Tag Archives: pregnancy

A Public Service Message to All the Pregnant Ladies Out There

pregnantbellySo there I was, pregnant for the second time, after giving birth to my beautiful daughter a year earlier, and stretching my weary limbs in a prenatal yoga class. Looking out across the sea of anxious eyes from mothers-to-be reminded me how frightened I was the first time I saw a double line on a pregnancy test, how nervous I was to embark on this life-changing experience with all its unknowable consequences.

After reflecting on everything my first pregnancy and delivery taught me, I’ve decided to offer a little advice to first-time moms.

During my first pregnancy, the fatigue and nausea turned me into a sleepy vegetable. It can be a vicious cycle: the fatigue makes you weak, and as you grow weaker, you become increasingly inactive and sore. By the time I had my first daughter, I was a terribly achy mess of bloated limbs and atrophied muscles, which ended up making everything harder than it probably had to be.

I managed to get into good shape, though, after the baby was born by attending a postpartum sculpt class where you can bring your crying infant and also take a break to cuddle your baby or breastfeed at any time without feeling the least bit self-conscious.

The class was wonderful.  Not only could we reclaim our shape after the ravages of pregnancy, but we could also get out of the house without worrying about our newborns going ballistic and making us suffer a bunch of awkward stares.

Beyond that, we could hang out with other new moms who were similarly stressed, sleep-deprived, and talk about our baby experiences to our hearts’ content.

For my next pregnancy, then, I decided to be proactive and take a prenatal yoga class.  It kept me in better physical shape by preserving flexibility and in better emotional shape by getting me out of the house to relax a couple of evenings a week with other women in various stages of pregnancy.

My first piece of advice, then, is to attend these pre- and post-natal classes whenever possible. Television and movies do NOT prepare you for pregnancy. In Hollywood, actresses just slide a pillow under their belts, eat sardines and ice cream, and otherwise frolic around like everything is fine until one day their water dramatically breaks and –BAM—motherhood!

Without other women to share your experiences with, you have no idea if your hip pain is normal, whether you should be concerned about constant heartburn, or how to keep food down, or whether [insert random body part] is supposed to look like that right now.

Of course, having the baby doesn’t magically end your confusion, either. It’s wonderful to be able to share advice with other women whose babies are crying nonstop for hours, who aren’t getting any sleep, who don’t know how to run an errand without their infant exploding into an impromptu public meltdown. I highly recommend these kinds of classes for the sake of your well-being.

My second line of advice, however, is even more important.

One interesting aspect of the prenatal class I attended is that after every woman delivers her baby, she writes about her delivery and everyone in the class gets to read an email about her birth story.  This is wonderful, especially for first-time mothers who are nervous, not knowing what to expect and undoubtedly being routinely terrorized by random women coming out of the woodwork to share every birthing horror story imaginable (seriously, when I was pregnant the first time, I don’t think a week went by without some strange woman telling me about her third degree tear, which is the last thing you want to envision throughout the nerve-wracking countdown).

Now, in a prenatal yoga class, especially one in which most members are enthusiastic breastfeeding advocates, there tends to be an inordinately high concentration of women trying for a “drug-free” natural birth.  Some of them even want to deliver the baby at home, instead of a hospital.  Many have watched The Business of Being Born, and regard the medical community with great suspicion.

I am more of a moderate in these matters, believing there are times when natural methods are the best tools, but other times when the scientific advancements of the medical community are the way to go.  For example, I think you are much better off controlling your cholesterol with diet and exercise, if possible, than relying on a drug. I also think popping an antibiotic every time you have a sniffle weakens the immune system and breeds antibiotic-resistant diseases.

However, if your heart suddenly stops or you come down with a dread disease, you need to be in a hospital with trained professionals, because Mother Nature doesn’t concern herself with weak members of the herd.  Likewise, I believe breastfeeding is by far the best method of nourishing an infant. But, like growing your own organic fruits and vegetables, it isn’t always feasible and formula has been a literal lifesaver for many.

Having given birth to one baby already and gotten to the hospital too late for an epidural, I can tell you from personal experience that doctors are not offering to numb your entire lower body via the spinal cord because labor is merely “uncomfortable” or something you can simply “breathe” away. People aren’t getting offered epidurals for gas pain or splinters…. you get them for childbirth or lower body SURGERY.

In other words, labor pain is potentially one of the most physically excruciating experiences a person can have, and can last a very, very, very long time. Yes, it is “natural,” but so is being eaten alive by lions, being crushed to death by an anaconda, or bleeding out during a problematic delivery.

And yes, you can do it without pain reducers, just like the women of yore. You can do a lot of things if you really need to, like saw off your own arm if it gets trapped under a boulder and you need to get free to survive.

But I think it is a particularly nasty form of cruelty to make a woman feel as though she somehow failed by accepting pain-management during childbirth.  We don’t call people “losers” for wanting Novocain when getting their teeth drilled or numbing shots before receiving stitches, yet some people will actually point to a woman who has suffered through constant nausea, back pain, hip pain, and fatigue for nine to ten months, and consider her selfish for using pain relief to help her through what might be 20+ hours of physical agony.

These women probably denied themselves everything from booze and soft cheeses to lunch meat and too many cups of coffee for the better part of a year, and then risked their lives in order to create new ones for the betterment of the entire species. How on earth could they be considered weak?

That being said, there are many women for whom natural childbirth remains a goal.  Sometimes they describe a natural birth as their version of climbing Mt. Everest, a physical achievement that gives them great confidence and an understanding of their own strength.  Some want to feel connected to the many generations of women who came before them by experiencing the same natural process.  Others want to be fully “present” during the birth process and believe that anything that drugs or numbs part of them will cloud the experience.

This is a deeply personal and valid decision, and my hat is off to any woman who manages to get through the entire episode without begging for the sweet, sweet release of anesthetics…

But, for the love of all that is rational and sacred, PLEASE do not attempt to do this at home. Please deliver your baby in a hospital filled with trained professionals and equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment… in case something goes wrong.  Because this is the one thing home birth advocates tend to forget: Women may have been having babies without doctors for centuries, but they also used to die in childbirth. All. The. Time. Sometimes in agonizing yet preventable ways.  So did the babies.

If you are in a hospital, no one is going to force you to have an epidural, you can have the baby as naturally as you want. Many hospitals now come equipped with midwives, birthing balls, and all the other nifty gadgets so beloved by the natural birth crowd.

You don’t need to have an epidural, but it is nice to have one available, in case you change your mind upon actually experiencing labor instead of just imagining it.

But far more importantly, you need to be in a hospital in case something goes wrong.  What if the baby is coming out the wrong way and is going to break its arm on the way out and cause you to tear from the vagina through the anus? What if the baby’s umbilical cord gets wrapped around its neck and the baby is going to rapidly suffer brain damage and then death if no one can fix the situation? What if your placenta tears away from the baby and you need an emergency C-section because you are hemorrhaging to death and both you and the baby will die without one?

Because these things DO happen from time to time, even to healthy women with normal pregnancies. For example, one of the leading advocates of the “Freebirth” movement, a group that argues for unassisted childbirth at home, is a woman named Janet Fraser. Though Fraser demands that other women be “drug free,” she herself ran to a hospital for her first delivery to request not only epidural anesthesia, but also a medically unnecessary C-section.  More tragically, in 2009, Fraser gave birth at home and her baby died of cardiac arrest. The coroner’s report indicated that the baby’s death would have been prevented in a hospital.

pregnancy-296486_640Every 90 seconds, a woman somewhere in the world dies in childbirth. In Afghanistan, where regressive gender politics have effectively forced women away from doctors, women face a one in ten chance of dying while delivering a baby.  Childbirth is no joke… it used to be one of the most dangerous times in a woman’s life and we have the medical and scientific communities to thank for so dramatically dropping those risks over the past century.

