Born Slippy (PART II)

This is likely the last post I will make before Zelda is born. This is just me laying it all out there like an exposed wire along the interstate. Read Part I.

Capable and Culpable

If you think about the idea or concept of “pregnancy,” the first thing that comes to mind is likely the mother. You can close your eyes and envision the beautiful female figure and her expanding womb. Picture the child growing inside of her. Picture the growing hands swimming in fluid, waiting to be held delicately for the first time. You may even think about the ridiculous pain of childbirth (I can only assume). One of the last things you would think of is the father.

This will probably not be a popular statement, but there were times when I felt like I was a silent partner in all of this. I felt shut off and isolated. To be honest, I can’t think of many pregnancy blogs out there like this that have the father actively writing about their experiences? If there is one, it’s usually some affluent photographer or media mogul who takes pictures of his kids and gets reblogged on Buzzfeed. I’m not that guy. I’m just a normal dude who listened to Cursive and Bright Eyes too much as a teenager and am acting it out as a thirty-something.

What about my needs? What is the acceptable level of male sacrifice for a pregnancy? Can I keep my penis? If this were the government, I would be the non-essential personnel that gets to stay home every time snow falls on the ground. Like I said in the previous post, keeping a relationship 50/50 is super easy when you are dating, engaged, or recently married. Young love has a way of making everything in the world seem simple. You will enjoy picking up tampons for your lady love when you are dating because their purchase meant you dodged a bullet for another month. Once you throw a pregnancy into the mix, however, keeping everything balanced is damn near impossible. Everything that was once capable turns into culpable.

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There were times when I wanted to tell Angela that any sign of negativity I gave on my end was not necessarily an open invitation for criticism. We were both guilty of that. Sometimes it was hard to stay positive, even if the most positive thing that has ever happened to me was right in front of my face. When could I say I was tired or “over it” without getting the third degree? Can I ever say it without looking like an asshole?

Part of the frustration came with this blog. It is a literal fact that my posts are read 75% less than Angela’s. The numbers don’t lie, and I can’t dispute it. Blame it on the day job, I guess. It’s a completely vain and shallow thing to feel, and I have worked very hard to get rid of those thoughts every time I stare at a blank word document. I cannot deny that this is partly why I have been feeling like a side dish to the main course of pregnancy. I should just chalk it up to A. Angela is a much better writer (truth) B. Her content actually speaks to a larger demographic for women and C. She gets to the point about the issues that matter.

Not that this doesn’t matter – I wouldn’t be writing it if I didn’t think so. I think, dear reader, you get what I mean. I have attempted to provide “real talk” on the blog several times, but most of those posts received little interaction. This one is about as real as I am going to get. I’m pushing hard on the gas, but my foot isn’t exactly on the floor. Nobody needs to hear or experience that.

I am merely just a young dad-to-be who also happens to be over-stressed, under-sexed, under stimulated, and overworked. Plain and simple. I should be allowed to say these things without any blowback. I think Angela knows and understands these feelings. She can’t process them at the moment. I agree. It’s a lot to take in, especially when her own issues need to be addressed as well, and they are more pressing to the health and happiness of our future daughter. Advantage: Angela.

I put on a persona of somebody who likes to push comedy and jokes as a defense mechanism. It has always been that way. I think I’m so fucking clever when I throw in quips during my lectures or class discussions. In reality, I am just trying to buy some time to figure out what the hell I am really trying to say. When it matters, I am very serious. I shamefully struggled to be serious with Angela these past few months. My defense mechanism kept kicking in, and she often found the humor as my way of showing her immaturity and a lack of preparation. She would tell me “Matt, you don’t sound excited…change your attitude,” or “please take this seriously.” That was my cue to metaphorically shut down. I WAS excited. I AM excited. Believe me, I think it’s so rad that I am about to begin the new “Eng dynasty.” I just have different ways of showing it. Here’s hoping I am more straightforward in the future.

I’m a motherfucking onion, man. Only a few people I know have ever peeled all of these layers.

Having a Shit Time

We had a lot of difficulties with communication. There were issues with anger on both sides. Angela’s anger was a clear cut result of the pregnancy, which she addressed with acupuncture. It worked really well. I do have to give credit to my Chinese ancestry for some pretty beneficial ching chong homeopathic stuff. I, for the most part, felt the need to bottle it up. As I am writing this, I am realizing how stupid and unnecessary it was/is. The problem with cramming all of it in a bottle is the potential for overflow. I’m not sure where I put all of it. Most of it is still bottled up, although writing this now is an exercise of release that I am most thankful for.

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The metaphor for bottling up is also a literal thing for me.  All the fear and anxiety had to go somewhere eventually. I usually find myself ending up in the bathroom when the stress gets too high. I’m a fearful public pooper, which adds to the anxiety. Some people stress eat or stress drink (I do both). My main source of release: poop. So all of the jokes and bathroom humor (once again) was just another defense mechanism of humor to explain a real problem. I find myself sometimes going to the bathroom five to six times a day. I didn’t eat chili or Taco Bell on those days, either (I SWEAR!). That’s not normal for a healthy 31-year old. I used to think I had IBS. As it turns out, I was just high on stress and anxiety and needed to get it out of my system. TMI, I know. But now the secret is out. I seriously took three dumps during the Lost finale. I had to go back.

There were times when I was frustrated and wanted to call Angela out on it. I wanted to let her know that I had doubts that would upset her. I wanted to tell her that I often found myself questioning if I really wanted the baby. Was the stress worth it? Was my wanting to be a father a product of my own “daddy issues,” or was it truly genuine? We honestly had given up trying to think about having a kid before it happened. Thanks to an open bar at a work event – EXPECTO PATERNUM. When conversations got tense, I wanted to call her unreasonable or even worse. But I didn’t. After a while, you find its much easier to do hurt to yourself than to someone you love. It’s much easier to put in the hurt early on. If you don’t, I’d avoid the pain and frustration when all the chips are on the table.

I’m not sure if any mother or father has felt this way before with those feelings of doubt, but I damn sure did on multiple occasions.

Ugh. Be right back. I have to head to the bathroom.

Temple of the Doghouse

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I know I annoy the shit out of Angela, pregnancy or no pregnancy. I already mentioned about my defense mechanisms. There was a good two-week period in the late summer of last year where I did nothing but sing “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog. That would annoy anybody (besides myself). I’m sure if you are friends with me or know something about me, you have been annoyed by something I did. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m long winded (obviously) and can avoid confrontation in social situations like the plague.

The problem with pregnancy is that everything is confrontation. I got a daily dose of mom and daughter-to-be every day. I felt that I had to be “on” all the time. I can’t do that. I mean, what do celebrities do when their Instagram feed is down and the smiling stops?

Every day is opposite day during a pregnancy. Things that were funny before were soon spiteful and terrible. Things that are horrible were suddenly “ok” and “fine.” I could sometimes get a “whatever” out of her. Those were the salad days. This is the kind of dramatic emotional shell game we often played. It made me feel like a scumbag most of the time. I could repress the self hate, drink some, poop some, and go to sleep hoping the smile on my face looked genuine enough when I woke up. Don’t get me wrong: the smile was sincere and real most of the time. But there were days when I needed a knife to cut a smile into my face.

The question is: do I accept all of this angst that I have written about? Does it make me less of a man or a father, or completely human? I don’t know if all fathers went through these exercises throughout their term? How long should I remain a lame duck before I raise my hand and swear the oath? After all, I’m in it for the long haul, scumbag or not.

Maybe the media is to blame. Television and movies have preconditioned would-be dads about their failure. Take a look at some of the more popular films about pregnancy, and you will find a long list of scumbags, assholes, flight risks, and douches. I mean seriously – look at these films. What is the percentage of time the father figure is a douche canoe?

(All douche percentages are relative)
(All douche percentages are relative)

Maybe I am a scumbag. Maybe there are regrets and admissions. Is it bad to miss the things I used to do? I miss playing music. I wanted to travel much more than I did before (or after) getting married. I keep saying that I don’t want a Ph.D., but secretly I would love to be called “Dr. Eng” to please my father (dem Daddy Issues are creeping).

