Tick-Tock, Time is Ticking

By Angela

“Enjoy it, time goes by so fast!”

Every time I hear those words, they are usually in the context of a person I don’t know remarking how cute Zelda is. After an awkward smile and maybe a thank-you, the person continues:

How old is she?
16 months.
Oh enjoy it while you can. Time goes by so fast!

A disclaimer. I know these people mean well. I know they are trying to be nice. That said, I can’t stand it when I hear those words. It’s not because of the awkward situation this imparting of wisdom causes. It’s not because it usually comes at times I am chasing my 16-month old down the aisle at Target. Hell, it’s not even because a perfect stranger might be assuming I’m not enjoying motherhood.

It’s because I’ve already learned this lesson, and it’s kind of broken my heart a little.

Wrapped like a burrito.

Let me explain. When Zelda was teeny-tiny, we used to wrap her in a swaddle for bed. She slept in a pack and play napper in the corner of our room for the first seven months. Every morning, I’d take Zelda out of the napper and unwrap the swaddle. She’d yawn, stretch, and make the cutest little duck face while she was stretching. Every morning for those seven months, without fail, she’d make the start of the day perfect. Then she started rolling at seven months, and we had to put her in a crib. No more swaddle, no more unwrapping, no more duck face. Just like that, one morning that perfect start to the day was over.

Saturday, Super Lazy Edition.

Another favorite was our Saturday morning ritual before Zelda learned to crawl. She’d wake us up early, Matt would make coffee, and I’d breastfeed her. Then, with piping hot coffee in hand, we’d settle Zelda with some toys and books, drink our coffee, and watch the morning news. Those mornings are long gone, since Zelda can’t stay in one place for more than five seconds. Both of us miss those mornings so much.

Slinging it in the local record shop.

There’s a whole list of things I miss: her toothless smile, the YA DEE she used to say when she wanted something, breastfeeding her right before bed, the newborn cuddles, carrying her in a sling, giving her baths in the kitchen sink. I understand how fast the time goes, and how important it is to savor every second. I also know the aching sadness that comes with the realization that those times are gone and will only exist in my memory. It takes a lot for me not to say something like I KNOW when I hear someone tell me to enjoy it.

However, as sad as I am that these little moments in time have passed, I’ve also realized something important: there are just as many new and amazing moments to enjoy. They aren’t the same, but that’s the price you pay for being a parent: seeing your child grow.

So now, when Zelda gives me a toothy smile, says “mama,” or stuffs her face full of bread at breakfast, I try as hard as I can to savor those moments. Sometimes I feel like I didn’t savor the other ones enough. The good thing is, many more of those amazing moments are yet to come.

Valentine’s Day, 2016. Snuggles from Zelda and Torrance. Zelda was five days old.

So yes, I’m enjoying it the best I can. Every time I hear that I should, it’s sort of like the twist of a knife. I know. I miss so many moments already. But there’s plenty more to look forward to.

The Eng Dynasty Visits Katsucon

By Angela

This past weekend was pretty special. Historically, for me, it has always been special this time of year—for the past 21 years, to be exact. Why? This is the time of year that Katsucon happens. This weekend was particularly special because I got to take Zelda.

The Eng Dynasty at Katsucon!

What’s Katsucon? Well, it’s an anime con. If you’re not familiar with anime cons, the basic definition is that it’s a convention-type gathering that celebrates anime, manga, video games, and Japanese culture. They are held almost on a monthly basis in the US, and Katsucon is held early in the year outside of DC.

Katsucon, however, is more than just an anime con to me. When I attended my first Katsucon—Katsucon 2—it was 1996 and I was 15 years old. Anime was this quiet, weird thing at the fringes of American culture, almost underground. Back then it was called “Japanimation,” and it was hard to access. VHS tapes with two episodes on them ran 30 bucks; films were about the same, higher if subtitled. My friend from middle school, Emily, opened this world up to me and several other friends at a sleepover when I was about 13. The series we watched was called Ranma ½, and I had never seen anything like it. Then the SciFi (now SyFy) channel began airing anime films on Saturday morning: Robot Carnival, Akira, Lily C.A.T., and a few others. I found anime absolutely breathtaking. I even remember getting amped on the Sailor Moon premiere on Saturday morning cartoons when I was 14.