I believe much of the rhetoric of the natural/at-home birthing movement is akin to faith healing… the idea that childbirth only becomes dangerous or painful because you “believe” it will be implies that any suffering is your own fault and you wouldn’t be having these problems if you just had more faith in the process. It’s an emperor-has-no-clothes belief system, because any failure of its promise of painless, easy childbirth is blamed on the poor mother, who is apt to deny any problems because they would supposedly prove failure on her part, rather than the problematic belief system itself.

I suppose the ultimate show of faith is having a baby by yourself, at home, with no professionals around in case anything goes awry. But, gentle readers, this is simply a dangerous thing to do. How would you feel if something horrible happens to your baby and you then have to live with the fact that you might have prevented it if you weren’t trying to prove something?

If you absolutely, positively, insist in having the baby at home, at least be sure you are reasonably close to a hospital and DO NOT have the baby by yourself. Make sure you have a doula or midwife on hand who can figure out if an emergency situation is taking place so you can be rushed to the hospital if need be. Even in the days of yore, when women routinely gave birth at home, there was always someone hanging out with her, making sure she didn’t pass out or suddenly need assistance.

Because, dear readers, some of the birth stories I’ve read from the prenatal yoga moms have made my blood run cold, though obviously, I cannot reveal the mothers’ names without compromising their privacy. One woman labored by herself for hours, in the bathtub, while her husband was at work. She was in labor for several days before finally being rushed to the hospital. Her water had broken long ago, her baby was leaking meconium (baby poo) into her system, and she was going into septic shock.

She was given blood transfusions and an emergency C-section, which saved her life and that of her baby’s. Do any of you guys watch Downton Abbey?  Septic shock is a horrible way to die.

Another friend of mine was a huge advocate of natural, at-home birth. She is young, extremely healthy, and had to be rushed to the hospital while delivering her baby because she was bleeding to death.  They saved her and her son. She doesn’t like to tell anyone about the experience because: 1) it embarrasses her that the method she was so gung-ho about worked out so poorly, and 2) she feels like a failure because she didn’t give birth the way she wanted to. This is tragic, in my opinion, because women should not feel like failures after struggling through a naturally hazardous process, and also because we need to be aware of the very real risks we are taking.

I’d also like to share that of the many mothers who wanted a natural birth in my class, the majority ended up begging for an epidural somewhere around 4 centimeters of dilation, which is before things get really rough.

There is no shame in this.  You cannot be expected to truly know whether you will need pain management if you have never experienced this type of pain before, and it is good to have all options available.

There are also a couple of mothers who made it all the way through… they gave birth with nary an anesthetic in sight and they feel fantastic about their accomplishment. No one forced them to get an epidural; you see… it is always your choice.

Just because something is possible, does not mean it is always desirable.  Mother Nature can be quite harsh. She weeds out members of the herd by killing off members prone to physical problems and removing them from the gene pool. But Nature also made the human animal a brilliant creature who could invent new medications and methods of preventing many deaths and illnesses. So, you could also view medical practices as natural, in that they are the natural extension of human ingenuity and invention.

Some might even argue that taking unnecessary risks, rather than relying on your species’ ingenuity, makes you a potential candidate for weeding out.

If you wish to forgo the epidural, that is a valid choice. But please, keep yourselves safe.

That is all.


Victory! Youbeauty Changes Their Sexist Article

At least they were polite
At least they were polite

Those of you who have been reading my blog will know that I’ve recently had a minor skirmish with the editors at Youbeauty.com, part of Dr. Oz’s health and beauty empire.

It all came about on Wednesday, when they published an article, “Pick Your Pregnancy,” about how you can increase your odds of having a son by getting healthier.

Not only did the article make a number of distressing assumptions (that women prefer sons, that daughters are born to unhealthy women, and that dominant males are supposed to be in charge), but the research it used to support its claim directly contradicted it.

Hoping to prompt readers to see where Youbeauty went wrong, I commented on the site, pointing out that the study actually reached a different conclusion. My comment was removed by the administration within the hour, which I blogged about here.

That post received a surprisingly high number of views, generating enough interest that I was motivated to try again (thank you, Bubbles and Beebots readers!). Last night I posted another comment to the article, noting that my previous one had been removed and pointing out that the study flat out concluded that “healthy females do NOT produce more male offspring.”

This time it took. Youbeauty contacted me, apologizing for the oversight in reporting and saying they had corrected their mistake. The article has been amended, and now reads, “Can you defy the odds? A recent hypothesis believed that women are able to adjust their offspring’s sex… But based on the mating patterns of bighorn ewes, ewes-to-be don’t seem to have much choice in the matter (without a helping hand from a fertility doctor, that is.)”

It’s a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. I still don’t care for the loaded language in the article. Saying that women “don’t have much choice in the matter” of increasing their odds of having sons without the “helping hand of a fertility doctor” sure seems to suggest women prefer sons, doesn’t it?

Is Youbeauty hinting that women should see fertility doctors to aid them in male gender selection? Did I fall through a time portal and wake up in the 17th century?

At any rate, I thought there was enough reader interest to promote the post from my blog’s Facebook page. Millions of women read articles like these every day, and are often too busy to check out the supporting research. The internet is supposed to be a free market of ideas, allowing critical voices as much air time as supportive ones. I’m not comfortable with the idea of major news sources reporting supposedly scientifically-verified claims, then just obliterating reasonable dissent, are you?

So I created an ad link, asking why editors of Dr. Oz’s Youbeauty site were removing reader comments. Facebook rejected my link on grounds of profanity or offensive content.

Profanity? Really? Thousands of underage girls are splashing Facebook daily with g-string photos, but I’m offensive?

It didn’t make any sense. I didn’t swear or say anything racist or sexist, unless you count pointing out sexism as sexist. Maybe they took issue with the post itself, so I scoured my post and found the term “bullshit.”

Sigh… Apparently I like to work blue. Look, I don’t swear in front of my kids, but I’m a grownup and my site is for grownups and sometimes “bullshit” is the best word to describe what you’re talking about. Like when it’s sexist bullshit. “Poppycock” just doesn’t have the same flair.

Still, I amended the word “bullshit” to “B.S.,” so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of your average Facebook reader. You wouldn’t want a mommyblog that says “bullshit” when dissecting the latest sexist media article, so thank heaven there is nothing offensive for kids to run into on the internet anymore.

After censoring my work, I resubmitted the ad. And it was rejected again, on the grounds of profanity and/or offensive content. Perplexed, I sent a note to Facebook admin asking why my ad was rejected.

I still haven’t heard from them. What’s going on here? Is Facebook afraid of pissing off Dr. Oz, with his gazillion dollar media empire? Is using the word “sexist” enough to get my ad shut down? What do you think?

YouBeauty Removes My Comment

My incendiary comment is removed by the powers that be
My incendiary comment is removed by the powers that be
Yesterday, I posted about a “Daily Aha!” article from YouBeauty entitled “Pick Your Pregnancy” that went out to inboxes everywhere.

For those of you who don’t know, Youbeauty is part of Dr. Oz’s health and beauty empire. Subscribers get daily inbox fare about current scientific health studies and beauty advice.

This article, with the byline “your health could determine your baby’s gender,”  claims that healthier women are more likely to have sons. Supposedly, this is because a healthy son is more likely to become a dominant male who will increase his mom’s genetic footprint.

While describing how you can increase your odds of gender selection, the article features a  photo of a cute baby in a blue room, wrapped in a blue blanket. The implication isn’t subtle: moms who can choose, choose boys. And you can increase your odds of bearing a strapping Alpha boy by getting healthier.