This pregnancy has been hard for me, but not in the conventional way you may see it. I lost my grandmother last summer, whom I loved dearly and wanted so desperately to meet Zelda. But she couldn’t hold on. She had to be rid of the pain. I do not blame her in the least, but it does make me upset.

I had a few close(ish) individuals skip out on the friendship thing. It first came in drips, but eventually I noticed my friend list shrinking considerably. I am not sure if the pregnancy and our “unfriending” is completely related, but we are nonetheless not on “speaking terms.” It’s really a shame. I hope we can be friends again one day. Maybe that’s on me.

According to one of theses friends (who isn’t my friend anymore), I was whining too much about everything I had to do: balancing life, work, the pregnancy, and the preparation of the coming of Zelda – basically this entire post. She was sick of hearing it. Maybe other people are too. I know it’s pathetic. I want to be John Wayne so hard sometimes, but find myself acting like John Bobbitt instead. But IT IS honest, which is a fucking rarity nowadays. If you’ve stuck along this far and don’t think less of me, I salute you.

I don’t need to hear about the bullshit of working hard and “having it all,” because I don’t believe that. You can’t have it all. You have to make sacrifices. I am confident that the hard work will pay off in my career and family. I will eventually find a rhythm to get back to those things that I used to do or wanted to do. But for now, all of that means nothing. Everything is for Zelda. Everything is for her. This isn’t about me anymore.

I think it’s much healthier to focus on what I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be selfish to my child. I don’t want to look to possessions as my gold standard for living. I never want to tell her the price of something (within reason) or make her go to sleep on an empty stomach. I don’t want to see her cry because I skipped out on something for my own selfish reasons. I don’t want to tell her I am disappointed without meaning it. I don’t want to forget to tell her how much I love her everyday. I don’t want her to ever forget how much of a gift she is to Angela and I.

So that’s it. I’m in man. I’m fucking in. No turning back. We are way beyond the tip. This is me whipping it out and slapping it on the table.

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So why did I do it? I could offer a million answers – all false. The truth is that I may be a bad person. But that’s gonna change. I’m going to change. These are the last days of that sort of thing. Now I’m cleaning up and moving closer to her due date, thinking clearly and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already. I’m gonna be just like you. The job, the family, the fucking big flat screen television. The front loading washing machine, the smart car, the Bluetooth speaker and electric kettle, good healthcare plan, glucose free diet, dental copay, mortgage, unaffordable starter home, handmade dresses, matching bloomers, Kohl’s jacket, Pinterest fails, IKEA instructions, alcohol dependency, more children, walks in the park, nine to five rush hour, good at first person shooters, washing the dog, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, 401K, tax write-offs, clearing gutters, getting by, looking ahead, the day you die.

Born Slippy (PART I)

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There is no time like the present.

Actually, I have always hated that phrase. What does it even mean? To me, it feels like the lazy man’s carpe diem. Robin Williams would be disappointed. Given my current situation, I ascribe to my own bastardization of that phrase: There is no time AT the present. There is literally no time, and I only use that word sparingly. I might as well forget trying to do an anything I have planned in the next few weeks, because I will undoubtedly not have the necessary time for it. Everything is on hold: baby watch is upon us.

This will likely be my last post before Zelda is born, so I want to make it a good one. I have thought long and hard about what I wanted to talk about over the last few days. I thought to try and eschew the comedy bit and talk straight – something I have only done on occasion on this blog. I think I owe that to the relatively few people who will manage to read this far (and who want to continue reading our exploits into parenting). I want to lay it all out there and get all those feels out on the table. It’s time for reflection.

I know that I live a blessed life. I really do. I have a steady job and a roof over my head. I eat two to three meals a day, depending on if you count coffee as breakfast. I have a loving wife and an adorable dog and cat that love me to pieces. To top it all off, I was blessed with the ability to create a life. It’s truly amazing. Please understand my understanding of how fortunate I am in all of this. That doesn’t mean this pregnancy is without its hang-ups. I’ve also noticed that it’s almost never kosher for me to speak out about my own personal shortcomings and feelings when trying to successfully cope with a pregnant wife who’s had a rough pregnancy. Indeed, it has not been sunshine and rainbows for her. I do not fault her for any of that. It hasn’t been one hundred percent for me either, and I want to explain why without sounding egocentric, pig-headed, or anti-feminist.

I may be wrong. Other pregnant couples undoubtedly feel different. But that is their story. This is ours. Anybody that says pregnancy is like a modern-day relationship (split 50/50) is a goddamn liar. To me, there is a time and a place to find an acceptable balance. I have yet to find either over the past nine months. I am a ship without a rudder deep in the ocean. Why? Robin never speaks out of turn when the caped crusader is out fighting crime. Holy pregnancy, Batman.

Just so you know, dear reader, I did not bring any of this up with Angela prior to writing this. This is me without a filter. I’ll appreciate any couches that I can sleep on for a while after she reads this…and when you unfriend me on Facebook out of disgust, at least let me know ahead of time.  Let’s at least stay LinkedIn friends, okay?

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FMLa

Looking back, the biggest fear I had coming into this pregnancy was how we are going to handle everything AFTER THE BIRTH. That is still true. Thankfully, both of our mothers will be coming up to D.C. in shifts to help out after Zelda is born. Their help and guidance should get us through the majority of February. The bigger issue looming over our heads is that neither of us have paid maternity/paternity leave for this birth. Because Angela got pregnant before she had been at her new job for a year, she does not qualify for FMLA. It is the weirdest and shittiest loophole in the history of the United States.

We have to literally use up all of our vacation/sick leave JUST TO HAVE THE BABY. Unfortunately, we do not exist in a fairytale world where maternity leave is paid for. Neither of us can quit our job to look after the baby full time. We need the income to pay for our rent, food, etc. Pretty soon, nearly twenty percent of our disposable income will go to childcare. Sigh. D.C. living, right? The best we can do is make sure that our jobs will be there for us when we finally figure this shit out. It’s not the vacation either of us had planned, but one we both feel is completely necessary.

We both have to go back to work, albeit in a telework capacity, two weeks after Zelda is born. I know personally that I have to be back at work at a 100% capacity in March when events start to really heat up. This shit keeps me up at night constantly. To be fair, Angela’s snoring does a pretty good job of that, but the worry of how we will manage with our family so far away is more pressing. We have several friends that have managed to do it, so I am sure we will lean on them for advice in the coming months ahead.

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I am a planner by nature, and we can’t really plan how this will all end up with Zelda and caring for her in the distance future. I desperately want to ease Angela’s mind about all of this. I know it keeps her up as well, but I can’t. I want to tell her that everything will go smoothly, but that is impossible. I have to have faith on the matter, something that I’ve had a severe lack of in recent years (for a variety of reasons).

In the midst of all of this craziness going on, I see a trending story on Facebook about Mark Zuckerberg talking about returning to work after two months of paternity leave. What should he wear on his first day back? Probably a privilege suit. FUCK OFF, RICHBOY.

Time Management

My time management, especially these last few months, has been a huge burden on me and those around me. I slacked off at work when I should have geared up in preparation for time off. On the flipside, I worked too diligently when I should have recognized the need for a break. I am like the perpetual hotel shower: I can never get both opposites just right.

After a busy September and October at work, all I wanted was a break – from everything. I know it sounds selfish and entitled, especially when Angela was going through some very bad morning sickness/food aversion at the time. I couldn’t completely break away – how could I? Instead, all I could do was stuff my face, get stressed, and keep thinking about drinking alcohol throughout the fall months.

