ran downstairs, wet strands in hand, to show Dave. He was also impressed.  In reality, my hair isn’t really growing either. It’s just frozen in place until I give birth, when it will fall out with abandoned.

Gigantic feet – I am only 5’3″, yet I have size 9 feet, quite large for a small person. I had hoped to get through pregnancy with the same size shoe, but this has not been the case. The hormone, relaxin, kicks in during pregnancy and causes your ligaments to relax (hence the name). This is great for your pelvis, which has to accommodate a growing babe. But this also can spread your feet. Now I wear a 9.5, which means I’ve had to buy new shoes and will likely have to give away all my very cute but very uncomfortable size 9 shoes because the change is usually permanent. My friend’s mother gave birth three times and her feet grew half a size with each pregnancy. My sister’s feet, which used to be  a 9 are now a 10 (with baby #2).

Feeling hot ALL THE TIME – Pregnant women have close to 50% more blood coursing through their bodies than they did pre-pregnancy. This makes them walking saunas. I still feel just as cold when I’m out in 30-degree weather, but upon going indoors, I overheat quickly. My body just can’t regulate it’s temperature like it used to. I sleep with two fans on at night and only a sheet. I try to wear short-sleeves, even in January, so I don’t pass out when I’m indoors. I am constantly fanning myself in church, at the movies, in the car. I. Am. Always. Hot.

Constant cold – My nose runs all the time and I’m never without a box of tissues. I blow my nose 100 times a day. Because of the increased blood volume, your nasal passages swell, convincing your body to make more mucus to flush out evil germs when in fact you are virus free. So, if you hear me hacking or sneezing around you, don’t be alarmed. Pregnancy is not contagious.

Burps – Digestion is slowed in pregnancy so your body can extract more nutrients from the food you eat. But slower digestion combined with a crowded torso means you experience a lot more heartburn, acid re-flux and belching. I might have been mildly embarrassed about belching in public before. Now, all bets are off.

Back pain – Pretty classic pregnancy symptom but quite annoying. My back pain has moved from my lower back all the way up to my shoulder blades as the pregnancy has progressed. The chiropractor says it’s my changing posture, but I imagine it’s also my changing bra size, as well. I sleep with a heating pad every night and have to take frequent stops on long car trips to walk around. It’s pretty much always with me and there ain’t much I can do about it!

Swollen eyes – That’s right – not only have my belly and my feet grown, but also my eyes!! This has to do with blood volume, which especially affects your eyes (and all of it’s tiny blood vessels). My contacts don’t fit very well at all and I spend most of the day squinting. My eyes always feel dry. I’ve started to wear my glasses more.

Forgetfulness/clumsiness – Supposedly this is pretty common for pregnant women. Some have coined forgetfulness associated with pregnancy the “pregnancy brain.” And clumsiness comes with relaxed ligaments and changing center of gravity. But quite frankly, I was forgetful and clumsy before pregnancy, so I haven’t really noticed a difference. I lose things, am terrible at memory recall, spill things and trip over myself pretty much all the time. But I think that’s just the way that I am.

I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid (or no longer have to endure) some of the more heinous pregnancy symptoms like hemorrhoids (only experienced these twice in the second trimester), constipation (I drink a LOT of water), stretch marks (none on my stomach, anyway), sciatica, vomiting, high blood pressure (my blood pressure was low a few weeks ago, it was 90/60!), mood swings and the like. Here’s hoping none of these will pop up over the next 10 weeks. But if they do, at least the end is near!

Weary. Cheery. Dreary.

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Greetings virtual world. A quick update to say that, as the folk saying goes, I’m currently enjoying the easiest, most awesomest trimester – the second. I’m 27 weeks tomorrow (that’s 6 months for those unaccustomed to thinking in weeks) and pleasantly large, enough to elicit some sympathy/special treatment in the checkout line at the grocery store. But I’m not yet whale-sized, considering I still get handed a beer list when out at restaurants (or a glass of wine while at a rehearsal dinner my husband and I just attended). And as Dave pointed out, I’ve been pregnant for half a year. Sweet lord.