Irritated by its many sexist assumptions (that women prefer sons, that mothers of daughters are less healthy, and that we are genetically wired to be bossed around by Alpha males), I clicked on the article’s research link to see what methodology was used to support these throwback conclusions.

And what do you know? The cited study actually flat out disagrees with the idea, saying “healthy females do not produce more male than female offspring.” Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Apparently, some Swiss researchers were testing the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, which

http://www.flickr.com/people/46573994@N04 These ewes also know the superior value of strapping sons, amiright ladies?
(Phillip Haupt) These ewes also know the superior value of strapping sons, amirite ladies?
states that healthy women should benefit from changing the sex of their offspring, by looking at Bighorn ewes (cause sheep are just like us, I guess), who expected healthy ewes to create bighorn “supermales” (cue Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries).

Only they didn’t, which should poke a hole in the entire theory. Wondering who at Youbeauty decided “healthy females do not produce more male offspring” means “healthy females produce more male offspring,” I glanced at the author and was further irritated to see a woman’s name: Rebekka Spiller. Great.

How many women are going to read that article, and being too busy to check out the research, will leave with the idea that science says bearing a son means superior fitness? Still bothered by the idea, I decided to leave a comment on the article today about how the study contradicts the article’s conclusion. I hoped it would prompt  readers to check the study before assuming the article had a clue what it was talking about.

And within the hour, my comment was removed by the administration.

Not sure why, since I didn’t break any of the standard rules about commenting. My comment didn’t use any profanity and wasn’t personally insulting. I didn’t say, “Rebekka Spiller, you dimwitted hack, great job reporting the complete opposite of what your cited study actually concluded so you could promote this sexist B.S.”

I also didn’t mention my own article, or promote my blog, or say anything that could be construed as spam.

All I did was point out that the study didn’t back the author’s conclusion, but the administration saw fit to remove my comment immediately. The article lives on, however, promoting its flawed research and jacked up conclusions. 

Very interesting.

Healthy Women Are NOT More likely to Produce Sons, YouBeauty

Do your Kegels, ladies...
Do your Kegels, ladies…

This morning, a nasty little email from Youbeauty.com, entitled “Daily Aha! Pick Your Pregnancy,” assaulted my inbox.

Intrigued by the teaser “Your health could determine your baby’s gender,” I couldn’t help but click on the article link.

According to the article, you can “defy the odds” when it comes to your baby’s gender.  Based on recent research, “women are able to adjust their offspring’s sex based on their state of health.” The author explains how healthy women are more likely to give birth to boys, because healthy women are more likely to produce dominant males.

As a female, as well as the mother of two adorable girls, this sexist tripe really pisses me off. Let me explain why.

It assumes women prefer sons.

The article starts off with the promise that women may be able to influence their offspring’s gender. Since an article published by a health and fitness website is clearly not going to advise pregnant women to make themselves unhealthy, the unspoken assumption is that pregnant woman prefer sons.

This is 2015, folks. Do we really want to keep fueling the idea that daughters are a second rate consolation prize in the world of baby delivery? We no longer live on the farm, where strong backs and upper body strength reign supreme.

It assumes mother of daughters are unhealthy

Since healthy women supposedly have more sons, the further assumption is that mothers of daughters are unhealthy. It suggests that women in top condition produce males, whereas women of inferior breeding stock are likely to produce inferior female children, as though it were an undesirable mutation.

One thing that really bugs me about evolutionary theory (fascinating though it may be), is how it constantly assumes men evolve to benefit their own individual genetic legacy, whereas women evolve for the benefit of the group.

Take monogamy, for example. Evolutionary scientists are always saying men cheat because they can effectively spread their seed and increase their number of offspring, regardless of the chaos it causes their tribe. Women, however, are supposed to be “naturally monogamous,” because they can’t indefinitely spread their seed.

How convenient. So, it wouldn’t benefit a woman to have as many resources and as much protection for her offspring that she can get her hands on? If a strong, healthy, attractive male hits the scene, it wouldn’t be beneficial for a female to ensure healthier offspring by hooking up with him? And say a nicer guy wants to bring her resources while she’s handicapped by pregnancy… it wouldn’t be helpful to ensure his cooperation?

I want to make it clear that I do not endorse cheating, by anyone. I just think if we are going to strip away all the wonderful trappings of the social contract to focus on selfish instincts, we should at least be consistent about it. It’s ridiculous to pretend one gender acts in its own best interests while the other doesn’t.

I’ll bet daughters also benefit from healthy mothers.

It assumes humans defer to a dominant male

If women supposedly increase their genetic footprint by giving birth to a dominant male, the assumption is that human society is supposed to be like, say, chimp society where the dominant male is in charge and gets access to all the fertile females. It assumes polygamy is naturally intended, so much so that our genes are wired to default to it.

This is a big assumption. For ethical reasons, you can’t conduct human behavioral experiments that honor the scientific method. Truly scientific experiments involve controlling all factors except a single variable, so you can be sure that whatever results you observe are a product of the variable. So to conduct scientifically valid experiments on human behavior, we would have to raise groups of babies in controlled settings, doing everything the same except one thing, then watch what happens.

We obviously can’t do that, so scientists often look to the behavior of animals for insight. But what animal? Dominant chimp males may be in charge, but what about bonobos, elephants, and lionesses?

Sure, there are many human societies that practice polygamy, but humans are an adaptable species that practice all sorts of arrangements. In dangerous environments where many of the men are killed off, polygamy makes sense. But in safer environments, monogamy actually increases the overall number of offspring.

So no, Youbeauty, I don’t accept the idea that we are all genetically designed to be part of some Alpha guy’s harem.

The article is wrong

Finally, I’m willing to entertain solid scientific evidence, regardless of what my personal feelings may be. Science is supposed to tell us how the world actually works, not how we would like it to work. If this research shows a clear, consistent pattern of healthier women producing more male offspring, so be it.

Except it doesn’t. Not even a little bit.

To see what all the fuss is about, I clicked on the study the article is referring to. It’s an article talking about Swiss researchers who looked at the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, which states that it is “beneficial for mothers to be able to adjust the sex of their offspring in response to their own state of health,” and that “a female in good condition should give birth to more male offspring.”

The researchers observed animals species, including bighorn ewes, who usually mate with the dormant male and give birth to one lamb a year. Their findings? “Healthy females do not produce more male than female offspring.”

*Mic drop.*

So, the research cited by Youbeauty.com directly contradicts the conclusion of the youbeauty.com article? Seems pretty straightforward to me. Did the article’s author, Rebecca Spiller (really, it’s a woman?), even bother to read the study before she pumped this sexist claptrap into our inboxes?

Shut up, Youbeauty.com. You’re embarrassing yourself.

Daughters, Tea Parties and Science

Brontësaurus uncovers dinosaur fossils.
Brontësaurus uncovers dinosaur fossils.

Not long ago, I attended a dinner with a bunch of other moms. One of has a son, but is pregnant and just found out she is going to have a little girl.

She was very depressed by the news. She was hoping to have two boys.

Most of the women attending this dinner, in fact, have sons, and talked at length about how they strongly prefer boys and would be really upset if they found out they were having girls. “I hate girly things,” one of them said, “And I just couldn’t stand having a girl and having to have pink princesses everywhere. If I had a girl, she better be into basketball or something.” Many of the women nodded in agreement. The other moms of daughters stayed uncomfortably quiet as I briefly tried to defend daughters before being shut down by more anti-girl sentiments.