The stress was always there, and the desire to drink more and more alcohol was too. All of the items we had on our “to do” list involving the baby made it harder and harder for me not to pick up a bottle and down all of it in one sitting. I have never had that feeling before. It was a numb feeling, like a low and constant drone in the back of my throat. I can count on one hand the amount of times I drank in excess to calm my nerves during this pregnancy. I’m not sure it was exactly depression that drove me to it. It was an overwhelming feeling of being in a box, or like being underwater with no way to reach the surface. The only way to breathe easy was with a drink. I’m not necessarily proud of it in the end, but am happy the number is relatively low.

(via Pinterest)
(via Pinterest)

There were some times over the past few months when I would finally catch up with work. I would come home utterly exhausted. It was almost always a coincidence that “baby stuff” had to be done the minute I got home. Part of me resented that. No, let me rephrase. Part of me REALLY resented that. Don’t get me wrong – there was always a portion of me that was totally gung ho about getting everything done for Zelda. Other parts of me were often more pronounced, like the growing section of me that wanted to get day drunk and sit in silence and stare out the window. A part of me that wanted to back to Disney so I could feel like I was somewhere else; somewhere magical. And still, a part of me just wanted to sit on the couch with the dog and cat and chill out and not do anything.

I think that was the trick – you are always doing something. ALWAYS. It’s a simple formula: Obligations – Needs = Obligations Only (No Remainder). Seriously, that nine months goes so fucking fast. For much of this accelerated timeframe, I wanted to crawl into a hole and hibernate. I think it is okay to feel that way. To a degree, I still do. I am honestly mad at myself for failing to tell Angela how straight up frustrated I was at times. I acted out in other ways that put a needless strain on our relationship. I don’t know if we ever shed tears in front of each other, but tears were certainly shed. I don’t have to ask her to know the answer. If you are a soon-to-be father reading this, thinking how much time you have, stop right now. Go and get it all done. Don’t be an asshole like me. Communicate.

Sometimes you try so hard to be a perfect example for something you haven’t seen that you lose sight of what’s going on in front of you.

(Read Part II Tomorrow)

“This is No Dream”: Rosemary’s Baby, My Agency

I’ve got a confession to make. I love the film Rosemary’s Baby.

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Beware the chalky aftertaste.

I saw it for the first time when I was in my early twenties. I was a senior in college and taking a class called American Gothic, a course that would shape my academic trajectory through my MA and even my Ph.D. Rosemary’s Baby was on the required viewing list, and I went into it not knowing what to expect. I think all those feminist and women’s studies courses did a number on how I approached the film. It was not Rosemary giving birth to a demonic baby that bothered me, or even the deeply disturbing imagery of the conception scene. What bothered me the most was Rosemary’s lack of agency throughout the entire film.

Now, one week away from my due date, I feel that theme resonating with me more than ever.

Before I explain, if you haven’t seen the film, here’s the quick version: Rosemary Woodhouse and her new husband Guy move into a swanky New York City apartment (the movie was actually filmed at the Dakota), and soon talk about having children. They become friends with their elderly neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castavet. Unbeknownst to Rosemary, her husband makes a pact with the Castavets: promising their firstborn child for a successful acting career. It turns out that Roman and Minnie are members of a Satan-worshipping witch coven, and they want Satan to impregnate Rosemary. Needless to say, their scheme works and the film follows Rosemary’s painful, complicated pregnancy and her quest to find out the truth.

A popular reading of the film is that it is a commentary of patriarchal culture regarding pregnancy (Berenstein, Skal). Many scholars also attribute this desire to take control of the body as a reaction to the advent of the pill in the 1960’s. On the surface, those readings are completely accurate. At every turn, Rosemary is told what to do, what not to do, what to eat, what medications to take, and is not expected to question any of it. She tries to resist the forces that are building up against her. She attempts to reclaim ownership of her body in a multitude of ways: throwing out the daily “health drinks” Dr. Saperstein prescribed her, getting rid of the pendant with tannis root Minnie had given to her as a gift, and speaking up to Guy about wanting a new obstetrician because she doesn’t trust Dr. Saperstein. Two interesting points raised in an article about the film mention the commentary Rosemary receives about her appearance and her decision to cut her hair (and to be fair, I adore that pixie haircut and rocked it a few times myself). The commentary about her gaunt and pale appearance, Smyth comments, is indicative of the societal notion that the pregnant body is under constant surveillance. She views Rosemary’s haircut as one of her many attempts to reclaim her body.

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Flawless, beautiful hair.

All of these points resonate with me. I do not necessarily feel, though, that this is a product of patriarchal society alone anymore. I agree that the film reflects anxieties about female agency and the pregnant body, but I think it goes beyond patriarchal forces. Adrienne Rich published Of Woman Born in the late 70’s, before my time, and she clearly shows how pregnancy and motherhood have been institutionalized by these forces. In one example, she examines the tool of the forceps, a tool that involves “the effective displacement of the midwife through the male monopoly of that invention” (p. 142). However, in our recent childbirth class we learned that forceps are more or less a last resort, and used when only all other options have been exhausted. In another example, Rich contrasts labor with forced labor, and declares that the availability of anesthesia in childbirth makes the female more passive in her experience (pp. 158-159). I’ll be the first to come out and say it: I plan on having an epidural. The thought of the pain frightens me. That fear is reinforced by the literature and the stories around me, and the stories are written and told by women themselves. Sure, there’s a push for natural childbirth, but the midwife in our birthing class rather wryly said most women can’t stand the pain and ask for drugs, an offset of “I told you so.”

I’ve found that the suppression of bodily autonomy does not just come from doctors, but from peers. I’ll say that I don’t think this is a conscious act; I believe that peers mean well and believe they are helping as opposed to hindering. And in many ways, peers have helped. Rich emphasizes the importance of the informal network of women, and she’s right to do so–it’s crucial. At the same time, the voices turn into a litany of  “do this” and “don’t do this.” It turns into an overwhelming barrage with many different voices, and it’s hard to discern what is right and wrong. In some cases, the assumptions made are belittling and harmful. I do see the inverse, the “in my pregnancy” comments a little differently. In a way, I think they are a way for women to fight back against these forces, a way to declare some kind of autonomy in their pregnancy because they were brash enough to go against the doctor’s rules. It’s a way of saying, “I broke the rules and I did ok,” which is another way of saying that some kind of control was taken back.

As for the surveillance angle, I have felt it ring true more since I only started to show at seven months. Various individuals are all of the sudden telling me what activities I should and should not take part in, where I should and should not be going, and the things I should and should not be ingesting. People comment on the size of my bump, ask if the baby is doing ok because the bump is on the smaller side, and question whether or not I am going to breastfeed. Once again, perhaps it’s well intentioned or done unconsciously, but sometimes I feel like Rosemary, just swimming in a sea of intentions that makes me feel disconnected from my own experience.

The common theme, and the link between Rosemary’s Baby and Rich, is that the woman’s body is a battlefield. Things are done to a pregnant or laboring woman’s body, and in the end her voice is not the one that rises above the others, it becomes diminished. We are told that we can have a birth plan, we can say no, and that we can make our own choices, but we are not the final say. Rosemary tries hard to reclaim her body and make her own choices, and the true horror of the film lies in the fact that she ends up giving in to those forces instead of continuing to fight.

 

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Keeping an eye on Minnie

 

I have not watched the film since getting pregnant, and Matt hated it. I joke about watching it sometimes, especially since birth is right around the corner, but I’m not so sure Matt finds it funny. I will rewatch it sometime soon, though, mostly because Rosemary’s lack of agency is the most terrifying thing of all, and the most real.

5 More Things I Learned About Pregnancy

See Part I here. I had a lot to say, so I decided to break it into two posts.

Not just the first three months may suck, the whole thing may suck.

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I had a tough first few months. My morning sickness was like a 24/7 hangover that felt never-ending. I was fatigued all the time, and the thought of trying to eat something was completely out of the question. My family practitioner wouldn’t give me anything for the nausea until I’d seen an OB/GYN, and the OB/GYN was booked for at least two weeks. I was absolutely miserable and eagerly waiting for the magical second trimester everyone was telling me about: bursts of energy, cheery disposition, hearty appetite, and just a general lifting of the black cloud of fatigue and nausea. The second trimester was better, but not by a lot. With the advent of the third trimester came severe acid reflux, trouble breathing, sleepnessness, depression, more fatigue, and even some nausea thrown in on the odd nights. Yes, Every Pregnancy is Different™, but I think it’s safe to say I kept hoping it would get better. It never really did.