The first trimester is weary (you are tired and sick and hormonal), your second trimester is cheery (your energy is back, your hormones have gone, you actually look pregnant but aren’t huge enough for this to cause major problems), and your third trimester is dreary (tired, huge, and bored with pregnancy).

I’m not sure if I knew this before pregnancy. Many people have asked me how I’m doing, assuming the worst (“After the crappy first trimester, it’s only downhill from there, right?”). When I tell them I actually feel like a normal human being (minus having another human being inside of me squirming around), people are surprised.

I’m now only an occasional insomniac (up for two hours a night 2 or 3 times a week – not bad) and generally feel fine if I get a total of 7 hours sleep. I haven’t been pounding the TUMS (acid reflux will come back soon, but now it’s on hiatus). No hemorrhoids, no constipation, no swelling of the hands or feet, no belly stretch marks, no absurd weight gain (I’ve gained 18lbs thus far…only 17 more lbs to go!), no nausea, no insatiable appetite, no yeast or bladder infections in the last month. Even my constant congestion has leveled out a bit, or at least I haven’t gotten used to it. And, as the doc informed me yesterday, I’m no longer measuring several weeks ahead. I’m right on track for 27 weeks.

Most remarkably, I haven’t been anxiously google searching symptoms, nor have I made any unscheduled visits to the OB in several months (*pats self on back*). I’m no longer convinced that I have an incompetent cervix, that my baby is no longer living (the kicking helps), or that I’m going into preterm labor. They say that the deluge of hormones coursing through you in the first few months can cause a lot of emotional upheaval. Some women cry. Some get angry.I got anxious. Sigh. Glad to be back to my mostly chilled-out self.

I occasionally have a small libation of my husband’s beer, have most certainly pounded some cold cuts and soft cheese, and have stood near the running microwave more than once. It’s hard to abide by all the pregnancy no-nos when you feel so…normal.

Mainly, my back hurts (I use a heating pad every night) and my shoulders hurt (change in posture), but I’m seeing a chiropractor every two weeks which helps. And I sneeze a lot. And I can’t really put on my shoes very well. And I’m nervously awaiting the results of my blood glucose test. And my breasts look like aliens from outer-space. But that’s it. Frankly, I feel like a million bucks.

This past weekend, we threw a Christmas open house (my idea), which involved several days of cleaning and decorating our gigantic parsonage (with decor handmade by yours truly – a cost-saving measure), several days of cooking tons of food (seriously, there was tons), and an entire day on my feet food prepping food, standing on step stools to hang decorations, crawling on all fours to plug in lights and water the tree, and then greeting guests and spreading general merriment. Quite frankly, I would never have pulled that off in my first trimester. And, most likely, my body (and the baby) would have rebelled in the third trimester, as well. But, besides some extremely achy feet at the end of the day, I felt fine.

The baby is active and growing. It kicks a lot at night (which sometimes wakes me up), and when I lay on my side, I can sometimes feel it’s entire body rolling over and it feels like an earth quake. Hard to describe, but it’s bizarre. Dave can feel it regularly now, which is a delight. If it’s particularly hyped up on sugar, I can see my belly moving, like a cat under a blanket. Freaky. But totally awesome.

Ultrasound ambivalence

Like most things about pregnancy, and life in general, I’m prone to ask questions about things typically deemed as normal or “a given”,  partly because I like to be prepared, partly because I’m an idealist (do I dare admit it?) and partly because I don’t trust the status quo.  Hospital birth? Eek. Circumcision? Hmm. Prenatal testing? No spanks. But ultrasounds weren’t on the list. We’ve all seen the movies: the squirt of the transmission gel on a big, round belly, the painstaking movements of the ultrasound tech wielding the sensor, staring up starry-eyed at the ultrasound screen as you gaze upon the strange being living inside of you. Ultrasounds are part and parcel to the pregnancy experience. They’re nostalgic; after all, ultrasound technology has been in use for nearly 50 years. But over the years, the use of obstetric ultrasounds has increased exponentially, occurring early and early in pregnancy.