This conversation upset me on multiple levels. It made me sad to think a group of women didn’t want girl babies. It frustrated me that women who were more into basketball than princesses couldn’t imagine girls being more into basketball than princesses. These girl babies weren’t even born yet, but were still considered a disappointment based on preconceived ideas.

It wasn’t the first time I had encountered this type of thinking. Though I didn’t have a strong gender preference when I found out I was pregnant, I was still curious enough to find out as soon as possible whether I was having a girl or boy. I guess I just wanted to better picture my future child and think up possible names. When I became obviously pregnant, strangers would typically first ask me when I was due and then ask me if I was having a boy or girl. I would smile and say “a baby girl.”

I was shocked by all the negative responses I heard from perfect strangers, like, “OMG, girls are horrible teenagers,” or “Girls prefer their dads. Boys like their moms but girls prefer their dads,” or simply, “watch out, girls are evil.” Once I even heard, “My friend ‘Antonia’ had a daughter and now her husband never pays any attention to her because he only cares about his daughter. Fathers are like that.”

I have no clue what these people were thinking, but it was the worst crap for a hormone-driven pregnant woman to hear. Sometimes these comments would bring me to tears as my brain morphed the loving baby growing inside me into a hateful parasite that would tear apart the family. Nervous already about parenthood, I ached from the thought of loving my daughter to pieces while being cruelly rejected. Was my child going to hate me?

After some soul-searching (and more bucketloads of hormones dumping into my brain), I became more furious than sad. My daughter wasn’t even born yet and people were already trying to turn us against each other. People were saying nasty things about her and trying to make me feel bad about her. I wasn’t going to let them. What if women heard these horrible things and kept an emotional distance between themselves and their daughters until it became a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Suddenly, I thought about all the nasty messages in fairytales. Cinderella had an evil stepmother and stepsisters, and had to be rescued by some guy. Snow White’s mother tried to kill her. Sometimes there was no mother but a loving father (The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Aladdin) and usually an evil witch was screwing everything up (Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel). Where were the positive relationships between two women? I can’t think of a single one before Brave came out.

And this idea that little girls only like princesses… Well, I thought, that has also been indoctrinated since day 1. You get everything painted pink in the nursery and get separate girl clothes, toys, and scripts from then on….

I decided to love my daughter with everything I had and also try not to push stereotypical girl stuff on her. I tried to get her clothes that weren’t all pink and glittery, toys that were gender-neutral, and books that didn’t feature a helpless princess.

Fast-forward a couple years and this is what I have learned:

1. If you put your daughter in gender-neutral clothing, everyone will call her a boy.

2.  Despite all my efforts, I probably have the girliest, girly-girl, McGirly daughter that ever walked the planet.

I’m serious. She wants nothing more than to have tea parties while wearing princess dresses, and the fluffier, glitterier, and poofier the dress, the better. I don’t even know where she learned about tea parties. She is obsessed with cupcakes, butterflies and unicorns. She wants to help me pick out my nail polish colors and jewelry. She even has a little shrine of Disney princesses on her shelf that I swear I’ve seen her genuflect in front of before leaving her room.

This whole gender tabula rasa experiment has been an Epic Fail. Back to the drawing board.

I figured I could refuse to get her princess dresses and girly stuff, but wouldn’t that be forcing her to be something she’s not? Maybe I needed to look at this whole gender issue from a more nuanced perspective. After all, it’s not so much the color pink or the dresses that I object to, but rather the idea of women being silly and helpless. Maybe wearing a pink dress is okay as long as she pays attention in math and science class.

I thought about the way girls were portrayed when I was growing up. Boys were watching He-Man, for example, about a strong warrior that saved the universe. It was a popular show, so they came out with the female equivalent, “She-Ra.” I only watched a single episode of She-Ra, because the major plot point was how She-Ra saved a purple baby unicorn from being teased by telling the bullies how mean they were. He-Man was battling demons and saving humanity while She-Ra was being a good hall monitor.

Show me your Hall Pass!
Show me your Hall Pass!

I was about five when I saw the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom movie. The heroine was a complete idiot who poured perfume on elephants and worried about her clothes. I still remember a scene where Indy and a little boy were being crushed to death by spikes and this lady wouldn’t pull a lever to save them because there was a bug on it. She didn’t even have the brains to use a stick or rock. Spoiler: Indy had to figure out how to stop the spikes because she never manages to help them. Even at the tender age of five, I was incredibly insulted by this portrayal of girls.

On the other hand, you have Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark. She could hold her own. She could put on a pretty dress when it was appropriate (like when trying to escape her captors), but was also very tough and capable. She freaked out a bit when locked in a tomb filled with thousands of deadly snakes, but who wouldn’t? Not exactly the same as letting a kid be impaled because you’re afraid of a bug.

And then you have Princess Leia. I LOVED Princess Leia when I was a little girl. She would also wear pretty clothes when it was appropriate (like for state ceremonies and parties) but was smart and a bad-ass. She resisted torture, thought up an escape plan, and was a good shot.

So, maybe instead of worrying about whether my daughter does stereotypical girly stuff, I’m better off making sure she is a well-rounded, confident person. Maybe she needs to learn that you can wear a dress AND be smart. You can make a cupcake AND change a flat tire. There are stronger female role models out there now than when I was a kid, like Michonne from Walking Dead (not that I’m going to let my toddlers watch that, of course).

In hopes of raising a well-rounded daughter, I’m trying to expose her to as many different things as possible. The photos in this post are from the Children’s Museum in San Jose. GREAT place, by the way. She is brushing off dinosaur fossils and staring at mastodons. She may not understand all the exhibits yet, but I’m hoping early exposure will help her later on in science class.

She loves lots of girly things, but also lots of other stuff. She loves trains, so we go to the Railroad Museum in Sacramento. She loves climbing, so we take her to Fairytale Town and endless parks. She likes banging hammers, so she has little kid tool sets. If she wants to bang hammers while wearing a flowered hat, who cares?

Finally, the other important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s not true that daughters prefer their fathers. She loves her daddy, of course, but also loves me to pieces. She hugs and kisses me all day and wants to walk around holding hands. She hands me flowers that she picks and always notices my hair when I return from the hairdresser.

I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers.

What the hell is this?
What the hell is this?

Seven Ways I Have Changed Since Parenthood

photoBefore I had kids, I was the perfect parent. I had tons of great ideas about how I would raise my pretend children and what our life would look like (generally, it looked a lot like a happy sitcom family). Between all the media images and examples around us, we are all parenting experts…. I mean, it’s just the advanced version of having a pet, right?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (That’s me responding to my former self.)

Now that I’ve had a few years of actual, on-the-job training, my perspective has completely changed.  For the benefit of pending parents, I would like to share some lessons I’ve learned:

1. I have learned to relax about a little messiness.

I wouldn’t go so far as saying I used to be OCD, but I was very averse to clutter. You never know who is going to drop by, so I always picked up after myself and tried to keep excess possessions to a minimum. Any lingering crap would irritate me until I took care of it, because clutter quickly snowballs into filthy surroundings and out-of-control To-Do lists.

Fast-forward to having kids: a perfectly tidy house is impossible. Kids reach a stage where they are incredibly curious about the world and want to run around opening every drawer and cabinet while dumping its contents onto the floor. They will carry handfuls of toys into every room and leak them into hidden crevices. They are messy eaters who will launch rice grains into every nook of your kitchen while rubbing beans into their hair.

Toddlers are very mobile yet too young to clean after themselves, so they run around exploding your house all day long, day after day. Picking up after them is like using a sieve to empty a lake–the mess just keeps filling in as you scoop it out. Keeping down your number of possessions is also difficult because kids grow out of clothes within hours and everyone is constantly giving them presents… and they are Super Mega Attached to every last one of them (You’re throwing away Broken Doll Head with the sad eyes? You monster!).