Most of the time, people don’t care if you’re pregnant.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that “people” does not include friends and family, because they certainly care. What I mean by “people” is general people outside of those categories. Case in point: the metro. I commute on the metro daily, and at this point, 8 1/2 months into the pregnancy, it shows. My feet are swelled, I waddle when I walk, and I huff and puff from walking short distances. The metro gets pretty packed in the evenings, and I usually have to elbow my way around just to get on a train. And when I do, it’s standing room only. A handful of people have offered me a seat when it gets like that. By a handful, I literally mean 4 people. I don’t need to sit all the time, but there are days when I sure would appreciate it. I actually had one woman, from the luxury of her seat, tell me it wasn’t good for me to be standing or even riding the metro when I was so far along. Her concern did not extend to giving me her seat.

Commuter Pregnant Woman Problems
Commuter Pregnant Woman Problems

The first few months when I was having marathon puke sessions in the bathroom, waking up in the middle of the night to puke some more, and feeling like I needed to sleep in the afternoons, I couldn’t let any of it on. I’d just started my job and wanted to look good. And even now, if I’m not feeling well or something is off, I can’t really say, “I’m unable to do X because I’m pregnant.” It sounds lame. Of course, the second I try to lift something or I volunteer to do something else, I get told I shouldn’t be doing those things “because I’m pregnant.”

I don’t like the 12 week rule.

I understand that the “12 week rule” for announcing is there for multiple reasons: fear of miscarriage, unwanted advice, work worries. However, I don’t really agree with it. One article says, “The thinking is that if you tell your friends and family before 12 weeks, and experience a tragic miscarriage, then you need to share that news, too. Many women believe it’s just easier to keep the news to themselves than to share their sadness with others.” I call bullshit. BULLSHIT. I get that everyone is different and processes their experiences differently. If a woman chose to take this route on her own, I would not fault her for it. What I have beef with is how other people spout it like it is gospel. To me, it’s essentially saying, “You should not tell anyone until 12 weeks because you need to suffer through a miscarriage alone.” Unsolicited advice? Meh, you get it at all levels and I’m sure I will get it post-birth, too. The last reason is probably the most understandable, because discrimination against pregnant women is still very real in the workplace. At the same time, a woman is expected, should she experience complications or morning sickness, to keep silent. Somehow it all seems really unfair to me. Even one person I saw announce before 12 weeks on FB got blasted for sharing too early, but she pretty much gave an e-shrug and said she could announce when she wanted.

PMS is nothing on pregnancy hormones.

hormonesI’ve always been a pretty emotional person. It was pretty easy to tell when it was my time of the month, mostly because I’d alternate between weepy and irrationally angry. You could almost say I was the poster child for every stereotype about PMS. I found out later, after trying many different kinds of birth control, that hormones were not in my cards because they amplified every terrible feeling I had tenfold. So when I got pregnant, naturally the onslaught of hormones was going to make me a little crazy, right? I’d read about mothers-to-be getting weepy at silly things and figured I was in for a little bit of a roller coaster of a time. Sure enough, the smallest things got me going. I bawled my eyes out on the Winnie-the-Pooh ride at Disney World because there was a family in the cart in front of us and I was picturing me riding with our little girl. I got misty when I saw mothers with their children at the mall. I’d cry at songs on the radio I never even batted an eye out before. I think, at first, it was normal. But then the tide turned. I was irrationally sad and angry all the time, which I talk about in a previous post. I’m happy to say I’ve finished the acupuncture treatment and I’m still doing fine. I feel more adjusted than I have since I got pregnant, to be honest. It’s a good feeling.

You will lose friends, but you will find support networks in places you never thought possible.

I didn’t expect to lose friends. I was even more shocked to learn you lose ones you had for a long, long time. Instead of hash on that, though, I will say I realized that support networks and encouragement come out of the woodwork. Friendships that have always existed have grown even stronger, which I am infinitely grateful for. I’ve had people reach out that I have only spoken to every now and then, or people I’ve only kept in touch with via social media. I know social media gets a bad rap a lot of the time, but I will say that it has proven invaluable for letting me know that people care and that I’m not alone. It reminds me that even though some people find it necessary to cut you out of their life for whatever reason, there are plenty of others that are just fine with having you around, whether it’s virtual or in real life.

BONUS: People suddenly turn into MDs.

One of my big pet peeves are those “just you wait” comments. My poor husband got the JUST YOU WAIT the other day when he was getting his hair cut. I said it was a good thing I wasn’t there because I would have said something. Anyway, the other one is when people say, “Well, in MY PREGNANCY . . .” (or the derivative “In X person’s pregnancy”). I say I’m abstaining from alcohol? “Well IN MY PREGNANCY I drank and my baby was just fine.” I’m watching my caffeine intake? “In MY SISTER’S PREGNANCY, she drank a ton of coffee and her baby came out perfect.” Hell, in Disney I said I wasn’t riding certain rides because I was pregnant, and some lady nearby piped up, “MY DAUGHTER rode all those rides when she was pregnant and her baby was fine.” Well, aren’t you special. Where’s your decade or more of schooling to make such a bold statement?

I get it, some of the rules seem extraneous. I’ve even cheated on the coffee rule a handful of times. But last I checked, personal anecdotes don’t trump the recommendations of a doctor. Hell, if we took personal anecdotes as gospel, I’m sure we’d end up with a lot more unvaccinated babies, too. Also, if Every Pregnancy is Different™, how do I know what worked for one person would be an assurance that my baby would be absolutely fine? I can deal without drinking, or riding thrill rides, or raw fish, etc. for nine months. II’ll bitch about it, but I can deal. I’d rather be a stick in the mud and be safe than sorry.

I’m sure I’ll look back on this list and laugh my ass off. Oh, I still have so much to learn.

5 Things I’ve Learned About Being Pregnant

Some surprising truths I learned about being pregnant, the hard way. Slightly vent-like post follows.

You may never get that earth mother/goddess feeling.

From the second I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, I expected to get overwhelmed by these warm and glowy feelings about motherhood. I expected to be constantly amazed of the prospect of growing another human inside of me, to be one with the earth and maybe understand the circle of life a little better. Ok, perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but I definitely expected to feel something about it. I envisioned myself walking around, a hand on my bump and feeling serene. Instead I was strangely ambivalent for a long time. Matt even commented in a past blog post he forgot I was even pregnant sometimes, mostly because I wasn’t in this dewy-eyed cloud of impending motherhood.

Then I started to worry. I think, to a degree, I’m still worrying: daycare, no maternity leave, complications in labor, freak accidents. It’s like there was no time for me to “enjoy” the pregnancy because too many other things have clouded my mind at the same time. I’m pretty convinced that anyone who said pregnancy was a wonderful and beautiful experience either A. Left out the unpleasant parts, or B. Is comparing it to their situation now, which is likely having a screaming child somewhere nearby.

You can’t believe the things your body is doing. Some may make you feel awe, and others you may feel horrified.

Feeling awe and horror at the same time is starting to be a common occurrence for me. I didn’t really start ballooning out until fairly recently, so I didn’t have a sense of the changes that were occurring in my body. Oh, I remember feeling the stretching uterus in the second trimester and watching my breasts get to ridiculous anime-sized proportions, but I didn’t really grasp the magnitude of what was happening in there until the birthing class Matt and I took last week (read Part I and Part II). One of the things the teacher explained was how the organs in the body shift around. The lungs apparently move upwards and get bunched up, which is why breathing gets to be so tough. Somehow the thought of my lungs expanding outwards to the sides as opposed to the normal way shocked me. I still haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. And the intestines? Woof. Even now, I’ve been informed that all my ligaments are stretching out more and more in preparation for birth. I can’t even.