When I started spotting very early on in my first trimester,  the first thing the doctor did was give me an ultrasound. Before 12 weeks or so, these ultrasounds are transvaginal, definitely more invasive than the abdominal kind. Most OB offices won’t do ultrasounds before 12 weeks for a few reasons. In those first few weeks, barely anything is visible – just an empty-looking gestational sac. And babies grow at varying rates during this time. I had hoped that an early ultrasound would put my mind at ease (“No, you’re not miscarrying because I see an egg sac…”) but instead, they became one of the main sources of my early pregnancy anxiety. After continuing to spot for some time, and after the 3rd ultrasound without seeing much, the doctor had me do blood work to measure HCG levels. As my previous post stated, mine didn’t rise “properly” (though there are several studies showing that many healthy pregnancies don’t fall into this doubling pattern – my mother-in-law experienced this with both her pregnancies), and this combined with the ultrasound had the doctor calling me after hours saying “Things don’t look good.”

When I went in for my 4th ultrasound to confirm that, indeed, things did not look good, I saw an egg sac and a fetal pole – good signs that the pregnancy was progressing normal. “This is why we try not to do early ultrasounds,” said the doc. “Babies just grow at different rates.” Well then, did I have an ultrasound-happy obstetrician? Should I have refused the first few ultrasounds? Shouldn’t she have told me that spotting in early pregnancy is normal and we won’t find any results on the ultrasound for another week or so?

On average, a woman with a low-risk pregnancy will have 2-3 ultrasounds total her entire pregnancy. By the time I was 13 weeks, I had already had 6, not counting the basic anomaly scan at 18 weeks. Did all of these ultrasounds put me at ease? Yes and no. Yes, seeing my little babe’s heart flutter on the screen helped me rest assured. But those random and uneventful weeks when ultrasounds weren’t necessary (usually, the midwifes will just check the fetal heart rate with a monitor), I found myself worrying that they were missing something. Because my pregnancy was so closely (and literally) watched in those first few weeks, I get uneasy when so much time passes without peering inside my womb.

My mother and women in her generation went almost their entire pregnancies without the use of ultrasound technology, with only one or two scans. Before this century, the first time parents saw their children was outside of the womb. Nowadays, ultrasounds are used to determine any number of fetal or placental anomalies way before due date, as well as identifying the sex of the child. Most would argue that these are positive advancements. And I would argue that, certainly, being prepared for your child and all its possible needs sure beats being shocked. But I can only wonder if ultrasound technology (not to mention prenatal testing in the form of blood work and amniocentesis), is contributing to the Too Much Information epidemic of which most modern pregnant women are suffering.

A close friend from mine went in for a routine ultrasound during her pregnancy, which ended up being a rather traumatic experience. The ultrasound showed a soft marker for Down Syndrome  (heart calcification), which meant that their child had a 1 in 400 chance of having an extra 21st chromosome. Most of the time, the calcification clears up and has zero effect on the child. But instead of being reassured with the statistics, my friend and her partner were ushered into a room to meet with a genetic counselor, though they had previously mentioned that no such counseling was necessary (as abortion was not an option). Several months later, they welcomed a healthy, ‘normal’ child into the world, though they spent the last few months of pregnancy wondering with some trepidation about the fate of their child.

My sister experienced something similar during one of her routine ultrasounds. The tech found choriod plexus cysts in the fluid around the baby’s brain – pretty non-threatening in and of themselves, but a soft indicator of genetic abnormalities like Edwards syndrome. Most of the time, these cysts will clear up by 24 weeks, and the midwife reassured my sister that she likely had nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, the waiting time is always stressful, even if you feel called to welcome all life into the world. Of course, at 24 weeks, another ultrasound showed that the cysts had cleared up.