Yours truly as Sailor Mars (the one furthest to the right) at Katsucon 3 in 1997.

The funny thing about anime back then was that it was so underground and so on the fringes of popular culture that it also seemed to gravitate an audience of people who were somewhat on the fringes of society as well: outcasts, loners, weirdos, losers. I can’t speak for my friends, but I definitely lump myself in with more than one of those categories. But when I went to my first anime con at 15, it was like I’d found the mother ship. A huge group of people with oddball sensibilities that loved anime? That made costumes and dressed like anime characters (cosplay)? It was like I’d landed in an alternate world, and it was one I never wanted to leave.

21 years later, and a lot has changed about anime and anime cons. Cosplay is now a profession, not a bunch of duct tape and pieced together patterns. Anime is readily available on the Internet, and if you want a DVD or Blu-Ray, entire box sets are cheaper than one VHS tape cost. Anime cons are huge. The first Katsucon I attended had less than a thousand people. The one from this past weekend had 20,000. Somewhere in between 1995 and 2017 anime took on a life form of its own, and it continues to evolve. It’s bittersweet, really. What a bunch of misfits came together to quietly celebrate is now a huge event. Today, going to a con for me is more about seeing the friends I’ve made over the years than celebrating anime. Heck, I probably couldn’t even name a popular anime right now.

Steve and I wondering what the hell all these new manga titles are.

So why was this weekend special? After the rather lengthy exposition (sorry), it’s a pretty big deal for me to say that I took Zelda to her first anime con. Matt and I went for Saturday afternoon, just to walk around, see friends, and gawk at the costumes (seriously, the stuff they make these days is impressive as hell). Zelda met some old friends, a couple of which go back to that first con in ’96. She was a little shy, but gave them all smiles. She also got to see Emily (who also still goes to anime cons), her wife, and another friend from middle school I haven’t seen in a long time but was also present at that legendary sleepover many moons ago. Plenty of people waved and smiled at her, and I stopped every Zelda-related cosplayer I saw so Zelda could get a picture with them.

Zelda with Tingle and Midna.
Zelda trying to grab Link’s bow.

At one point Zelda got a little overwhelmed, so we sat in a corner and had a snack. When we resumed, we met up with another old friend and walked around the dealer’s room together, reminiscing about the old days and how tiny the dealer’s rooms used to be. More than once I remarked I felt like a dinosaur. We left around Zelda’s dinner time, and I was sad to leave. I only see these people once a year, twice if I’m lucky. I miss them fiercely, because we not only celebrated anime as a bunch of misfits, but we now are a part of the old guard that remembers what anime was like in those pre-Internet days, before it blew up and became a part of the popular culture zeitgeist.

I’m glad I got to take Zelda, even if she won’t remember it. It meant a lot for her to be there, to meet old friends, and to experience it for a little bit. I’m hoping next year she’ll give me permission to make her a Zelda costume.

Year One

By Angela

So, here we are. One year. Just . . . Wow.

We couldn’t have a full day together—work and all—but I did get off a little early and we went for a meal at our favorite Mexican joint. Zelda ate a generous helping of refried beans and rice. The servers all sang Happy Birthday and presented her with a birthday sopapilla. It was all very low-key and fun. This weekend we’ll travel back to Suffolk to celebrate with family.

Birthday Sopapilla!

I could write about all kinds of sappy things, like what being a mother means to me, how having a daughter has changed me, and the joy of raising a tiny human. However, I think a lot of that would be a lot of pre-packaged, canned sentiment. The truth is, having a daughter HAS changed me. But not in the glossy magazine mommy-blog type way.

 

Behold, the list of things I do/think now that I didn’t before having a baby:

1. I sing a lot more. Every day, even. If you know me, you know how wonderful my singing ability is. Luckily Zelda doesn’t know any better.

2. Poop doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve faced projectile poop, scrubbed it off walls, witnessed ones that stretched from head to toe, and tossed out many ruined onesies.

A blowout for the ages.