Then there’s the feeling when Zelda moves. At first it was small, light pops and taps, and they were like this comforting white noise in the background. Now they’re prods and twists that make me short of breath, need to pee, and send my stomach into odd sideshow displays. Remember that scene in Ghostbusters right before Zuul kidnaps Dana? Here’s a refresher: Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.41.38 PM

The dog’s face pushing against the door and leaving imprints? Yeah, it feels like that. Sometimes I think it’s cool. Most of the time I’m kind of creeped out.

Peeing happens. A lot.

I must say, I had no idea how much bladder control I would lose during pregnancy. I guess you read about “dribbles” and “some loss of control,” but the literature doesn’t really prepare you for it. I went from having a nice, regular 34 year-old bladder to a 100 year one in no time. The first run-in I had with incontinence came when I was experiencing morning sickness. When I vomited, I lost control. Completely. I’ve had some humbling experiences, but peeing myself while heaving into a toilet is up there. Luckily I managed to avoid it at work, but it was one hell of an effort.

peeIn the second trimester I got a month-long cold that involved lots of coughing and sneezing. Every single time I coughed or sneezed, I’d pee. I started having to wear maxipads all the time. I even considered Depends. Now, in the third trimester, I know my way to the bathroom without a light. I hear that incontinence comes post-birth, too, so . . . yeah. Good times. Don’t even get me started on how many times a day I have to run to the bathroom.

“Just you wait” becomes a common moniker.

I can deal with unsolicited advice. In the end, it always comes from a genuine place and is not meant to be harmful. What grates at me, though, are what I call the “just you wait” comments. Think you’re tired now? Just you wait! Or how about, I’m sure you’re enjoying your night out now. Just wait–you won’t be able to do this soon! I can see it now: You’re complaining about incontinence now? Just you wait till AFTER the baby’s born! I digress. I think these kinds of comments grate on me because they come off as kind of smug (and to be fair, I’m pretty sure I’ve used them in some kind of context other than childbirth so I’m no angel, either) and not helpful in any way. What happened to comments like, You’ll be tired as hell, but you’ll make it or Your life will change, but not in a bad way? Solidarity, not one-upmanship. And yes, as a result of this experience I’m going to be a lot more mindful of what I say from here on out.

Cereal is a perfectly acceptable meal.

On a lighter note, cereal. I can’t live without it. I’ve consumed more cereal in the past few months than I probably have in my lifetime. I had cereal for dinner tonight, as a matter of fact. Maybe I should be worried about getting essential nutrients in my body and eating healthier, but no one really tells you how freaking hard it is when the thought of food makes you want to upchuck most of the time. The funny thing is, the doctors don’t seem too worried about it either. So I’ve accepted the fact that having cereal is better than nothing.

NOTE: I know pregnancy is a huge gift and should not be taken for granted. I’m thrilled that Zelda is a healthy baby and everything’s been great on her end for the past 8 months. But in the end, I feel like there’s a hush-hush unspoken rule about pregnancy in our culture–that we can’t talk about the uncomfortable parts because we come off looking bitchy, or ungrateful, or some other form of “shut up and deal with it.” I’m putting these things out there as a way of making peace with the things that were not what I expected. I also want to let others know it’s okay to vent and not feel bad about it.

Thanks for listening.

Panic on the Streets of Alexandria

PANIC

It’s amazing how much power cellular technology holds when you are about to have a baby.

This is it. The end of the road. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The infielders are playing back and the goalie has been taken out. We are approaching the end of Angela’s pregnancy.

Angela is officially reached “term.” Thirty-seven weeks. What does that mean? In layman’s terms, she could essentially have Zelda any day now, even if her due date is not until early next month. I have to say, it’s the most wonderful and terrifying feeling in the world.

Most of our stuff is ready. We have a few things to put together like our birth plan and “go bag,” but others like the nursery, crib, etc. are all taken care of. A few items from the store will complete our rider for the concert of new life. We even managed to take a two-day birthing prep class at the hospital where Zelda will be born. On the surface, it looks like we are ready. I’ve been told by several people that I “look ready” for it. Whatever “it” may be. To me, “It” is a scary monster that eats children in a clown costume. I don’t want to be that.

But I am not ready. I am terrified on many levels. When will the comforting bump I see at night magically turn into a human? Will I be a good father? Will we be able to financially support it? These questions swirl around my head and peck at my emotions daily. I never imaged thought clouds could turn so quickly into thunderheads. In the end, I have to believe that I am ready for it when the time comes.

That is, unless something completely unplanned happens in the meantime. I thought that happened yesterday.

Angela and I have been talking about an acceptable time for me to talk with my boss about arriving late for work. Because she is so pregnant and close to delivery, Angela needs to seriously consider my help in driving her in every day to work and/or picking her up. She works at the USDA, which is only a short drive from the Washington Navy Yard. That of course is just in theory. Although they are only 5.1 miles apart in the city (USDA is in NW and the Navy Yard is the furthest extreme of SE DC). That being said, the average trip takes approximately 18-20 minutes in good traffic. City living, right? The last time I dropped Angela off at work, it took an hour and a half to get into the gate on 11th street. Ooof. But the sacrifice is well worth it. If Angela is working up until her water breaks essentially (we don’t quality for FMLA, she will have to burn all of her leave and THEN SOME just to have the baby). To be honest, FMLA should really stand for “fuck my life, actually.” Whatever.

Moving on.

Yesterday started a busy week for work and for appointments. I have a conference I need to attend in Crystal City, and Angela is working on a Twitter presentation for her coworkers to be conducted before she delivers. On top of that, we have several medical appointments this week, including two after-hours trips to the acupuncturist. Nobody tells you that the last month of your pregnancy is an exercise in Big Brother-style child monitoring.

Although we talked about driving in together yesterday, we both went our separate ways (No Journey was played, either). I left for work at 5:15am, and Angela did her morning routine and left for the Metro around 6:45am.

Work was busy for both of us. We both knew Angela had a quick turnaround from coming home and heading to the acupuncturist near Old Town at 6pm. Around 4:20pm, I get a message. At this point, I expect her home within the next twenty or thirty minutes. She only says a few words, but I can already tell that the day is not going to go smoothly:

“Major Train Delays. Yellow Line Single Tracking.”

She also said one more thing as she waited with the huddled masses at L’Enfant Plaza: Battery at 5%.

Oh shit. Apparently the Yellow line was single tracking due to a broken down car at DCA. GREAT. The original delay was supposed to be twenty minutes. That stretched to forty. By the time five o’clock rolled around, I called the office of the acupuncturist to let them know that we will be a little late. I told her I loved her and to conserve the battery as best as she could.

Fifteen minutes later, I get a message that she got onto a car and is at Braddock Rd. Station. Awesome. Only a few stops away from Huntington, she could be home within the next twenty minutes. That would put us in enough time to make it to the specialist in time. They charge by appointment, so we could not miss it. Unfortunately, she had to use vital battery to give me that communication. It was now at 1%. It could go any minute. It did.

Harry-Potter1

Given the time of day with traffic, I calculated that she would be home around 5:45pm. That was a liberal estimate. I was hoping for earlier. That time came and went. Honestly, she probably took her time to get to the car and drive home (which was true). In my mind, I was panicking. The facts at that point to me were the following:

  • Very pregnant wife
  • No battery
  • No contact in the last 30+ minutes

In my mind, I am envisioning her going into labor on the Metro car. Or in her car. What if her car crashed? In her haste to get home before six, did something bad happen with the baby? I checked Waze and Google Maps. No accidents reported on that route home. It was only a 6-7 minute drive from the station. Come on!

I ran outside around 5:50pm and started to shake. I ran in place up and down my driveway, praying to God that she was okay. I needed to see the white car coming down Lodestone Court. I didn’t see it. I then began to hate myself. Why did I not pick her up at the Metro Station? Why the hell did she not bring her charger. I tried calling the phone, but it was of course dead.