There are plenty other stories like this, with expecting parents encounter disconcerting news through an ultrasound that later turns out to be a non-issue. Before the advent of ultrasound technology, how many healthy babies were born who, while in-utero, also had heart calcification and or plexus cysts?  How would we ever know? Are ultrasounds giving pregnant women too much information to stress over during an already stressful season of life?

Plenty  of women use ultrasound technology to determine the sex of their child. And though this seems pretty benign (and often is – again, who doesn’t want to be prepared?), there is one sinister effect: sex-selective abortion. Yesterday, I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast called “Misadventures in Babymaking,” about the the one-child policy in China. According to the podcast, the natural sex ratio at birth in all human populations is 105 boys to 100 girls, because baby boys are fragile and die more often in infancy. In China, however, the ratio is more like 121 boys to 100 girls. This is known as the “Missing Women Problem,” which dates back to an observation Amartya Sen made in 1990. He compared the total number of women in all of Asia (not just China) with what should have been the natural sex ratio, and found that a hundred million women were missing, i.e., 100,000,000 baby girls were never born.  Some estimate that that number is now 160 million missing women. The son preference spans many different countries, including China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Armenia, Albania, Azerbaijan – places with very different political, economic, religious and cultural perspectives. Yet the one thing that ties these countries together is the ultrasound. In the words of Stephen Dubner, “One piece of technology. 160 million missing women.” Dubner also points out that the ultrasound machine didn’t create this kind of problem, but it does enable it: “‘Son preference’ already existed, but along came a new birth technology that let mothers do something about it. Technology has consequences – often unintended ones.”

Sex-selective abortion, like the 90% abortion rate of fetuses with Down Syndrome, is disturbing on a number of levels. But what’s especially chilling is that ultrasounds are not 100 percent accurate. I know several women who were told they were having a girl that turned out to be a boy (or vice versa). I’ve also heard countless stories of women pressured to abort their “severely disabled fetus” that turned out to be perfectly healthy (or a perfectly wonderful disabled child). Ultrasounds, though useful in moderation, have become like gods dispensing knowledge that determines the future of our children. We should all find this worrisome.

But I also know that ultrasound technology has enabled women with poor fetal diagnoses to connect with their in-utero children who will almost inevitably die after birth. My friends Dayna and Eric learned that their child had a fatal birth defect, anencephaly, at their 20 week ultrasound. They also learned that their child was a boy, and so they named him Ethan and spent the next 5 months bonding with him and preparing for his birth and his death. Their story is heartbreaking and lifegiving, and if it weren’t for that fateful ultrasound, they would never had known how little time they had with their son.

So, all that to be said, I feel ambivalent about ultrasounds, as I do with most medical technology surrounding birth.  I know some women refuse ultrasounds for their entire pregnancy, perhaps in protest of the above, perhaps because a few studies show ultrasounds may have a negative effect on fetal outcome, or perhaps because they find not knowing more comforting than knowing too much. Whatever the reason, I admire these women. So brave! So at peace! So old-school! Yet, I can’t help but continue to cling to the reassurance the ultrasound gives me, and rejoice in the brief glimpse of the little stranger growing inside of me. I’m still amazed by the grainy black-and-white picture on my fridge that shows 2 tiny feet and 10 tiny, fully-formed toes.



Insomnia and the reading life

I was a notorious slacker in grad school. I always read only just enough to get by, and generally succeeded at that.  Of course, “enough to get  by” generally meant 300 or so pages weekly. For several classes, I was reading a book once a week. After 3 years of theology and ethics texts, I was ready to be done. However, I’ve always read a book before bed, usually a novel.

This habit has only picked up since I’ve acquired insomnia during my pregnancy. Since the first trimester, I spend at least 4 (sometimes 5) nights a week wide awake at night. Occasionally I awake with crazy heartburn or a terrible backache. But most of the time, I just wake up, usually between 2 and 4am, and read for 3 hours until I feel tired again. This of course means I am bulldozing through entire books in a matter of days.  This also means that reading has become an essential part of my night routine. I panic when I finish a book and there isn’t another to take its place. I’ve been hitting up a lot of used bookstores lately, and I joined our local library. Life-savers!