3. I’m having trouble enjoying horror now. I’m an avid Stephen King fan, but for some reason I haven’t been able to read him lately. I read his most recent collection of short stories on my metro rides shortly after returning to work, and one featured a car wreck in which a number of children were killed. I haven’t been able to pick up a King book since, even books I’ve already read.

4. I miss disposable income. I also miss impulsively going to movies, concerts, and restaurants. Some days I miss it more than others. I miss naps the most, though.

5. I’m perpetually tired. I didn’t know it was possible to be this tired and survive. And this is just with one kid. 8pm is a perfectly acceptable bedtime.

Matt and Torrance at 3 AM, shortly after bringing Zelda home.

6. Early into parenthood, I remember fetching Zelda at about 2 AM. While I was nursing her, Matt said, “Why are you starting vacantly into space?” Remembering an old Rugrats episode, I answered, “Because I’ve lost control of my life.” Sometimes I think that will be my state of mind forever.

7. There is no better sound in the world than your child laughing.

8. I’m more sympathetic to children who cry in public and the mothers that have to deal with it.

9. I really wish that there was a better mechanism for pumping breastmilk. The one available now makes me feel like a cow.

10. I love being a mother and would not trade it for the world.
Here’s to many more birthdays, and many more memories.

My Valentine’s Day in 2016. it was perfect.

Zelda’s First Thanksgiving

By Angela

So, Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, this holiday meant spending time together as a family. Usually we’d cook all day, watch football games, eat, and maybe play games afterwards. Later on down the line, somewhere in the late 90’s, my brother and I started the tradition of early-morning Black Friday shopping (we were trying to find Star Wars figures). Now we have families of our own and our traditions have been altered, but some, like Harrison Dip, still remain (Harrison Dip is a secret family recipe and we have had it every single Thanksgiving I can remember).

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Zelda with Grandma and Grandpa Harrison

This year was incredibly different. Zelda is now nine and a half months old, and her presence has transformed the holiday. Last year, I was massively pregnant and had acid reflux, so I didn’t eat much. I didn’t move much, either. The holiday was spent in the same house we’d spent Thanksgiving for the past 30 years. This year, Thanksgiving was in my mom and Dad’s new house in Suffolk, I ate way too much, and I was chasing Zelda all over the place. It was—dare I say it—fun.

It was a full house: my mom and dad, my brother and his wife, their three kids, and their neighbors and their three kids. It was chaos: kiddie toys strewn about, screaming children, thumping footsteps, lots of tears and even more laughter.

Spending quality time with cousins
Spending quality time with cousins

All the kids played together nicely. I think, without a doubt, one of my favorite moments of the night was when Zelda’s younger cousin came in and made a beeline for her. They looked at each other for a second, then Zelda lit up. When she did, so did he.

I drank a lot of wine and ate a lot of good food. Zelda even got in on the fun. I gave her a spoonful of mashed potatoes and she ate it all—but she also got it all over herself. Matt joked that there was an “It’s Something About Mary” hairstyle going on. We had to bathe her afterwards; she’d gotten potatoes everywhere. Matt and I were both aching by the end of the night from all the running around, but we were full of good food and ready to get some good sleep. Too bad I snore, and too bad Zelda had other plans.

Potato head
Potato head

We spent the rest of the weekend visiting small towns outside Suffolk (Smithfield, Rescue, and Franklin, to be exact), visiting friends in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, eating excellent sushi, having dim sum with Matt’s parents, and walking around the pathetic excuse for a mall called Pembroke. I finally got my mane of hair chopped off and I feel magical. There’s all the things I’m thankful for that aren’t the usual staples of family and friends: good food, a wonderful haircut, being out and about, and seeing new places.

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Playing with friends

I guess I summed it up pretty well when someone asked how my Thanksgiving was, and I said good, loud, and full of kids. I added, “It’s a big reminder how my life has drastically changed.” When Matt and I were headed to downtown Norfolk to get a drink with some friends, I mused about how I’d go dancing or something on a night like this not even five years ago. I wasn’t sad about it, but I hit an unexpected twinge of nostalgia. A life far different, sure, but full of enough memories to pass along to my daughter when the time is right.

So yeah, this Thanksgiving was different from the family traditions I grew up with, but I like this new wilder and crazier one. Here’s hoping the next one is even wilder.