Eventually you either have an aneurysm from the chaos or learn to chill out about it, scooping it all up at the end of the day.

2.  I have learned to relax about being messy.

Before kids, I used to be the type of woman who usually wore heels (or at least boots), even when pregnant. I wore skirts and dresses as often as jeans and always flat-ironed my hair before applying light makeup. I was always clean, perfumed, and accessorized. I did not understand why so many women chopped their hair off and ran around in sweats and flip-flops after becoming moms.

Now I do. When you have a baby, anything you wear is bound to be covered in puke within hours and chucked into the laundry bin. This puke-fest will include your hair. Babies spit up, smear everything with goop, and sometimes overflow their diapers. You might have to change your clothes five times in a single day. You will not only be exhausted from sporadic sleep, but will also be sprinting everywhere, cleaning up spills while carting around infants with flailing limbs. If you do this in heels, you will eventually be doing a face-plant into the wall.

While I still try to dress with some dignity in public, my at-home wardrobe has slid into yoga pants and comfy flip-flops. Your life is so much easier if you tone it down a notch and keep remembering that everything washes off/out.

3.  I have learned to build extra time into my schedule.

Me getting out the door for an appointment used to look like this: am I dressed? Check. Do I have my wallet and car keys? Check. Did I turn the coffee pot off? Check. Okay, now I’m leaving the house. Done!

Now it looks like this: Okay, the kids are up and dressed and have eaten now, are their diapers clean? No? Okay, I’ll fix that. Okay, how long are we going to be gone? Do I have enough extra diapers, baby wipes, a change of clothes, emergency snacks, extra milk and water? Okay, we are ready… no, oops someone just crapped their pants. Gotta change them, oh well it got on their clothes… need more clothes. Actually, a quick shower. Alrighty now, wait, “Brontë what’s on your hands!? Okay, we are washing your hands. Where are your shoes? WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES? (I trip over a pile of kid crap). Why did you put your shoes THERE? Don’t cry! It’s okay! Yes, you HAVE to wear shoes. BRIDGET, GET YOUR HANDS OUT OF THE TOILET!” Oh Hell, we are 45 minutes in but FINALLY walking out the door… what’s that? Someone crapped their pants AGAIN?

Little kids just DO NOT CARE about getting places on time.

4. I have learned to manage my expectations.

Somewhere recently I read about a stay-at-home mom looking at her crazy, scattered house and thinking, “I have been up for hours and what have I done?” It really feels that way sometimes, because everything takes So. Much. Longer. than it used to. You make breakfast and feed your child, then need to spend time scrubbing all the breakfast off our baby, the high-chair, and kitchen. You’re dressing and constantly changing your kids and trying to entertain them while containing explosions and looking for a brief window during which to take your own shower and brush your teeth. You get the kid(s) down for a nap, finally, and have to decide whether to use that precious hour to do errands or catch up on sleep. By the end of the day, the house is still a wreck, you have only managed to meet basic life demands  (eating, sleeping, and showering) and yet you are completely exhausted, thinking about everything you didn’t accomplish.

Eventually you develop better systems, becoming more organized and efficient, but there will always be particularly hard days where your kid got into a bag of flour and dumped it all over the house or decided to throw a two-hour fit. Give yourself a break. We are all doing the best we can.

5.   I have more empathy for parents.

I used to see kids acting up in public and shake my head. “Why don’t the parents do something, ” I would think, “My kids wouldn’t act like that.”  I would envision the imaginary monologue I would give my pretend children that would be so reasonable, so effective… It’s not unlike when someone is super rude to you and you later imagine what you should have said to them, some witty comeback that humbles them and amuses bystanders.

The problem with that kind of thinking is it’s all scripted in your head. Of course it’s effective–it’s part of your fantasy scene, where you control all the responses and reactions. In movies, the main character’s witty comebacks always go over well because they are written that way. No one interrupts them halfway through or fails to be appropriately put in their place afterwards.

Not so in real life. In real life, you dish out your heartwarming pearls of wisdom or parental threats and sometimes… the kids don’t care. It doesn’t help. They keep screaming in the restaurant or knocking crap over. You give them a toy, a snack, you try to hold them… and it doesn’t work. Or maybe it works on one kid, but not the other. They just keep going batshit crazy as you scramble to figure out how to handle the situation.

In the meantime, you are probably getting eye-rolls and disdainful snorts from bystanders, which doesn’t help one bit. Single people like to talk about what they would do if they were the parents (in their fantasy land where everything works out the way it should) or say obnoxious things like you chose to have kids so you need to take responsibility for them. A number of times, I have encountered grumpy eye-rolling just because people saw that I have kids–kids that weren’t acting up or doing anything objectionable beyond existing. “Oh great,” people’s faces seemed to say, “Kids. Terrific.”

Okay, I get it. You don’t want to be disturbed by other people’s kids. Some of you think kids get too much attention anyway and not everyone should have kids. You might not want kids and resent the idea that you should have to.

I agree. Not everyone has to or should have children. You can have a great life, with more time and money, after choosing to not have kids. Maybe you don’t have the right temperament or lifestyle for children, and it’s great that you understand that about yourself and have chosen to forgo having them. But someone needs to have kids, unless we want the human race to go extinct, and those kids can’t be locked away in a tower until reaching maturity. They must live among us as they learn how to behave. Try to give their parents a break. They are probably mortified and are doing the best they can.

5. I’m more comfortable with all children.

Kids used to frighten me. I didn’t dislike them, I just didn’t understand or know what to do with them. People would pass me their new babies and I would freak out a little (“Oh no, aren’t they supposed to have a soft spot on their head? I gotta make sure I don’t touch the soft spot!” Little kids would settle near me and I wouldn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know how much their brain had developed at a certain age, how much they could understand and communicate, or what they thought was interesting. If a little boy was staring at me, I might pick up a couple hot wheels and smash them together, “Is this fun? Are you being entertained by this?”

So imagine my panic upon discovering I was pregnant. I wasn’t a “kid type” woman. I didn’t swoon over baby photos or look at kids with a yearning ache. Could I really be a mom?

Yes. As panicked as I was throughout my pregnancy, the first sight of my newborn’s shiny eyes melted my heart and kick-started my maternal instincts. We have to give Mother Nature some credit here: we have been having babies for thousands of years and all of those generations survived to bring us the people around us. This doesn’t mean I suddenly knew how to handle every parenting situation, it just means I loved my baby to pieces and would do anything to figure out how to keep her safe and healthy. I even went on to have another kid.

Now that I have kids, other kids don’t frighten me anymore. You learn they aren’t a foreign species, just little people who are learning how to navigate the world around them.

7. I trust my instincts more.

Regardless of what choices you make as a parent, someone thinks you’re wrong. Medical and generational advice constantly changes. When I was pregnant, the official stance was to avoid eating nuts because they could trigger allergies. I’m glad I didn’t listen to that because now they are saying we should eat nuts while pregnant to prevent allergies.

Breastfeeding is taught as the healthiest option for babies, but a couple of generations back, formula-feeding was considered safer.  We are supposed to put babies on their backs to sleep, but my mother’s generation was advised to put babies to sleep on their stomachs. They used to advise sterilizing anything coming into contact with babies, but now we are finding out that this is bad for developing immune systems. Early potty-training used to be very important, but now they are saying kids train when they are ready.

My grandmother is horrified that I let my daughters suck their fingers and thumbs. She mentions it every single time she sees them, believing it will give them flat fingers and giant thumbs. She claims her mother was allowed to do it and had to live with giant, flat thumbs.  I try to keep a straight face when I hear this.