Here’s a list of books I’ve plowed through since July (i.e., since moving to Raleigh and becoming pregnant). This averages out to about a book a week.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Slow Man by J. M. Coetzee

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

For the Time Being by Annie Dillard

A Good Man is Hard to Find: Short Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Pregnancy: when your body goes absolutely nuts

TMI alert. This will be the last time I alert you, though. Frankly, at this stage in my life, very little is TMI.

I imagined that my body would get kind of wonky during pregnancy. Things are changing rather rapidly. Tons of new hormones. Major bone and organ shifting as the baby grows. You gain weight quickly (like never before). But for some reason, I didn’t really consider the emotional toll this would have on my life. It feels a lot like puberty, frankly. Your body is no longer under your control but powered by some unforeseen force (hormones! or, in my case, a tiny apple-sized creature inside of me!). Symptoms or health issues you’ve never experienced before rapidly pop up every week, just to keep you on your toes.

Here’s a small list of some of the crazy changes my body has experienced in the last four months. Some are recurring, some have stopped all together and some will continue to get worse.

Acne – I’ve never had great skin but now I really do resemble my 16-year old self. Back, face, arms. You name it.

Butt and hip pain – Pretty expected but pretty annoying. As my pelvis shifts to accommodate the  babe, my pelvic bones (particularly in my lower back) are shifting this way and that, giving me a pain in the ass, quite literally.

Nail growth – I’m a habitual nail-biter, but several weeks ago I got a manicure for a wedding, which prompted me not to chomp. Well, I swear to you my nails have grown a half centimeter since then. My nails have never been this long.

Itchiness – Along with blemishes, hormones can cause your skin to become drier (my problem) and itchy as your skin grows. I”m trying not to rip my flesh off with my new nails.

Urinary tract infections – I’ve had these my whole life, but apparently they are particularly common in pregnancy as your urethra stretches out and allows more bacteria in. Fun. I went on a week of antibiotics to clear this up, which may just have caused….

Yeast infections – Mmm. Never had one of these before. But, again, your vagina and your cervix are basically on steroids during pregnancy, so things tend to get out of whack more quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if my antibiotic regime caused this lovely infection (antibiotics kill all bacteria, including the good flora that keeps your vagina right on track).

Hemorrhoids- Sweet lord. Could it get any worse? The weight of the baby and the mass increase in blood flow causes varicose veins (and hemorrhoids are just one form). Fortunately, mine are internal, so they don’t hurt much and they heal easily. However, they cause you to bleed like you’re on your period. And, any amount of blood in the toilet is enough to stop my heart (see previous post).

Heartburn – I had this pre-pregnancy but pregnancy heartburn is worse. Tums are my new best friend. Also, they say the same hormone that causes heartburn may also cause the baby to sprout hair. So, hairy baby here we come.

Weight gain – Boring but still quite the change. So far, I’m 8lbs up from my pre-pregnancy weight and climbing. I can only wear maternity clothes.

Pamela Anderson-like breasts – My breasts have easily grown 40% in size. They are a shocking new addition to my body, esp. because I had rather small breasts before (oh how I miss them!). They are also painful and angry, like Pamela Anderson’s breasts, I’m sure.

Laughing and crying – Being pregnant is a bit like those few days right before you start your period when every NPR story, Cheetos commercial or squashed bug on the sidewalk makes you cry. But what I’ve noticed even more is I am laughing. A lot. At stupid things. My laugh is loud and indiscriminate. Gotta say, this has to be a plus.

Frequent urination – In your first trimester, hormones are causing your body to flush fluids rapidly through your system, so even though you are still small with child, you pee about 5 times an hour. As someone who has long enjoyed bladder fortitude, this was annoying. I would pee twice before bed, then at 2:30am, and then 6:30am. Fortunately, this has died down.