Mothering Sunday

So here it is, my first Mothers Day. This whole “having a baby” thing still feels pretty surreal to me. Just a couple of days ago, I was thinking that the nights of dancing at the club, impromptu road trips, and late-night bull sessions in coffeeshops and IHOPS were not that far behind me, but they feel like they’re a million years ago. Now the late-night sessions are reserved for changings and feedings, and the “impromptu” road trips consist of destinations such as Target, Babies ‘R Us, or Wegman’s. Do I miss the pre-baby life? Sometimes. There was more freedom and I was less tired. But Zelda truly is a gift, and I love being a mommy.

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My mom and I enjoying some 99s in London, 2008.

This post isn’t really about me, though. It’s about my mom. I think most daughters think their mother is special, and I’m definitely one of them. My mom was born in Scotland, and when she married my father she left her home and family to start a family of her own. She reminded me, many times, that she and my dad figured out parenting all on their own. My dad was stationed in Hawaii when they had my brother, far away from the continental United States where his parents were and halfway around the world from Scotland. In the first couple of weeks after I had Zelda, I could not imagine trying to do it alone. It reminds me that my mother is made of steel, and I truly hope I can follow her example.

IMG_1003
My mom teaching me how to properly roll out a pie crust.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve truly understood everything my mother has passed on to me. I know my love for the small and kitschy, my love for shopping, and my quasi-dry humor all come from her. She’s got the dry humor down to a science, though. I love to bake, eat crackers and cheese, and drink wine, all things she loves, too. Some things, like the sewing and the knitting, which I did not pick up until I was 26, were passed to her from her mother. And it’s pretty cool, in my opinion, to think that the sewing and knitting are what connects me to the mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers of my family.

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Starting from the left: my grandmother, mother, great-grandmother, and two great aunts.

Now I can add being a mother to that list. After I had Zelda, my mom stayed with us for three weeks. Matt and I didn’t have a CLUE how to be parents. Hell, I didn’t know how to put a onesie on, change a diaper, or hold a baby bottle. Somehow, in that three weeks, she taught us all of that and more. She encouraged me when I got frustrated with breastfeeding, showed us how to swaddle, and taught us how to calm Zelda when she was inconsolable. She laughed with us through the massive blowouts and gave us the incredible gift of sleep in the days after coming home from the hospital. She showed me exactly what it is to be a mother, not just in the sense of caring for a baby, but in acts of selflessness and endurance. She gave me the tools to be a great mother, and for that I’m forever grateful.

I can only hope in the days and weeks and months and years to come that I will continue to take the lessons she taught me and continue to be a good mother. And, if I’m lucky, one day I can pass those lessons on to Zelda.

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My mom and I celebrating right after I successfully defended my dissertation in 2014.

“I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony”: Zelda’s Birth Day

Skin on skin moments after birth.
Skin on skin moments after birth.
I think the past 48 hours are among the most insane I’ve ever had. Even as the hours tick by, making the 9th of February fall further and further behind me, the more surreal and dreamlike the entire experience becomes. I still have trouble believing everything has happened, but I’m watching Zelda sleep in her bouncer nearby, clad in jammies that are way too big for her and occasionally kicking a tiny, perfect foot out. I like to think she’s dreaming.

What do babies that are only two days old dream about?

During the day of the 8th, I started getting cramps. They were irregular and mild, but they were new. Then they started to get more regular. I kept expecting my water to break; I’ll sadly admit some expectations I had were the result of popular culture. In the movies, women always have a huge moment where the water breaks and then the scene cuts to them in the hospital. Not so, this was a slow buildup, almost a cycle. I knew this was the start. After days of a sign, of uncertainty, of asking friends what to look for, I knew my body was sending me the signals I’d been waiting so desperately to receive.

I am the centre
Of a circle of pain
Exceeding its boundaries in every direction
The business of the bland sun
Has no affair with me
In my congested cosmos of agony
From which there is no escape

I was pleased the process began on its own and I didn’t need inducing; it was a big deal to have this done on my own terms. That would change later, but I’m still glad the machinery of birth was started by my own body and not the Pitocin. We got to the hospital at 5 AM and the day went by in a blur. I ate breakfast, I chatted with my parents and my in-laws, who came mid-morning, and walked laps around the nurse’s station in my stupid gown to speed up the labor. The contractions got more intense and I would have to stop everything to breathe through them, but the pain was manageable.

