Pregnant Ladies Are Crazy, and Other Myths From the Patriarchy

Before I got pregnant, I thought I knew a lot about pregnancy. In retrospect, I realize that I knew a lot about pregnancy as it’s generally portrayed on TV and in movies.

It turns out, the entertainment industry is mostly lying to us. (I know. I was surprised, too.) Being pregnant is almost nothing like it seems on TV.

I guess this means I probably won’t give birth in an elevator, or in a car speeding down a highway — although I do know one woman who gave birth in a New York taxicab, which means that her kid will win every “who is a Real New Yorker” contest from now until the earth is swallowed by the sun.

On the downside, I can already tell that I won’t have one of those cute, photogenic baby bumps that you see on your favorite sitcom. I’ll be 19 weeks pregnant this Wednesday, and I’m already roughly the size of a barge, despite only gaining the recommended weight.

As Adam said recently, pointing to my belly, “That thing is serious, huh?” It truly is. I’m already having trouble figuring out how to deal with tables and countertops, and yesterday I hit myself in my own stomach with a doorknob trying to get into my house. Thank God for amniotic fluid, or we’d all be born with creases down our middles from when our moms tried to make a sandwich and the kitchen counter got in the way.

But the biggest surprise so far about being pregnant might be how relatively normal I feel. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I spent most of the first trimester feeling like I was on a rough ferry crossing, and when I need to eat or sleep, it’s an eating- or sleeping-emergency. But I still feel exactly like myself, which was something I was sort of led to believe wouldn’t be the case.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I thought I’d be crazy, perhaps in the sense of being legitimately mentally ill, but definitively in the sense of being a hysterical female. I was led to believe (again, by popular representations of pregnant ladies, not necessarily by actual pregnant people) that I would weep all the time, and get really mad at Adam for no reason, and just generally act like a big, hormonal mess.

That hasn’t really happened. Sure, about eight weeks in, we tried to watch a documentary on penguins and had to turn it off when a penguin baby froze to death and I couldn’t stop weeping, but that’s not necessarily new. I’ve never been great with the part of nature documentaries where we’re reminded that nature is cruel.

And I definitely have a lot less patience for bullshit now, which has had the unfortunate effect of making me snottier than usual with courtesy callers or unhelpful clerks — not a great look for anyone. (Cashier at the grocery store: “You can recycle this bottle at Customer Service.” Me: “No, you can recycle it right here for me, like they usually do.” Cashier: “Oh. OK.”)

But in general, I’m pretty much myself, with fewer fucks to give. And I’m not sure if the fewer fucks are because of hormones, or because I’m so happy to finally be pregnant that the fog of low-grade depression from the past few years has finally burned off. It’s hard to be yourself when you’re so sad all the time, and now, miraculously, I’m not.

The other day, I asked Adam for his thoughts on the matter.

“This isn’t a trap,” I said, carefully leaning my side and not my belly against the kitchen counter as he put away the clean pans.

“Uh oh.”

“No, no, really. It’s just that I was thinking the other day about how everyone makes it sound like pregnant women are crazy, and I just don’t feel that way.”

“You’re an A+ pregnant lady,” he said, closing the cabinet doors and looking relieved to have something nice to say. “You haven’t even really complained that much about anything, even when you were nauseated. I think you’re the happiest I’ve ever seen you.”

“So, I’m not secretly hysterical and deluding myself?”

He paused.

“Uh oh.”

“No, it’s not that. I’m just trying to figure out how much trouble I’ll get in if I say that life is easier when you don’t get your period.”

I laughed so hard I accidentally leaned the wrong way and bumped my stomach on the counter. “Ow.”

“Are you OK?”

“Fine, just unwieldy. Also, happy to know that you feel that way, since with the timing and all, I’ll probably go through menopause about a half hour after the baby is born.”

So, there you go. Something to look forward to, and a reminder never to believe anything that you see on TV. Of course, these days, it’s also a good idea to be skeptical of anything you read on the internet, so if you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant in the near future, keep in mind that no one knows anything about what your pregnancy will be like but future-you.

And no matter what, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re crazy.

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This Is My Version of a Gender Reveal Party

The bad news is, there’s no cake. The good news is that you don’t have to leave your house in order to attend.

Did you know that they have a blood test now that can tell you whether you’re having a girl or a boy (or at least, a baby with two X chromosomes or one X and one Y)? Well, they do. You take it at about 12 weeks, and it measures fetal DNA in the mother’s blood.