Insomnia – Peeing frequently seemed to set a pattern of insomnia that’s been hard to break. For the last two weeks, the vast majority of my nights have looked like this: Crash at 10:30 and sleep until 3:30. Wake for no apparent reason and lay there until 4:30.  Turn on light and read book until 5:30 or 6 when Dave’s alarm goes off. Pass out until 9:30 or 10.

Food aversions – There’s a lot of debate about whether pregnancy cravings are real (as in physiological) as opposed to psychological. I definitely craved pickles and continue to crave meat in all forms (and anything sour). But the most pronounced food issue I experienced was food aversions. Just thinking about certain things (certain veggies) or hearing them mentioned (“Sausage balls,” which Dave mentioned once at 6 weeks) made me want to vomit. Fortunately, I NEVER VOMITED. Boom.

Increased sense of smell – This is an annoying superpower. Fortunately it has died down. But in the first trimester, I couldn’t stand the smell of celery (even the memory of it makes me gag), my Burts Bees lip balm (what the?) and anything burned (like the charred crumbs at the bottom of our toaster oven). I could smell what Dave was eating for dinner two rooms away. I could smell the dirt outside. Everything smelled.

Faintness – A few days ago, Dave and I were in Winston Salem taking a tour through a museum (guided tour only) and half-way through, I became extremely hot and had to sit down. And then, I started yawning nonstop and sweating profusely. Then, everything became fuzzy. “Dave, we’ve got to get out of here.” We had to interrupt the tour so the lady could lead us out. Sweet lord I’ve never almost fainted before. These are the weeks when your blood pressure is the lowest as your body works to pump more blood through your system. Being too hot, standing for along time, dehydration or low blood sugar can make you pass out. Eeek.

Headaches – My posture is out of whack because my lower spine is moving forward, causing my neck to compensate and giving me wicked headaches. Thank you, lord, for the nice chiropractor.

Increased vaginal discharge – Woohoo! This is exactly what it sounds like. You are never dry.

Hairy belly – Is it just me or does my belly look like a furby? I’m a hairy person but wow. Like your nails, pregnancy can cause your hair to grow faster. So far, my belly’s been the only victim….but what’s next??

Totally random bleeding – I’ve had my fair share of this during pregnancy and it’s freaky. Some of it is from cervical infections, or a “friable cervix” (which the midwife mentioned I had a few weeks ago). You are just full of blood, and anything from constipation straining to sex to exercise can cause you to spot. Other causes – ovarian or cervical cyst, placental abruption or previa, implantation spotting, or….miscarriage. Yikers. (Previously, I had written “Random-ass bleeding,” meaning “Totally random bleeding.” For Random ass bleeding, see “Hemorrhoids.”)

Allergies – I’ve never been one to suffer majorly from allergies. But for the past three weeks, I can’t go anywhere without a tissue. Sometimes, I sneeze 7 times in a row. My eyes itch all the time. I am a snot machine, basically, especially at night. Pregnancy makes your blood vessels dilate in your nose, which just aggravates allergies even more.

Now, just imagine all of these things happening AT THE SAME TIME, or at least, within several weeks of each other. When I read these lists before I was pregnant, I thought “Well, I can handle that…and that.” But I didn’t comprehend that all of these things would descend in a gigantic pregnancy symptom hurricane. I must say, the second trimester IS proving to be better, but I still can’t quite say I enjoy being pregnant (even when I reflect on the great joy of carrying a human life inside of me blah blah blah). But, here we are! And here I am! And there it is!

It’s hard work making another human being

Welp, I’m pregnant.  16 weeks exactly. It’s been quite the journey. And I should preface this by saying…a combination of heightened progesterone flowing through my body, tumultuous weekly changes in my body and various scary episodes in the first trimester have toppled my TMI filter.