Around one, the doctor checked my cervix and told me the labor wasn’t progressing fast enough. I wanted to keep walking and working through the contractions, but the doctor wanted to give me a low dose of Pitocin to bump things up a little. I consented, but I wasn’t happy about it. I was perfectly content to let the labor progress naturally all day. I wanted the contractions to get more intense on their own, not at the speed of medicine. I wouldn’t be ready for the speed of medicine and I knew it. I refused to let them break my water, though. Come hell or high water, that was happening on its own.

Sure enough, after the Pitocin came the contractions got much more intense. Soon I wasn’t just breathing through the pain, I was gripping hands and writhing on the bed. I didn’t scream, but I was pretty close. I finally asked for the epidural. I think a small part of me wanted to hold out, just to see if I could do it. I knew going in I would want an epidural; it was written in my birth plan. However, I think a teeny tiny part of me wanted to try and stick it out. Nope. God bless all you natural birthers out there. You are some amazing ladies.

I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony
Incidentally with the exhaustion of control
I reach the summit
And gradually subside into anticipation of
Repose
Which never comes.
For another mountain is growing up
Which goaded by the unavoidable
I must traverse
Traversing myself

Due to some miscommunication, it took over an hour for the anathesiologist to get to my room. By then, the pain was a white-hot bolt of lightning that seared through my lower body. I didn’t scream, I didn’t call Matt any names, I didn’t go all out crazy. But I sure as hell wanted to. I’m pretty sure at some point when I was holding his hand I thought about biting through it. Funny, since one of the tweets from a friend echoed that thought:

Matt and I had seen the process of getting an epidural though birthing class. No doubt it would be unpleasant, and it was. At one point, I got nailed with a set of contractions while the needle was going in my spine. I remembered thinking if there was a hell, this was it. I’ve reached the tenth circle, and it is childbirth. Matt held my head between his hands and told me I was doing great. When the epidural finally kicked in, I didn’t regret getting it one bit. I still felt things, it just didn’t hurt as much.

At one point, I started to feel pressure towards the back of my body instead of the front. My mom and mom-in-law said that was important, as that meant Zelda was moving ever so lower. That pressure also hurt like hell. It built and built, and then out of nowhere my water broke. Holy crap, that was weird. I could almost hear the pop. It felt like a balloon attached to a faucet, just filling up more and more until it was so full it burst. And it felt like gallons. All I could think was, thank god that didn’t happen in bed or in public. Not long after I was checked again, and it was go time.

There’s something to be said for this entire process. You can’t be modest, and you can’t be shy. Everyone sees every part of your body, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So when I was on that bed with my legs in the air, Matt holding one up and the nurse holding the other, I thought again about the pregnant body as a public body. How every part of you is on display and you can’t control it. The amusing part about this experience is that, at one point, you just say fuck all.

Four pushes. That was all it took. It didn’t hurt, but I felt it happen. Matt, holding one of my legs up, had a front row seat for the festivities, which he may or may not write about later. But when the doctor pulled Zelda out and placed her on my stomach, my heart rose up in my mouth, tears spilled down my cheeks, and I let out a quavering “Oh, shit.” Funny those were the words, especially since about nine months ago, on the day I found out I was pregnant and showed my dad the positive test via FaceTime, his exact words were “Oh, shit.” We’ve come round full circle, folks.

via GIPHY

The only thing I do regret about the experience is not asking to see the placenta. Bear with me, here. It’s pretty cool to create and grow a child. However, to have your body create and grow an organ is pretty damn amazing as well. It might sound silly, but I kind of wanted to say goodbye to the piece of me that helped Zelda get here safely. Matt saw it, said it was gross and looked like a Portuguese man o war. I might have thought the same, but that small and curious part of me wanted to see. Oh well. If there’s a next time, maybe then.

Relaxation
Negation of myself as a unit
Vacuum interlude
I should have been emptied of life
Giving life

So now I’m navigating the waters of motherhood. I’m already making mistakes, learning, and celebrating small triumphs. After such an emotionally difficult pregnancy, I’m finding that this part, the start of our life with her, is unbearably sweet. Even through the sleep deprivation and the crying and the poop explosions, I am more than happy. This adventure truly is grand.