The test also tells you, with a high degree of accuracy, whether or not your baby has Down Syndrome or Trisomy 18 or 13. Needless to say, I was more concerned with these results than the other one. Regarding the boy/girl question, we have a niece and a nephew, and they’re awesome, and nothing that’s awesome about them is because of their gender.

But I am roughly one-thousand years old in mom years, which adds to the risk of chromosomal abnormalities.

Delivery Notification

The results came in through the automated system at LabCorp, which was a very good sign. Doctors tend not to release your results when they’re bad. They call you on the phone, like our ancestors did, or worse yet, ask you to come in to the office. If a doctor ever asks me to come into the office, I’m moving to Costa Rica, ASAP, to live out the rest of my life in the sloth sanctuary. I don’t need more information than that phone call asking me to come in. I can guess the rest.

Anyway, there was no need to move to Costa Rica just yet, because the results were good: negative for all trisomies.

Also negative: the test for the presence of a Y chromosome. “Consistent with a female fetus,” the report read, which slayed me for some reason. Medical lingo is so cautious: “We’re not saying it’s a girl, but we are saying that it doesn’t have a Y chromosome and probably won’t have a penis. What you do with this information is up to you. We’re not into the whole labeling thing.”

Which is for the best, really. Before we got the results, Adam mentioned that you can only learn so much from a test.

“I mean, by the time this kid grows up, we’ll have about 800 different gender identities,” he said. “So it probably doesn’t really matter what their underpants situation is today.”

Consistent With a Female Fetus

I will confess that I wanted a girl, for one reason and one reason only: I did not want to have to deal with the whole circumcision issue.

Many of you will read that and start tsking, regardless of where you stand on the issue. People tend to be very passionate about their stance. I’d guess conservatively that 80 percent of the parents reading this have very strong feelings about circumcision one way or the other, and to those parents I say, hey, you’re probably right.

There are certainly good arguments for both sides. On the one hand, if we had a vaccine that prevented HIV and HPV infection as well as circumcision does, we’d give it to everyone, probably at Costco while they were trying cheese samples. On the other hand, well, doesn’t it seem odd to lop off parts of people’s bodies before they get a say?

Bottom line, whatever you decided to do with your son, I’m on your side and will vigorously defend your choices. But, oh my sweet baby Jesus, am I glad we won’t have to decide.

Beyond that, I feel like I have a better handle on the precise flavor of bullshit that a girl is likely to deal with in life, although that’s a good news/bad news situation. I’m not looking forward to teaching her how to deal with street harassment and the gender pay gap and unconscious bias. But I am definitely looking forward to telling her about all the excellent women who paved the way for her to build the life she wants.

Because she will have that, no matter what some of the men in charge right now would have us believe. Their time is coming to an end, but Baby Girl Luckwaldt’s is just beginning. And yes, it’s a big scary world out there, full of people who would limit her potential based on nothing, a report containing news so inessential, it could be sent via email with an automatic notification.

But it’s also a world with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Hillary Clinton. Maxine Waters and Elizabeth Warren and Malala Yousafzai. Fannie Lou Hamer and Mary Harris Jones and Margaret Sanger and Shirley Chisholm and Mary Wollstonecraft and Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Emmeline Pankhurst. Simone de Beauvoir and Bell Hooks and Maya Angelou. So many more.

My secret is that I’m an optimist. Beyond that, I’m determined. I’ll be the first to make fun of a male celebrity when he claims that he cares about industry-accepted sexual harassment because he has a daughter, but it does make a difference, having a girl. Already, I’m thinking to myself, “But she’ll be brand-new. How can anyone try to limit her potential when she doesn’t even know who she is yet?”

Soon, we’ll have a daughter. Forget the nursery. It’s the world we have to get ready for her.

Image: Karen Eliot/Flickr

So, It Turns Out That I Really Like Being Pregnant

Chalk it up to hormones, or the fact that we had to wait so long and thought it might never happen, but I’m really enjoying being pregnant.

This was a surprise. If you’ve read any of my blog posts over the past few years, you know that I was not at all expecting to like being pregnant. I figured, best-case scenario, I’d tolerate it — but I was expecting something along the lines of Aliens mixed with Rosemary’s Baby.

But here I am, nearly 15 weeks pregnant, and I feel great. I’d love to claim that it’s because of my fabulous attitude and self-care skills, but actually, I think I’ve just been really lucky so far. I was mildly nauseated every day from about week five to the end of my first trimester, but now I’m good as long as no one eats lobster in front of me. (Apologies to my family, who accidentally helped me discover this during a clambake a few weeks back.)