Getting pregnant was easy. Dave and I were using the sympto-thermal method of birth control (i.e., a form of natural family planning) which is both an effective form of avoiding pregnancy AND a way to get pregnant pretty easily (by identifying your peak fertility days). It works like a charm if you are vigilant. And we were quite vigilant, in fact. We were intentional about getting pregnant and because I was never on the pill (and didn’t have residual hormones floating around), I got knocked up right away. Just a few days later, there was a little plus on my early pregnancy test. Still, this came as a bit of a surprise. I know many couples with heart wrenching stories of trying to conceive for months and months, sometimes years and years. I have a few friends who are still trying, 4 or 5 years later. So, when Dave and I decided to put a bun in the oven, I thought starting early wouldn’t hurt. Who knows how long it will take?

Welp, here we are….rapidly moving from one life stage to the next! D and I got married a year ago this October 9th, I graduated from div school in May, Dave took a ministry job and we moved to Raleigh in June and then I became great with child. We couldn’t be more excited, though I imagine the reality of child-rearing won’t settle in until I push the thing out and we are holding it in our arms. Now that my belly is swelling a bit, things seem more real, not to mention I haven’t had my period for several months. That’s a strange change.

I didn’t know quite what to expect with the firs trimester, but since my mom and sister didn’t report many symptoms with their pregnancies (and my sister, who is currently 6 months pregnant, still runs a few times a week), I imagined it would be a breeze (or at least breeze-like). I’m relatively young. I’m healthy. I have no preexisting conditions that would make conception or child-bearing difficult. I’ve been taking my prenatal vitamins religiously since I got married. And I’ve had few if any medical issues in my past. These all resulted in my naive assumption that I was immune to pregnancy complications.

Early on, about 6 weeks in, I started spotting brown (TMI alert). Spotting is generally not a big deal, somewhat typical in early pregnancy and a good sign if it’s brown (this means old blood). But after a week or so of this, I decided to make an appointment with an Ob office to figure out what was going on. Generally you don’t see the doc/midwife until about 10-12 weeks, but the Ob office I called felt like my symptoms granted a visit. The doctor did a an ultrasound, said the gestational sac look normal though it was too early to see anything else (the next thing to show up is the egg sac and fetal pole). When my spotting got heavier and redder, I went in and, again, nothing to see on the ultrasound.

The doctor ordered blood work to check HCG levels (they should double every two days in early pregnancy) and, two days later I received a call from her that “things didn’t look good.” My HCG levels rose only 55% and, according to the doctor, 53% is the cut off for any known viable pregnancy. Yikes. Well, that’s about the time that I decided holding out hope would be more destructive than staring reality directly in the face. I was deeply saddened and rather frightened, but tried my best to accept the fact that this pregnancy was nonviable (or worse case scenario, ectopic). I called my parents and my sister, I wrote a sad email my close friends both announcing my pregnancy and it’s inevitable end, and planned on getting the final verdict from the doctor a few days later.

My mom came down to NC and the three of us (D, my mom and I) headed to the Ob. My doctor was out, so another doctor read my chart and, rather than sit and discuss as is normal, he took my directly into the examining room for an ultrasound to see what we could see. We braced ourselves. But low and behold, there on the grainy US screen was a little round blob that looked like a signet ring – an egg sac with fetal pole. Needless to say, I burst into tears. Dave had said the night before that the most surprising news we could possibly encounter is that we are still going to have a baby. And, that was the news! The doctor printed off a picture and I stared at it in awe for the rest of the day. “This is what we don’t do ultrasounds this early. Babies grow at different rates.” I was shocked. I went from moving about the house gingerly, afraid my Fallopian tube could rupture at any moment (the doctor feared it may be ectopic) to pounding a milkshake with my mom after the appointment. It was a definite mental shift for sure.

Dave and I went in a week or so later and saw a bean-like baby on the ultrasound. Things seemed to be progressing normally. My spotting had died down and things were looking good. And, around this time, I decided to switch practitioners with midwives (and I was feeling a bit pissed about the way things had progressed with my previous doctor). Fast forward to 9 weeks or so and I’m making enchiladas in the kitchen, listening to a podcast, when suddenly I feel wet. I check things out and my hand is covered in blood. I had bled through my pants and, as a result,  my blood pressure went through the roof. “This is it,” I thought. This is what a miscarriage is. I wasn’t experiencing any pain but the blood was enough to freak me out. I called Dave (who was making a pastoral visit at the hospital), called my parents and my sister and then the midwife on call. She told me to put my feet up and wait it out. This is probably the most frustrating (but most understandable) advice regarding weird pregnancy symptoms. It could be nothing or it could mean miscarriage. You just have to wait and see.