Stir of incipient life
Precipitating into me
The contents of the universe
Mother I am
Identical
With infinite Maternity
Indivisible
Acutely
I am absorbed
Into
The was-is-ever-shall-be
Of cosmic reproductivity

“A Melon Strolling on Two Tendrils”: The (Almost) End of Pregnancy

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 7.47.47 PM

So.

Here I am, on the due date and still no premonition or telltale signs that Zelda’s on her way. I’ve asked a couple of friends if there was any secret to it, like some kind of mother spidey-sense or small bodily signal that could be a sign, but it looks like I’m out of luck and just have to wait.

Quite frankly, I’m getting anxious.

Not anxious in a bad way, mind you. I’m not talking about the anxiety associated with birth and the pain and the fear of things going wrong. I’m not talking about the anxiety associated with trying to balance work and no sleep, the lack of maternity leave, or the dreaded feeling that I’m going to somehow fuck this up royally. That’s still there, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not as overwhelming as it was before.

I’m getting anxious because I want to meet Zelda.

Truthfully, I’m a bit relieved at this feeling. I’ve gone through this pregnancy with what I’ve considered a large amount of ambivalence. I’ve been what Rebecca Walker phrased as

viewing motherhood with more than a little suspicion. Can I survive having a baby? Will I lose myself—my body, my mind, my options—and be left trapped, resentful, and irretrievably overwhelmed?

In a way, Walker has said what I’ve been feeling and even writing all along in this blog: I’ve been concerned about my body, what’s going on in my head, and the societal impact of becoming pregnant this whole time. I’ve been worried about losing my autonomy, my body revolting against me. Me, me, me. I, I, I.

The Plath poem was the first one I can recall reading about motherhood that wasn’t completely rosy or cute. She makes her amusing comparisons (the melon on two tendrils image always made me smile), but her tone changes near the end, sort of trailing into a lamentable state of being “a means” and a “cow.” At the end she realizes that the pregnancy is only the start of the journey, and the journey will continue into motherhood. It may be ominous to quote Plath, but her poem resonates with me. Our lives are about to massively change.

A friend of mine said that becoming a mother more or less means saying goodbye to the person you once were. I’ve already had one perception of myself laid to rest a few years ago, and that was a difficult lesson. I’m not saying that fresher perception of myself is inaccurate like the previous one, but I am feeling the transition into a newer version of myself is happening. I think I realized it as much as a week ago, when I was showering. As I went through the ritual of washing myself with my much-coveted Snow Fairy Lush soap, I paused while I was soaping up my belly and smiled. I felt comforted by the presence of my bump, of Zelda. It was a fleeting moment, but it was there long enough for me to acknowledge it.

And that was the start the change. I found myself talking to Zelda more and more, resting my hand on my bump more frequently, and imagining what her personality will be like.  I informed Matt she would be an Aquarius, and therefore would be a force to be reckoned with: progressive and independent, but temperamental and aloof. Matt thinks astrology is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, and opts for the more Chinese route as a way to pinpoint her personality. She’ll be born in the Year of the Monkey, the same sign as myself, so that means she’ll probably be a lot like me. While Monkey signs tend to be curious and intelligent, they are also impatient, irritable, and stubborn. God help us.

I spend more time sitting in her room and trying to imagine what it will be like getting up in the morning and seeing a baby in the crib right away. I think about what it will be like to take Zelda to the National Mall or the waitingZoo on a weekend, if she’ll have the same sweet tooth I have, or if she will inherit Matt’s calm demeanor. The big change here is that I’m not thinking about me and how I’m going to survive anymore. I’m not fully
concentrated on the injustices of the social world around me. My head’s not spinning with the thought of me, me, me, I, I, I. Instead of think about Zelda and how pleased I am that we’ve come to the end of this part. I hate not knowing when she’ll be here, but one thing’s for sure: it could happen at any time.

I’m not as afraid as I thought I would be. I’ve gone through this pregnancy dreading the end because I know it ends in a trauma of sorts. But, as everyone who has been through it says, it’ll be more than worth it. I have no doubt in my mind.