Some people think letting babies cry-it-out to learn to sleep through the night is barbaric, while others think it’s necessary for parental well-being. Some people believe strict discipline prevents your kid from becoming a thug, while others believe it  crushes creativity and breeds resentment.  Some believe in time-outs, while others see this as a demonstration of alienation and conditional love.

Working moms are berated for “letting other people raise their children.” They are called selfish and greedy. Stay-at-home moms are berated for betraying the women’s movement and not planning for the future. They are called lazy and spoiled.

Single parents are criticized for irresponsibly bringing children into this world without an intact family, whereas parents with troubled marriages are told they shouldn’t stay together “for the sake of the kids.”

I think everyone gets my point here, which is that no matter what your choices are, you can’t satisfy everyone. In the end, you have to listen to all the theory and then apply what you think is right for your family and your individual situation. You might have to try different things and see what works. If your heart is in the right place, however, everything will probably turn out fine.

Daddies, Babies, and The March Toward Siblings

This family is tired.
This family is tired.

With advancing pregnancy, it’s getting harder and harder to do much of anything. Standing or walking too long makes my hips ache. Going over a bump while driving makes me feel kicked in the crotch, as does taking too hard a step. Spontaneous waves of mind-numbing fatigue, the kind that make you wonder what was in your drink, smack me facedown on an hourly basis.

As a result, I’m spending more and more time off my feet. The first time around, I was reading book upon books about childrearing, like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (which needs to be shot, by the way, or at least renamed “If You’re Not Suffering, You’re Wrong”).  I even read “Queen Bees and Wannabes” after finding out I was having a girl, hoping it would help me arm my girl against future mean girl schoolyard toughs.

Ah, those were the days of scary first time parenting. The second time around, I’m filling endless hours dealing with a crazy banshee toddler, hoping she doesn’t figure out that I can’t bend over, and contemplating how we’re going to pull off this newborn + toddler thing.

John is being a saint. He helping me with laundry and tying my shoes now, because of the aforementioned bending-over issues. If I inadvertently drop something, it’s dead to me now.  I can’t pick up all the messes Brontë leaves anymore, so clutter is piling up our floors and I try to see around my feet to avoid tripping on it as I waddle back and forth until John comes home and pushes it all aside like one of those ice-smoothing machines at ice skating rinks. He is doing most of the cooking now, after a hard day’s work, which means we are all eating a lot of spaghetti and pizza (but I’m hardly complaining!). I think Brontë wishes her dad always cooked.

All you single moms out there? I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know what I would do without my husband to help out, whether it’s putting dinner on the table, or taking a nighttime feeding shift so I can get a couple hours more sleep, or just being there to hold my hand when I’ve had a rough day. Partly, he is a great daddy and a wonderful husband who is excited to have another baby and wants to help out the best he can. Partly, he figured out after the first pregnancy that I am way too hormonal and scary to argue with when pregnant and right now it’s best for him to just agree with me , offer me food, and back out of the room slowly without baring any teeth…

We are having another girl, yay! That means cute little sisters and bunkbeds and well-attended tea parties. Having a boy would have been cool too, of course, because then I would have one of each. John seems happy to be getting girls. I think it’s because he put his own parents through twenty shades of hell growing up and is afraid of having to parent a little version of himself. On the other hand, he doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up as a girl; he has the Hallmark cute version running through his head while I’m suddenly panicking about how to protect them from catty schoolmates (girls can be MEAN!), body-image nightmares, and push-up bras marketed to 10-year-olds.

Now that we are getting so close to the new baby’s arrival, my husband and I are strategizing about how to best handle it with Brontë. We were both only children, so we had a Hallmark fantasy about how cool it would be to have a brother or sister growing up (complete with holding hands, pinkie-swears, and unshakeable loyalty). From people who ACTUALLY had siblings, however, we have heard all kinds of horror stories about sibling rivalry, feelings of abandonment and replacement, and are trying to figure out how to minimize conflict. Brontë is used to loads of attention and will be, though sheer circumstance, not getting the standard amount very soon.

The first thing we have done is move Brontë into her own room. Our pediatrician stressed the importance of doing this at six months, but we ignored that, since Brontë loves to sleep in a crib in our room. We set up a new room for her and talked all about her new “big girl” bed, and John slept on a mattress in her room for a couple weeks to ease her into the change. We wanted to do this before the baby was here because we didn’t want her to associate being moved out with the new baby coming in. So far, this is working out…

I have also explained to Brontë that there will be a new baby. She is growing in my belly, I told her, and my belly is getting bigger and bigger as the baby gets bigger and one day I will squeeze her out and bring her home. I think she gets it, since she points at my belly whenever she hears about babies. I told Brontë that she is getting a baby sister that she can teach things to and be friends with. I explained that the baby would cry a lot, because that’s what babies do, but she would grow up and play with her in time. Brontë seems concerned sometimes, but often excited about the prospect.

Many times while growing up, my mother talked about how traumatic it was when her little sister was born. She was sent to stay with her grandparents for a couple weeks when the new baby arrived, and felt “pushed out” by a new rival. Bearing this in mind, John and I have been scratching our heads about how to handle that newborn stage, when the baby is up all hours of the night and I am recovering from childbirth. We decided that Brontë feeling “replaced” was a bigger concern than her getting enough sleep, and are planning to move a mattress into our room and all sleep in the same room, so she feels included.

Brontë might have wonky sleep for a while and John and I might be more exhausted, but feeling replaced left such a lasting impression on my own mother that I think it’s best to stay communal, despite the difficulties. She will stay with my parents while we are in the hospital, but come home as soon as we do. I’m picturing a lot of take-out food, cartoons and round-the-clock naps.

We are crossing our fingers and hoping for the best…

Pregnancy Pancake Anxiety

Whatever we do, these must not be compromised.
Whatever we do, these must not be compromised.

John: I’ve been eating bacon all day, and we are almost out of pancake batter.

Me: We have three boxes in the cupboards. We are not almost out.

John: That’s what people say right before they run out of pancake batter.

This is an exciting time for John. I am pregnant again, which means all our typical food rules have been suspended. I won’t diet while pregnant, believing it’s best to follow my body’s appetites, and my pregnant body tends to be ravenously hungry. John starts cooking more and more as I get more tired and uncomfortable, and I no longer hassle him about how healthy the meals should be. He rubs his hands together in gleeful anticipation of the pancake extravaganza that awaits us.

Normally, there is a lot of tension about our different approaches to food. When John first made me dinner, while we were dating, I was absolutely blown away. He made a grilled filet mignon, wrapped in bacon, with this amazing gorgonzola butter sauce poured on top. “I have found the holy grail!” I thought, “the holy trinity of boyfriend qualities: he’s cute, he’s funny, and he can cook!’

His awesome steak, bacon, and butter meal had also calmed down my nervousness about his thinness. Many women love thin men, but I’ve always liked guys with a little bit of belly on them. I think it’s because, deep in my evolutionary DNA, I’m afraid that a thin guy is ill, depressed, or a bad hunter. Maybe because I come from a long line of farmers, a belly tells me my potential mate has a healthy appetite, can provide food, and will make it through the winter. A little belly makes a good investment.

Given my fears, John’s steak, butter, and bacon feast was reassuring. I love to eat, though I have to watch my weight, so having a boyfriend that eats nothing but egg whites and protein shakes is my idea of Hell. If  he tries to wake me up at 4:30 AM to go for a jog, I’m running for the hills and never looking back.

“I love that you can cook and like good food,” I told him. “You’re thin, so I was worried you’re one of those guys that never eats.”

“No, my friends used to say I always ordered the left side of the menu,” he said. “I just have the kind of metabolism where I eat and eat and can never put on any weight. People don’t understand how hard it is. It’s so hard to have to eat and eat all the time and stay thin,” he continued, as I felt my relief creep into irritation.