I also feel ridiculously cute. I have named my stomach The Protuberance, and while I’m not one for naked belly photos under any circumstances, I am enjoying dressing The Protuberance in a variety of fun shirts and stretchy jeans.

Related: we should all be wearing maternity jeans, all the time. Even the men. You guys, I’m serious: go buy some right now. I have discovered the answer to 35 percent of my problems and it is maternity jeans and I’m never taking them off. THIS IS JUST THE WAY I DRESS NOW.

I also wasn’t prepared for how much people love pregnant ladies. Here’s something about me that I wish were different, but will probably never change: I love it when people like me. It’s pretty much my favorite. I’m not willing to pretend to like the wrong sports team or support a dictator or anything like that in order to win you over. But I do enjoy approval.

And boy howdy, am I ever getting it. Since I started showing, I have been smiled at by nuns, children, joggers, store clerks, waiters, and one random guy who appeared to be about my age and didn’t even have any kids with him. The only people who don’t care are teenagers and I totally understand: they’re busy.

I don’t even really mind that I can’t drink, because pregnancy is a low-key mind-altering experience anyway and I have no idea what I’ll feel like from one moment to the next. I could be crying by the time I’m done typing this sentence, or seized by the urge to organize my bathroom counter. WHO KNOWS?

Anyway: pregnancy. 10/10, would recommend. But only if you feel like it, of course. It’s not for everyone, and I’d hate to talk you into anything.

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Also, the baby is apparently the size of an apple now.

 

Image: Thomas Kelly/Unsplash

The Miracle Baby

I liked the new fertility doctor right away. We sat down in his office and he smiled at us across his desk and I immediately thought, “Oh, thank God.” He had a kind face, and when he listened, I could tell that he wasn’t thinking of anything else — not his kitchen remodel, not another patient, not the box score for his favorite sports team. He was totally focused on our case.

He didn’t demoralize us with statistics, but he was honest about what we needed to do next.

“You’ve had three IUIs,” he said, looking at our chart. “Is that right?”

“Yes, plus the one that was cancelled for overstimulation.”

He looked up from the file. “You know what’s next,” he said.

“IVF.”

He nodded. It wasn’t news. We already knew that would be the recommendation. I’m 41, and we’d had three failed cycles. IVF was the last-ditch, and an expensive one: $20,000 per cycle at our last clinic, and probably not much cheaper anywhere in the greater New York area.

The next step was a physical exam, and things immediately got interesting.

“The opening of your cervix is TINY,” he said. “TINY, TINY, like a pinhole.”

“Do you think…?”

“YES,” he said, and then very professionally did not say what I could see him thinking, which was, What the @#$% was the matter with your last doctor?

It’s possible that I’m projecting.

Anyway, it turned out that the reason my hormone panels were mostly fine and I wasn’t getting pregnant wasn’t because the assays were wrong, like one of our doctors suggested, or that my egg quality was bad despite the very decent egg quantity. It was because my cervix was essentially closed, almost like a natural diaphragm, and it was very unlikely that any swimmers could get through.

Unlikely, but not impossible.

“Hmm,” he said, looking at the ultrasound. “This lining is very thick.”

“Oh, that’s good, right?”

“Yes.” He frowned at the screen for a second. “In fact, if you don’t get your period next week, I want you to come in for a blood test. It wouldn’t totally surprise me if you were already pregnant.”

That’s bananas, I thought. And at the same time, I also thought, I am definitely, totally pregnant. I’m the most pregnant. I’m getting an A in pregnancy. 

That was around 12 weeks ago. And now I sit here, wearing maternity jeans as I write this to you, at the beginning of the second trimester.

Surprise!

This is how big the baby is, apparently. Thanks, internet!

Image: Pexels

Let’s All Throw Facebook Into the Ocean

I spend at least an hour a day on Facebook, and I’m probably not going to stop. So don’t take this post as any indication that I’m going to change my ways. I’m not here to lie to you.

That said, can we agree that Facebook is the best worst? Leave aside for the moment that it was apparently used by a foreign power to sway the election. I’m almost as concerned about the fact that it makes me into a crazy person who thinks she can persuade people to change their minds — something that’s nearly impossible to do under the best of circumstances.

If I had a nickel for every stupid fight I’ve gotten into on Facebook, I’d have at least one very grimy dollar. And I’m a non-confrontational person. Generally my feeling about personal disagreements in real life is, “Meh, I’m tired.” When a fight breaks out on Facebook, however, I’m all:

wrong

This is clearly a sign of insanity. And yet there’s something about Facebook that brings out the worst in me and just about everyone I know. I’ve had fights with people on Facebook in which we’re both on the same side of the argument, and yet still become mortal enemies by the end of the thread. Sort of like this:

Me: I want to like oranges, but the white stringy parts creep me out.