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                                        And here she is. Crazy how she’s got Matt’s nose.

I’ve boarded the train, there’s no getting off.

And I’m looking forward to the journey.

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

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

floating
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.

flawlesshair
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.

 

MinnieCastavet
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 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.

“Only Happy When it Rains”: Then and Now

I took my daughter to a concert last night.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. I’ve been to a lot of concerts since finding out I was pregnant, so technically I’ve taken her to quite a few. Some, like Billy Joel and Morrissey, were while I was in the deep throes of morning sickness. I figured if I was able to get up and go to work every day, even when feeling like I had a 24/7 hangover, I could handle a few shows. Others, like Hum, were after I leveled out a bit. However, the concert last night was special.

It was Garbage’s 20th Anniversary tour. Their self-titled album came out in the summer of 1995, when I was a ripe and angsty 14 year-old. I got to see them live the next year at the Hampton Coliseum, when they opened for the Smashing Pumpkins’ Infinite Sadness Tour. By then, I was 15 and starting to rebel against the world. Or so I thought. I remember that the tickets were 30 dollars, and to me that was out of sight expensive–but it was going to be worth it. To an impressionable 15 year-old, seeing a show like that was cool. In hindsight, it was an experience of a lifetime.

Fast-forward almost 20 years later. I live right outside of DC, and when Garbage announced their anniversary tour with a stop at the 9:30 Club, I knew I had to go. Two awesome lady friends of mine (who also saw Garbage back then) jumped on the bandwagon, too. Before you could say #1 Crush, tickets were bought and the three of us were, to quote of the ladies, “Garbage’d.”

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Zelda is Garbage’d, too.

I was a little apprehensive about going to a concert six months into the pregnancy, to be honest. One, my feet were starting to swell. I was kind of worried about how long I’d be able to stand. Two, I’m starting to show a lot more. A part of me was a little nervous about whether or not people would react to it. Last, I’ve read the baby can hear by now. Some small, paranoid part of me was worried about whether it would harm her or not. Luckily, all of these fears were unfounded and I did just fine.

It was a fun night out. I know I’ve got to soak these kinds of nights in as much as possible before Zelda comes. We had dinner at a Mexican spot, then camped in the nearby Satellite Room until about 20 minutes before Garbage came on. The ladies had a beer and cocktail, I had a milkshake. Hey, it’s a damn good substitute. Damn good milkshake, too.

While I’m on the “damn good” kick, I’ll say it was a damn good show. When the band played “Supervixen,” the second song of the night, I flashed back to a fond memory of listening to this song in the car with my brother years and years ago in his crappy little Honda Civic that reeked of bagels. It sounded like 1996. It sounded like black hair dye, cheap drugstore kohl eyeliner, flannel shirts, and Doc Martens.

SIDE NOTE: I wanted Shirley Manson’s dress and boots from the Stupid Girl video so damn much. Or maybe I just wanted to be her.

Manson
My kingdom for a better phone camera.

I didn’t really think much of the present until Manson said, “We’re not a band who believes in nostalgia, at all,” followed by the comment that this was more for us, the fans, who have stuck with them for the past 20 years. It kinda hit me then. Almost 20 years ago, the last time I saw this band, I was a teenager with blue-black dyed hair that had no clue how to apply eyeliner properly and was flunking Algebra in high school. I was hopelessly in love with a dude that didn’t care about me. I wasn’t thinking about where I would be 20 years from then. The world was then, and it was all I knew. I still thought I knew everything. When they did “Only Happy When it Rains,” a song I considered my own personal anthem at 15, I sang along and reveled in the then and now. In some ways I’ve grown up so much, and in other ways I’m still that girl without a clue.

I reflected on that, then considered that now, I’m seeing this band as an almost 35 year-old with a growing baby in my belly. I summed my feelings up in one succinct social media post:

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 8.16.42 PM

The feeling still kind of floors me. I’m guessing that will take awhile to get used to.

I’m also hoping Zelda grows up with an appreciation for Garbage. I’ll be sure to tell her, when she’s old enough to understand, that this was the first band she really got to “see” (by which I mean be physically there for and hear) in concert.