“You might want to keep that little problem to yourself. Especially around people who are dieting,” I said gently, managing not to punch him in the face as he stared back, blinking in bewilderment.

It turns out that the steak meal with butter was not so much John’s idea of a special dinner as how he figured anyone should eat if they bothered to cook at all. The list of things John likes to eat is rather limited. It consists of: cheese, steak, bacon, butter, pasta, and bread. Anything else is a dangerous Trojan horse lurking on his plate.

It further turns out that John likes to eat the same thing all the time, whereas I have to endlessly experiment or I get very bored with my food. John’s steak dinner was not so much a representation of his typical cooking abilities as him exhausting his cooking repertoire to impress his date (which worked). There are a handful of things that John can cook very well, like steak, bacon, tacos and blueberry pancakes, but he had spent the last five years eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk for dinner.

I am not making that up. The man ate a freakin’ PB& J sandwich for dinner for five years, broken up with the occasional thawed-out pizza or corn dog.

Our eating habits are polar opposites. When we order Mexican or Chinese food, John always wants a burrito or sweet & sour pork. I look at the menu and ask him to add, say, a pork dish with black bean sauce and he  looks at me like I just suggested we ride motorcycles blindfolded.  He also thought he was allergic to cilantro, because one time, after drinking a bunch of tequila and eating a bunch of Mexican food, he threw up.

“Umm,” I gently suggested, “Maybe the tequila was responsible for that. Maybe you’re unfairly blaming the cilantro.” He glared at me for poking substantial holes in his airtight anti-cilantro defense.

There were endless arguments concerning What to Eat for Dinner. I explained to him that if I eat bacon and butter all day, I will get very fat, so I have to find tasty recipes with a good deal of produce involved. He blinked at me, saying, “Well, that’s all I can cook.”

“Alright, I’ll cook if you go to the grocery store,” I would offer. He took me up on it, but blanched at the sight of my grocery lists: “What the hell is ARUGULA?”

We fell into a dating pattern of me cooking and him going to the grocery store. He would text me: “Had to ask for help three times because I don’t know what half the crap on your list is.” I would make sautéed leek pasta and he would stare at it suspiciously, like I had just served him fried monkey hand. I would stomp away yelling “I CAN’T EAT MACARONI AND CHEESE EVERY NIGHT! YOU’RE GOING TO GET COLON CANCER!”, mad that I had just wasted a nice dinner on a man who clearly preferred Hot Pockets.  He would mutter something under his breath about “champagne tastes” in response.

Eventually, we fell into a comfortable equilibrium of steak tacos interspersed with tofu stir-fries, but once I was pregnant, I found that I tended to throw up anything that wasn’t a cheeseburger or otherwise carb-heavy. All bets were off, and John was in hog heaven.

I remember clearly the moment when John picked up on the new dynamic. Normally, I leave a little food on my plate after meals. It’s part of my effort to stop eating when I’m full instead of feeling like I have to clean my plate, and John likes to eat whatever I leave. Well, one night when I was newly pregnant, John reaches over to grab a few sweet potato fries off my dinner plate, and before I can even process what was happening, I scream, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!? LEAVE MY FOOD ALONE!” John jumped back a full three feet in shock, his eyes as wide as saucers, as I look over to see my own fist gripping a fork in the air, suddenly realizing that I was ABOUT TO STAB MY HUSBAND’S HAND WITH A FORK TO PROTECT MY FOOD.

Lord, pregnancy hormones are insane… I had gone feral and was about to fight with improvised weapons for a couple of sweet potato fries. Reminds me of that part in Walden where Thoreau is going on about how great it is to be a vegetarian right before grabbing a woodchuck and devouring it raw. Sometimes, the beast within will not be denied.

John was understandably frightened by this sudden change in his wife’s behavior. He never tried grabbing my food again, but also quickly deduced the upside of my new ravenous attitude. He started making bacon with blueberry pancakes (and real maple syrup mixed with melted butter) for breakfast and an endless supply of steak and pasta for dinner. We both piled on weight, but he couldn’t care less. He had broken out of food jail and was eating everything in sight.

He found, finally, that his metabolism was failing to pick up the slack. He was gaining weight on par with me and started calling his belly his “food baby.” He would look down at it and pat it affectionally, to the point where I was starting to suspect womb envy. When I was around eight months pregnant, he put a cup of coffee on his gut and marveled at how he could now use it as a shelf. I must admit I found this somewhat comforting. It would have been really aggravating if he were getting skinnier and skinnier as I outgrew all my clothes.

Unfortunately for him, after I had the baby, breastfeeding seemed to melt off all my added weight whereas he wasn’t ready to give up melted butter steaks. He would stare down at his belly, disapprovingly, and say, ” I really need to do something about this pregnancy weight.”

I resumed exercising and watching portion sizes. Dinners became healthier again and he shed some pounds. It was tough for him to let go of the Butter Glory days, however, so when I found out I was pregnant again, his eyes lit up like a kid let loose in a chocolate factory. That very night, he planned a celebratory meal of steak, artichokes and gorgonzola butter.

He won’t teach me how to make gorgonzola butter, by the way. I know it involves cream cheese, toasted pine nuts, and butter, but he is convinced that I married him to ensure continued access to gorgonzola butter, so he guards his recipe like the password to an elaborate code that keeps the family intact.

That’s fine, because I know we will be having a lot of gorgonzola butter in the coming months. And pancakes. John has plans, and he wants to be very, very sure we don’t run out of pancake batter.

Babies and Mockery

This child questions your maturity.
This child questions your maturity.

We are at Fairytale Town in Sacramento, in Sherwood Forest, and there is this little boy throwing a huge tantrum. He is, I’m guessing, about five and is shrieking, kicking, sobbing, and rolling back-and-forth on the ground. His grandfather has absolutely had it and is threatening to take the kid and his brother home.

So Brontë walks by, points at the screaming kid, and starts laughing hysterically, much to his brother’s and grandfather’s amusement. He stops crying immediately and starts giggling. Apparently, nothing shames a crying kid faster than being mocked by an infant. Maybe we are underestimating mockery as a potential training tool.

Reminds me of a recent episode at Costco… You know how sometimes you go to Costco and the place is absolutely packed? Hordes of people are getting into traffic jams with massive shopping carts filled with enough goods to last a nuclear winter, full-on road rage breaking out in the aisles? Well, we had been dealing with this for a good hour when Brontë decides to throw  killer fit. Giving her a snack wasn’t helping, talking to her wasn’t helping, and we were too far in to just put our items back and leave.

She was doing noodle legs (where they refuse to walk and hang off your arm like they’re boneless) and screaming at the top of her lungs. I let go of her and she rolled around kicking and screaming. Shopping carts were screeching to a halt in front of us, unable to get past the mayhem, when I finally starting whining and wailing right back at her. She screamed louder and rolled harder until I flopped on the ground, rolling back and forth, yelling, ” THIS IS YOU! THIS IS WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE RIGHT NOW!”

Several bystanders chuckled. They probably have kids too. Brontë stops, stares at me kicking and rolling for a moment, and finally starts giggling in embarrassment. And she calmed down. It worked! Ten points for Team Parent, woo hoo!

Adding to all this volatility is the fact that I’m pregnant again. After giving the matter tons of thought, my husband and I decided we want another child. We were both only children and always wanted a sibling, so we decided to try for another baby (of course, since we were only children, we probably pictured the ideal good-times version of having a sister or brother, but we will see how it goes).