I stupidly sent her a FB message, thinking she could somehow see it. I was desperate.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 2.50.14 PM

I needed to know. I was beginning to cry and shake. The goalie was pulled and everybody is on defense. What if the puck got through to the net? Where would I be if she was in pain? I seriously considered calling the hospital to make sure an “Angela Harrison Eng” was on the way there. I had to move beyond the confines of the driveway. I got in my car and began to drive in the opposite direction of her route home, hoping that I could at least see her car. I got about halfway out of our neighborhood when I saw Angela’s Civic whiz by. Relief washed over me. I started to cry more.

I circled back home and rushed out of the car. I was so happily devastated that she was okay. I hugged her and immediately said two things:

“Oh my God, everything is okay. You are okay.”

and

“You need to bring your fucking charger to work next time.”

Eventually the tears dried and we made it to the appointment fifteen minutes after six. Moral of the story? Bring your charger to work or sack up and ensure you are there if possible. Avoid an early heart attack. If anybody needs a shoulder to cry on, look to another person. I’ll already be weeping.

Childbirth Class Part II: If I Fits, I Sitz (Bath)

Angela

Read Part I.

Today was a little different. The first class was a bit draining. We ended up getting home class to 10pm. Between getting up the next morning, driving Angela to work, and sitting in an hour of traffic on the SE Expressway, I felt like warm spit by the middle of the afternoon the following day.

Angela had a number of meetings and got on the metro a bit late. I picked her up from Huntington station and ate an extremely quick dinner before heading to Alexandria Innova.

6:00pm
We got here just in time. Only one other couple is here. I wonder if some of the couples dropped out after the first night. Is there an add/drop deadline for child birthing classes as well?

6:05pm
Other people start to show up. Doesn’t seem like anybody “dropped” the class. As the couples start walking in, I begin to notice things about our classmates. For one, most of the other people in the room smell great. I am pretty sure that we smell like the shit stench from the Anacostia or the eau de gorilla breath, courtesy of the Washington Metro Transit Authority. Everyone is also very well dressed. Although I contemplated wearing sweatpants to the class, I opted for my usual corduroy pant and sweater combo. Angela got me a new sweater for Christmas and it feels amazing. It was much appreciated on this day because it felt like Frosty’s testicles out there.

6:10pm
The instructor indicates that she wants to start class. As she stands up to open the class, she greets a couple walking in with a “hello.” Angela is the only person in the class to say “hello” back, thinking it was directed at those already seating. Classic.

6:15pm
Internal monitoring looks terrifying. The nurse/teacher is talking about algorithms and numbers to various powers and certain divisions. How the hell did childbirth happen one hundred years ago? A lot of the instruction that she has given so far has been repetitive, but I nonetheless respect what she does, both as a nurse and as an individual. Of course, I already did because my mother and mother-in-law were both nurses (both worked labor and delivery). I went my whole life knowing that my mother helped deliver babies. That was about it. Listening to this woman over the course of the birthing class, I am amazed to learn just how important nurses are in this process. Say what you want about doctors, but nurses are the damn salt of the earth.

ahhhhh

6:20pm
We begin to learn about the “ripe cervix.” Forget what I said about the salt of the earth. She can’t stop saying “ripe cervix,” so I therefore take it all back. It’s like somebody saying “moist” over and over again, but…you know…ripe cervix. I have seen enough animations to know what it looks like. Ugh.

Ripe cervix.

7:03pm
We begin to learn about episiotomies. I am not going to explain what an episiotomy is. If you don’t know, I leave you to your perverted curiosity and Google. According to the teacher, most hospitals are trying NOT to do the procedure anymore. That’s great. It means we have a fighting chance for Angela to be a “cut above the rest.” Get it? Either way, the whole thing looks like a horror movie.

7:08pm
The teaching is now explaining different massage methods for your pregnant wife (we get to try them later). She uses a metaphor for massaging your pregnant partner to a Paula Deen recipe. Gross. I really hope mayonnaise and butter are not involved in childbirth, although after seeing everything there is about episiotomies, I won’t put it past anyone.

7:10pm
Oh my god. OH MY GOD. Caesarian birth. Holy shit. I can’t believe I put my mother through that. She laughs about it now, but at the time I know I caused her a lot of misery. And I certainly don’t blame her. My sister in law went through it as well. Many women go through it. Hardcore, man. The mere though of having my guts on a side table makes me vurp a little in my mouth. We had to watch a video detailing how it was done, both in animated and real-life form.

This is truly my only true reaction to the videos:

Super_crotch_kick

Over and over and over and over and over. I deserve it.

7:20pm
There isn’t as much to write for this entry because much of the subject matter (such as severe fetal distress) is no laughing matter. I won’t make light of it in any sort of fashion. I wouldn’t wish losing any of it on my worst enemy. Frightening doesn’t begin to describe it.

I have to remind myself that this is all educational and not a three-hour blog of fear-mongering scare tactics. The only people reacting poorly to the information are the men. The pregnant women (Angela included) all seem to be handling this all with grace and civility. I would be scraping the wallpaper off the walls at this point. After every video I watch, I am beginning to realize just how complicated and dangerous it can be. On the flip side, there are a lot of insurances given to women today thanks to modern medicine. It’s not at all like you see on the movies.

ate-future-joke-rhino-hole

8:00pm
She is now talking about nursing. Nobody bats an eye when she refers to the breasts as the “lunch table.” Babies are born and immediately placed on the body of the mother (what they call kangaroo mother care). After that, it’s only a matter of time before they go looking for lunch. Me too, Zelda. Me too.

8:04pm
It’s show and tell time! I was wondering when she was going to get through all the crap on the table in the front of the room.

The first thing she explains is a sitz bath. If you don’t know what it is, it’s kind of like a spa for your b-hole and/or genitals. It’s not quite a bidet and not exactly a hot water bowl for your toilet. Here is a quick illustration.

Butt Sauna (via TaiwanStanch)
Butt Sauna (via TaiwanStanch)

She keeps saying that we will want to buy one for use (one or two weeks after the birth). The more she explains it, the more I like it. Sauna for your butt? What more do you want in life?

Other things we will potentially need post birth:

  • Thick pads (She showed us one and they are comically large
  • Set of witch hazel pads (which I always call Sister Hazel, obviously)
  • Lots and lots of patience

8:12pm
We delve deeper into what goes on after the baby is born. She makes a point to mention mom’s groups. They all sound great, but not realistic at the moment. This is a bit of a bummer, as there is only one mom’s group held once a month (on a Saturday). The other classes are held four times a week during the day. I guess they don’t cater to that, which is even more of a worry because a. we still do not know our daycare situation and b. don’t know how long it’s going to be before we find one without a War and Peace-sized waiting list attached to it.

8:15pm – 9:00pm
We close out the night with more breathing exercises and massage positions. We went over the same Prodigy breathing methods at first, and then moved on to different ways husbands and partners can massage out the pain of labor and delivery. The tennis ball/crew sock combo really seemed to work, although it looks kind of like a sex toy. We also got to try an exercise ball, which seemed very helpful and far less sexual.

The last half an hour was spent on the floor, which I found as an odd choice. It was cold and hard. The yoga mat, which was at thick as a maxi pad, offered little support for me or (especially) Angela. We proceeded to simulate pushing for contractions. It was thrilling being in that position. We are staring down the barrel of Zelda coming out, and it all made it seem so real, even if the floor felt like the slab they make ice cream on at Cold Stone. It was the perfect way to end the class – with a nod to the future.

All in all, I would say the class was beneficial. I don’t know how prepared it will make me for the birth, to be honest. I don’t think I’ll ever be prepared for it. No class is going to do that. But I have the tools and technical know-how to get through it. I also know that I am a bastard for doing this to my wife. Kicks to the crotch are warmly welcomed.

In the meantime:

giphy

Childbirth Class Part I: Psycho-Somatic Addict-Insane

PRODIGY

On the insistence of my in laws, we signed up for a birthing class. It’s an “intensive, two-day seminar” to get expectant parents “in the know” on all things baby and birthing. For the sake of scientific curiosity, I wanted to document the entire two-day process from start to finish.