I didn’t bleed any more after that one frightening experience but promptly scheduled an appointment with my midwife. She checked me out the next day. Again, I braced myself. But there on the screen was a healthy, dancing baby. “It could have been a ruptured cervical cyst.” I had never heard of this  before, nor did I find much info about it on the internet. But she told me rest assure that the bleeding wasn’t affecting the baby and this put me at ease. Ever trip to the bathroom was  a bit nerve racking after that (and still is) but I tried to remain calm. Sometimes even this (inexplicable, totally freaky bleeding) happens in normal, healthy pregnancies.

Fast forward two weeks later. I’m in Utah for my friend Rachel’s wedding. Along with an intense, 8-hour day of travel (including lifting heavy luggage into the overhead bins on the airplane – I’m an idiot), pretty much no sleep, and an intense day of walking around doing wedding tasks (I was a bridesmaid), I was pretty achy upon hitting the sake. Thee ol’ pelvis is not the same as it used to be pre-pregnancy. I woke up at 4am to pee (not an unusual occurrence), and there in the toilet was blood. My heart sank/started beating through the roof. I was one of 10 crammed into my friend Rachel’s house (Lex and Jon were sleeping at the foot of our bed) sharing one bathroom. I was far from home, far from my Ob-Gyn. I was going to be in a wedding in just a few days. And now, I’m bleeding. It’s so hard not to assume that every time you see blood, it’s a miscarriage. But I rushed back to bed and told Dave I was scared. He reminded me it had been a very busy, active day, and I wasn’t having any cramping. I tried to fall asleep. The rest of the weekend went fine. The bleeding was a one-time thing (again). I spotted a bit but took it easy. I didn’t dance much (sad) but managed to go on a little hike (beautiful) and make it home in one piece.

Now, here we are. No spotting for two weeks. Baby bump on its way. And a big sigh of relief that I’m out of the first trimester. Oye. And yet, I still find that I’m bracing myself at each appointment. What if they find something THIS time? What about THIS time? So far, God has answered our prayers and the baby continues to thrive. But at this rate, I just want to have a calm and boring pregnancy from here on out. Is that too much to ask? Maybe it is. But, at the moment, I’m too freaked out to exercise (plus the midwife suggested I stop), Dave has to lift even slightly heavy things for me, we are most assuredly not having sex (see pelvic rest) and all in all I’m feeling like a frail, fat butterfly rather than the hardy, fertile mountain lioness I was hoping to embody during my pregnancy. I imagined myself out in the garden, hoeing the dirt and wiping the sweat from my brow with my huge belly shining in the sun. I imagined being super productive rather than laying in bed all day or complaining of hip pain after a short walk.

I imagined my life wouldn’t change all that much until the babe came. But, I guess, I’m getting a good early lesson in the fact that babies disrupt your life in major ways, and because you love them, desire a good and enriched life and hope that they will thrive under your care, you do whatever it takes to ensure their health and well being, even if that means sitting on your ass most of the day, or sleeping on your left side at night even if it means you’ll never fall asleep, or avoiding the cold cut sub you’ve been craving like  an addict craves crack. And eventually this will mean waking up every three hours to feed the baby from my very body, walking the baby up and down the hall as it cries inconsolably, enduring countless nights of sleeplessness and countless days of broken engagements as your baby calls the shots (at least in those first months). Perhaps I should be thankful that this lesson in life-interrupting is coming early, though to be frank, I was hoping for a few more months off before mommyhood begins. But I would not take any of it back for the world.  This little, squirming life inside me is a gift to be nurtured and brought into being, in whatever way God sees fit. And for that joyful mystery, I say thank you, Lord, thank you.