Since Brontë was a surprise (a happy surprise, but a surprise nonetheless), we didn’t have any idea how long it would take us to conceive. We didn’t want our kids to be too far apart in age, so we decided to start trying shortly after Brontë’s first birthday. And it took… two weeks.

My mother figured out I was pregnant first. We were out eating dinner with my folks, when I kept grabbing french fries off my husband’s plate. My mother gave him a knowing smile, and all I said was, “It’s not going to happen that fast!”

Next, my cat Zoë started sitting on my lap again. She hadn’t done that since the last time I was pregnant. Maybe she can smell pregnancy pheromones or something. So I took a couple tests and they both came back negative, Silly cat,  I thought…

A week went by and I had a positive test. I called my doctor and could hear his skepticism–he had only just removed the birth control, after all. He told me to come in and he would take a look. He seemed to be humoring me and my hysterical pregnancy. But as he pulled up the ultrasound image, he said (with an obvious note of surprise), “Wow, you are pregnant! Congratulations!”

I am excited and scared at the same time. It’s going to be awesome to have another baby! But… I think of my toddler kicking, screaming, and rolling around Coscto… I’m going to be pregnant and have a rambunctious toddler to take care of. Uh-oh. What happens when I’m too pregnant to bend over? How am I going to lift her if I need to? What happens when we are up half the night with a newborn and then Brontë wakes up at the crack of dawn!? What if she just takes off running across the street and I’m, like, eight months pregnant and can barely move?

I thought newborn care was tough enough, and now we are going to add a toddler to the equation? Are we crazy??

I reassure myself that people do this all the time. People have all kinds of kids. Some people have seven or eight! Some people have twins, triplets… I picture those old black & white 19th century photos of women surrounded by a pack of children, back in the days when people made food from scratch and boiled laundry. If they can do it, so can I. Right? We learned a lot the first time around, and having two means we have man-on-man coverage whenever my husband is home.

It’s going to be an adventure. Maybe the new baby can mock Brontë when she throws a fit and make her stop it.

What Pregnancy Really Feels Like; Horrified In Breastfeeding Class

Photo credit: Siddy Lam (Creative Commons) And you thought nipple piercings were
Photo credit: Siddy Lam (Creative Commons)
And you thought nipple piercings were “cool”

Most of what people believe about pregnancy comes from seeing it on TV, including women.

Yes, it feels like women should have all these natural motherly instincts allowing them to float through pregnancy changes with a serene glow. But the reality is more like puberty, when your face starts breaking out, you find weird hairs all over the place, and don’t understand all the crazy shit happening to your body.

They sure make it seem nice on television. Some women gets a double line on her pregnancy test and starts cheering, she finds a cute way to tell her husband and they bond over it, then she spends the next 9 months looking like a skinny woman with a little pillow under her shirt.

That’s because she is a skinny woman with a pillow under her shirt. She’s a Hollywood actress who is still dieting, working out, and has a team of makeup artists and trainers helping her look hot while they slip a little maternity pillow under her shirt.

She’s just pretending to be pregnant, which means she acts giddy and pretends to have a couple quirky food cravings before *oops* her water breaks and she is rushed off to the hospital by her goofy, flustered husband for the exciting delivery, after which she will walk out all slim and hot and carrying a cute little baby.

The reality, for most women, is somewhat different. And it ain’t pretty. Most pregnant woman I know start blowing up like a slowly-inflating parade balloon. They are constantly nauseous, tired, and crabby (at least I am). Stretch marks can cover you all the way down to your thighs, and weird stuff I never knew about can happen. Like “pregnancy masks.” Have you heard of these?

Pregnancy masks are weird patches of darker skin that can appear on your forehead, cheeks, and chin. I have a little bit of it on my forehead. It looks like a few big freckles or age spots and I’m not thrilled about it, though I should be grateful because some women get it all over their face. I also have a weird dark line running from my belly button down, which apparently happens because of pregnancy hormones and is supposed to go away eventually.

You never see this kind of stuff on TV pregnancies. Your body starts freaking out in bizarre ways, and your mind… your mind is doused in all kinds of weird hormones. Every mother I’ve talked to has admitted that at some point during the pregnancy, she totally, irrationally, went off on her husband or boyfriend. Some started throwing things.

My theory is that nature is just making us extra fierce to protect our young, like momma bears. Still, I am not yet naturally falling into a serene sense of motherhood. There are moments where I’m incredibly excited about having the baby, of course, and am blown away to see her on ultra sounds. You also get incredibly sentimental, so I’m prone to cry at ridiculous moments like whenever a touching commercial comes on or I see a onsie.

But other times, I feel like my body has been invaded by aliens. There is a little being inside me, eating my food, drinking my drinks, rolling around hiccuping, and that’s… weird. The fact that I’m female doesn’t mean it isn’t still strange to me.

At this point, the baby is bouncing around my insides and keeps kicking me in this one spot that is starting to make the left side of my ribcage feel like it’s swimming in ground hamburger meat. I’m getting fatter and fatter, to the point where some punk-ass nurse told me I should take up jogging. I don’t even understand how pregnant women can jog, since every time I take a hard step, it feels like I was just kicked in the crotch. I realize there are pregnant Superwomen out there running marathons in their eighth month, but am convinced they are alien plants. I also no longer buy that “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” show on TLC.

My poor husband has been exiled to the couch because it’s super hard to sleep when you are this uncomfortable and I have to contort into bizarre positions that take up the entire bed and involve about 13 pillows. I also make him tie my shoes now so I won’t trip when bending over and roll around helplessly like an obese flipped-over turtle. If I’m going about my day and something falls on the floor… well, it’s as good as dead to me now.

The combination of physical discomfort and cocktail of pregnancy hormones has completely sapped my patience at this point, and I mostly spend my days reading, napping, and trying not to overreact. My thoughts ricochet from wanting this pregnancy to be over with already to abject fear of looming childbirth and worrying about how I have no experience taking care of babies.

Luckily, Kaiser (our insurance) offers a bunch of free classes about labor, epidurals, infant care and breastfeeding. My husband and I signed up for every last one of them. It’s a real confidence builder for new parents who are panicked about what they have gotten themselves into. We have learned a lot of interesting things… like the fact that the baby will probably pee and crap ten or so times a day. What!?

This evening we took a class on breastfeeding, which I plan to try. I highly, highly recommend that anyone interested in breastfeeding take a class like this, because it’s not as instinctive as you would expect. For instance, we leaned that you probably won’t have milk for a couple days, just a few drops of a nutrient-rich liquid called “colostrum” that will nourish the baby well enough until the rest of your milk shows up. Lots of women panic, thinking they don’t have enough milk and the baby will starve, but it’s all a normal part of the process.

Beyond the useful information, there was also a question and answer session. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff people asked. You just can’t make some of this up.

Many of these questions just proved my point that, despite what you might expect, women don’t naturally, intuitively, understand motherhood either. We are pretty far from our animal ancestors at this point, and have to learn a lot on the job.

For example, I was pretty horrified that the Kaiser breastfeeding instructor had to explain to the class that our boobs already have holes in them and so there’s no need to make any for the milk to come out. More than one woman (MORE THAN ONE) assumed their boobies would have to be punctured at some point. I really hope no one tries this at home.

An entertaining and related concern was whether having your nipples pierced means the milk will shoot out in all directions, sprinkler-style.

The final winner was the vegan woman who was concerned that her baby wouldn’t be vegan if it drank milk. I don’t want to get into a debate about the ethics of raising a vegan infant, but I assume this woman was an outlier… Is she worried that breastfeeding is cannibalism? I’d like to think she doesn’t represent how a typical vegan would tackle the issue.

Argh… At least we are feeling a little more confident. Now, let’s get this baby born so I can get my sarcasm levels recalibrated.