The first thing we did with what little time we had before our 6pm class was go to the McDonald’s down the street. Angela had a pretty tough day at work, so she agreed to go there to eat her feelings. I don’t need an excuse to crush McDoubles (AKA McDubs, Dubs, DJamz), but I probably should. I scarfed my burger in the car as we sped towards the Alexandria Innova Hospital in light to moderate traffic. Innova is also the location where Zelda will be entering into the light world in less than a month. LESS THAN A MONTH. Jesus.

5:40pm
We get to the hospital and walked the very long and brisk walk towards the visitor entrance. The classroom was completely empty at 6:45. This was mostly due to the fact that a. the classroom was hard to get to on the other side of the hospital and b. we had to walk up a long flight of stairs to get to it. Come on. No elevator? Eight months pregnant? No problem!

The RN Instructor greeted us warmly(ish) and told us we had our pick of where to sit. I chose the middle of the classroom, because that is where the cool people really sit. By the time we signed in, another couple had arrived. They were carrying a big bag of what I can only assume was “stuff.” I guessed it had something to do with the class. Were we supposed to bring something this evening? Dammit. It’s like the it’s day of school all over again, and I’ve forgotten to bring my colored pencils. I am coming home with just a “satisfactory” sticker for the day.

5:50pm
More couples begin to show up. All of them have bags of “stuff.” Angela swears up and down that we did not need to bring anything. Eventually, a couple shows up WITHOUT a bag. Phew. At least we will not be the only assholes that have not come prepared. [Update: We didn’t need to bring anything.]

6:03pm
The class is just about full. Looking around, I am noticing that most of the women in here at least “look” like they are around Angela’s age. That means that some of these women are going through the ridiculous notion that they are “advanced age” and a “high risk” pregnancy. I hate that. All because she is 35.

6:05pm
Where the hell did the damn teacher go? I want this to start on time. I am usually in bed by the time this thing lets out (9pm).

6:08pm
The room is now completely full with couples. There are some women who look like they are at the start of their second trimester, while one woman in the back with a British accent looks like she is about to burst.

6:15pm
The class FINALLY starts. Within the first few lines of her opening statement, she has already made reference to the difficulties of dealing with a baby “once the father comes home from work and you need to prepare dinner.” So much for women’s lib, right?

6:20pm
Everybody is going around the room and introducing themselves. It was also a time for the women to open up about some of the main questions they had about giving birth. There was a constant theme of two words: pain and tearing. I think that could be a central theme of the evening. (Angela takes her pen and writes two words on the page: Natural Childbirth…oooOOOoooOOoo)

The RN just mentioned how your ribcage runs the risk of expanding and never completely going back into place. Damn. Being a woman is the worst! She keeps using words like “bend,” “stretch,” and “break.” Over and over again. What’s that? Oh, it will bend, stretch, and then fucking break. Let’s all laugh about busting your hymen because the kind of breaking that has the potential to happen will make that look like a picnic. I am pretty sure that my penis has retracted into my body. I am sorry for everything, ever. I might need to call my mom on my break to tell her I understand.

6:22pm
What the hell is a mucous plug?!

6:24pm
The teacher is mentioning Warning Signs for women during pregnancy. One of the bullet points is “vomiting or diarrheal lasting 24 hours or longer.” I’m sorry for everything, Angela. I feel like I should go put on a Smiths record and really think about the choices I have made in life.

6:35pm
We watch a short video about a woman in pre-term labor. She had her child at 32 weeks. Being that I was also a premature baby (3 lbs., 4.5 oz. at around the same time frame), this all scares the living shit out of me. It would be like Angela having the baby…tonight. No. No no no no no no.

No.

6:40pm
Nesting: This totally explains why we had to spend the whole damn weekend arranging things and throwing stuff out. It was cathartic for Angela. It was necessary either way. We threw away at least 100 pounds. of Angela’s former possessions. That is putting it nicely. These items have been purged on two other occasions (her move from her parents’ house and her move from our last house). How a bag of used tissues made it up here, I will never know. BUT SHE BLEW HER NOSE WITH THESE TISSUES THE NIGHT OF THE KMFDM CONCERT!!!!

Anyways.

6:43pm
They finally graphically explain what the mucous plug is…

2655056_o

6:50pm
“Water may release in a trickle or gush [. . .] the liquid could be green, yellow or brown.” Hamburger churns in stomach.

6:55pm
“Have any of you seen your cervix?” (crickets)

Apparently, there will be a mirror in the labor and delivery room, just in case we want to get a peek. Score. She then proceeds to us powdered donuts to explain the 3cm dilation of a cervix. I used to really like powdered donuts.

7:00pm
She is now using a sock puppet to further explain effacement and dilation. This all looks so painful. I used to like puppets, too. It’s a long road to 10cm.

I think my penis is done. I am trading it in. One-way postage. It’s only been in hour and I can’t keep my toes from curling every five minutes. It must be my weak mind. Obi Wan would have a field day with me.

7:05pm
So, I am apparently supposed to cut the umbilical cord. She is now going over the need to “push out your placenta.” It looks like a giant bag of redness coming out of your body. It actually closely resembles a face hugger from Alien.

A woman in the room asks what contractions are like. Her response? “It’s like menstrual cramps….x100.” Ooof.

7:11pm
I have counting 17 times she has mentioned “vaginal bleeding” in the last ten minutes.

Apparently when you are 7cm dilated and need to go to the hospital, a woman is likely to feel “serious” or “focused.” I think that’s a really nice way of putting it. I don’t think those emotions are going to be going through her head at that point. I feel like it’s all going to be a bit like the labor scene from the first Look Who’s Talking.

7:25pm
Internal rotation is important. It’s like a good spiral on a football. Zelda, I am telling you right now: you better come out like a perfectly thrown Kirk Cousins TD pass come February. I like that.

The human body is so beautiful and terrible. We talk briefly about natural childbirth, and the questions are immediately thrown to the importance of an epidural. When I think of natural childbirth, I can’t help but run through the scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Unfortunately, I think Morgan Freeman will not be in the greater DC area to give birth to my child. It’s a shame. He truly is the great one.

7:30pm
Take note: your child will be “warm and sticky.” We watched our first of two childbirths. This particular woman did it standing up with a midwife. When the baby came out, so much came out with it. SO MUCH.

7:40pm
Ten-minute break for Chex Mix/Soda/Rethink my life.

7:50pm
We are about to watch a full childbirth, or the “greatest hits” at least. I feel like I am sweating, but not. Let’s call it ghost sweat. I am ghost sweating in anticipation.

We start to watch “Christina’s Birth.” This video reminds me of those poorly shot, grainy videos we watched in sex ed. Everything seems kind of scripted and a bit inauthentic. But oh shit, it was authentic. We watched that baby come out Christina, crowning and all.

8:15pm
The video is now over. I think I’ll be able to tough it out and keep my burger in me. We move to discuss what we should pack in “our bag” for the trip to the hospital. One of the suggestions is a “mix cd.” I don’t think Innova Alexandria is ready for “Birth Jamz 2016.” It’s going to be the hottest mix tape to drop this year.

8:25pm-9:00pm
We finished the evening by practicing some breathing and meditation exercises. The floor was very hard and cold, and I had to lean up against the bottom of a heater. Needless to say, I was uncomfortable, but I could not begin to think how uncomfortable Angela was (very, apparently). The meditation was kind of meh, so I won’t go over that.

The breathing exercises were interesting. We tried four or five different types of exercises. Everything from short breaths (Two in, two out) to the standard 4 and 5 (four in through the nostrils, five exhales). The one I found really interesting was the classic Lamaze breathing (hoo hoo hee). Everybody started to do it out loud. I swear, the first thing that came to mind was the opening to the Prodigy song “Breathe.” I leaned into Angela while we were doing it and whispered “Psycho-Somatic Addict-Insane.” She laughed. After sitting hard for nearly 45 minutes, I think she needed it. If you think about it, that entire song is about pregnancy breathing methods. I mean, the song is called “Breathe” after all.

Let’s hope less ass-sitting and more Prodigy lyrics. I wonder if we can fit “Firestarter” into our birthing plan.

Fighting the Dampness

Today marks one month until the official due date.

I’m in the home stretch and boy do I feel like it. The acid reflux is so bad I wake up in the middle of the night to vomit. If the reflux doesn’t get me, I’m up in the middle of the night to pee. My feet are swelled so much you can’t see my ankles.  I’m chronically tired, and walking from one end of the room to the other is enough to both wind me and make me want to take a nap. My back aches worse than ever. Bending over is agony. I’m grateful for the ability to get pregnant and have a baby, don’t get me wrong, but losing some of my autonomy has made me look forward to when my body can be my own again.

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Bodily changes are one thing. Emotional ones are another. I’ve often posted on Facebook about the odd triggers that would make me get weepy. A lot of times I found them amusing. I mean, come on. Getting weepy at the Soarin’ music? But then, sometime in late October, that weepiness started to shift. It got more frequent. Sometimes I didn’t even know why I was crying at all. it happened everywhere, without warning: in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, at work in the bathroom stall, on the metro ride home. It wasn’t just sadness affecting me, either. It was irrational anger and an almost crippling anxiety. According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy. I decided it was time to do something about it and spoke to my doctor about options.

Matt and I decided to avoid medication and explore other avenues of treatment. I don’t know how, but when I was talking to a friend about the depression and what course of action I thought I would take, acupuncture came up. I did a little research and found acupuncture is actually used to treat a variety of pregnancy-related ailments: infertility, morning sickness, depression, headaches, sleeplessness, and many others. I decided to give it a try. I didn’t relish the thought of getting stuck with needles, but crying and feeling like a bag of snakes was in my chest every day wasn’t a picnic, either.

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With the blessing of my doctor, I looked up the number of some fancy wellness center in Old Town and tried to get an appointment. Unfortunately, the doctor only saw new patients at certain times during the week, and my leave is more precious than ever now. I wrote that doctors off and made a list of doctors that stayed open past 5. I got lucky my second try. There was a Chinese acupuncturist and herbalist nearby that stayed open till 7. He could even see me that evening.

I’m not sure what I expected. The doctor didn’t speak much English and he didn’t explain much, but he went right to work asking me questions about my emotions, my diet, and my habits. He took my pulse and started to hit pressure points with this pen-type device. Then he took several needles out and inserted them at different points in my feet, hands, and arm. Some stung a little, some I hardly felt. He turned on a heat lamp and left me to my own devices for awhile. And that’s how every visit goes.

He did tell me that first visit that I’m “out of balance.” He said my lung qi (pronounced chee) is low and my liver qi is high. The goal is to get me more balanced out. I looked up some of the terms he used when I got home to try and wrap my Western head around the ideas of qi and imbalance. According to one source, the lung is associated with the emotions of sadness and grief (funny enough, the liver is associated with anger). The lung is partnered with the large intestine, and both work together to take in and expel. When the lung is out of balance, there is a prolonged grief that leads to depression (which is, the article points out, Western term), or dampness.

It was easy enough to wrap my head around it, honestly. And I’m really happy to say that the treatment has helped. I don’t get weepy anymore, even when there are triggers. I don’t dwell on the things that have been making me anxious, but the anxiety still manages to creep in here and there. Yesterday, I was even able to purge a monstrous amount of things I’ve been holding onto (since the lungs are also associated with emotional attachment and letting things go, apparently). I’m hoping that this fresh, more balanced feeling lasts into the postpartum period, as I know that’s also a time for depression.

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a long time, but as it seems with most things pregnancy related, it’s more acceptable for women to keep silent about the issues and the problems related to pregnancy. One things I’ve learned the hard way is that no one really cares about your morning sickness, or your debilitation, or your depression. Some do, but those are the people who are close to you. In other situations, you’re supposed to, in the name of what people view as equality, be tough and act like nothing is wrong.  I’ve seen women bravely declare that they’ve gone through these things, not for sympathy, but for the simple fact that they are sharing an experience with the world in hopes others might see it and relate.

I’m sharing this as a way of saying, yes this does happen. No, you’re not a terrible person for admitting it. There are options. I’m lucky; I know my experience is not as bad as some. I’m lucky that the acupuncture has worked. I’ve got an amazing husband and friends willing to listen and help me though it.

And as I feel Zelda kicking around in my stomach, ready to make her debut sometime in the not too distant future, I know the decision I made to get help has been more than worth it.

Zelda is More Important Than Potstickers

I want you to close your eyes. Visualize this past year. Think about it and the year to come. What do you see? I can tell you the only two things I see. The words drone back and forth in my mind:

Hopes and fears. Hopes and fears. Hopes and fears.

My mother used to tell me that if you are scared of something, you should say it three times fast and it would go away. It worked for the bogey man in my closet. It sometimes worked for the thunder near the house when I grew up. Unfortunately, the hopes and fears are still there.

I don’t know what kind of person I am turning into lately. I’m not saying that I am living out some sort of multiple personality/Sally Field daytime special kind of life. It’s like jumping into hot and cold water simultaneously in my mind. I’m swimming through emotional baggage with the weight of my own hopes and fears like an albatross around my neck.

Emo Kylo Ren would be proud. All angst aside, I have noticed some red flags popping up in the last few weeks. I want to blame the end of the year for my heightened sense of self. In the immortal words of Jackie Chan: Who am I?

Maybe I am just becoming a “dad.” Whatever that means.  I’m not sure yet. I still have a month to figure that out. When does becoming a “dad” become just dad?   

There are some things currently going on in my life that support this hypothesis. I have certainly stopped shopping for or wearing clothes for fashion and have since discarded all those that do not suit me for comfort. That may be attributed also to my ever-expanding gut, courtesy of Fritos, Angela’s holiday desserts, and my daily need to consume cheap beer.

More feels abound. I don’t know if I am becoming one of those people who discovers The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds in his thirties and completely falls in love with it. Is that dad-like, because that is definitely happening at the moment. What does 1960s psychedelic emo pop have to do with my life? This isn’t the Smiths, after all. At least I no longer think that Minus the Bear is writing songs about my wanton love life anymore. Thank God I grew out of that in my twenties.

It’s been a hell of a year. I worked my ass off and got myself figuratively kicked in the teeth because of it several times. I grew as a person while my significant other grows another person inside of her. I found out my credit score qualifies me for a house I can never begin to afford. I also discovered that I can make potstickers from scratch.

Despite all of the rad shit that happened this year, I still have those creeping hopes and fears.

Every time I think that I am trying, I feel like my actual actions warrant quoting marks. I am “trying” to do good and prepare for the coming of Zelda in February. I am “trying” to be accommodating to Angela’s needs as she barrels her way through he last trimester. I am “trying” to remain calm and keep my own emotions in check. I am sure that many people have felt the same way. It doesn’t necessarily seem uncommon. It’s real talk…the realest talk.

Hopes and fears. Hopes and fears. If I had to have a visual representation of what I feel on a daily basis, it would be this:

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Some days I want to fantasize about XL dad jeans and fanny packs and Griswold family vacations to Wally World. Other days I think about living out a film noir lifestyle alone in a seedy hotel room in a dark part of town, slowly drinking myself to death as I write the great American novel.

Fears are irrational most of the time. Then why do I always feel the pull to have something to drink when the stress builds up like a bad case of acid reflux? They are just hopes and fears, right? Everyone is different. Every experience is different. I can’t do it all. How the hell did my dad do it?

It doesn’t matter. All that matters anymore is Zelda. The homemade potstickers don’t even matter anymore. Zelda is more important than potstickers. That’s how much she means to me now and forever.

It’s a new year tomorrow: the most important year of my life.

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Peace to the new year.