Beloved Friend of Over 20 Years: I agree! Oranges are the worst!

Me: Well, I mean, the orange part is good. I could just do without the surprise flossing.

Friend: Right? Oranges are gross.

Me: WHY DO YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME? I BET YOU VOTED FOR DONALD TRUMP.

And scene.

Again, in real life, I would never behave this way. But all forums and social networks make it easier to hide behind a wall of code. It’s not even necessarily Facebook’s fault, except that I suspect they tweak the algorithm to make sure we see stuff that will enrage us, so that we’ll interact more with the site. But probably any social site that I visited every day would turn into the same thing.

Except Instagram, which is apparently full of ladies’ butts. At least, that’s what I’m getting from my followers’ list.

Images: someecards; Massimo Barbieri/Flickr

I’m Thinking of Skipping My Birthday This Year

The last birthday I skipped was when I turned 6. I was in the hospital, having my second surgery for a ruptured appendix, and the nurses asked me if I wanted to wear a badge that said, “Birthday Girl.”

“Today’s not my birthday,” I said.

“It is!” they said. “You’re turning 6!”

“It’s not my birthday, because I’m in the hospital.” My birthday obviously couldn’t be in the hospital. My birthday was at home, where things didn’t smell like disinfectant and things that needed disinfecting.

That’s how I feel this year. It’s not my birthday, because I’m about to turn 41 years old, and I’m not a mother. We spent the better part of two years and thousands of dollars to try to become parents, and it hasn’t worked. Three years from now, even the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (pinko land of my birth) will acknowledge that I’m too old to keep trying.

I’ve been thinking of giving up. People who haven’t gone through fertility treatment might see that “I” and wonder where my husband is in all this. He’s resigned, mostly, but supportive of whatever I decide. Which also unfortunately means that I have to decide something.

I’d be crazy not to think about quitting, at this point. But I can’t quite pull the trigger. I’ve been doing acupuncture lately, hoping to get my kidney yin in order (apparently). People tell me they’ve had miracles through acupuncture, but it’s hard not to feel like a fool while I lie there on my lounge chair, crying quietly so I don’t disturb the other clients.

I think I always knew I wouldn’t be able to have a baby. When I think about being pregnant, it feels like an impossibility, as if I were a man or already post-menopausal. I can’t really picture it happening. But then, I can’t really picture a headache going away when I take an ibuprofen, so it’s possible that I’m not super strong on cause and effect.

The worst part of all of this is that I know it will never really go away. My shrink told me that this kind of grief is like losing a person you loved very much. At first, you think you’ll never laugh again. About two weeks later, you laugh about something stupid and feel guilty about it. In short, you get used to it.

On a long enough timeline, I know I’ll get acclimated to the grief. I’ll be able to carry it around so that other people never even notice. But it will always be with me.

For now, I’m still here, waiting, figuring out if I’m still trying or if it’s time to move on. If I’m still trying, 41 is a hard age. If I’m not trying, I have to figure out what to do with the portion of the next 20 to 40 years I was going to spend parenting. Frankly, it’s kind of exhausting.

Either way, I don’t feel much like cake.

Image: Paul Downey/Flickr

Sheela Na Gig

If you want to make a med student disappear, especially a male one, try the following:

  • Stand in the center of an exam room, fully clothed, having put your pants back on after a half hour of pants-free waiting. Clutch fists loosely at sides as if prepared to make a run for it.
  • Wait until female doctor and male med student appear at door. The doctor will no doubt look confused about why you’re clothed. Face her with a crazy look in your eye.
  • Shout, “I am a sexual assault survivor and I am not spending even one more minute waiting on that table with no pants on. I HAVE BEEN WAITING IN THIS ROOM WITH NO PANTS ON FOR HALF AN HOUR.”
  • Observe as the male med student spins on his heel like a pop-up duck at a carnival shooting gallery and leaves the room, and possibly the building, county, and state.
  • Wait for the Ativan prescription that will soon be yours.

To be fair, the Ativan prescription doesn’t come from yelling. I don’t want to mislead you. It comes from the sobbing that you’ll do when the female doctor, now on her own after the male med student left the room to go Google alternative careers, tells you that the transabdominal ultrasound isn’t providing a clear enough image, and that she’s going to have to do a transvaginal ultrasound.

“OK,” you say, as your husband clutches your hand. “Get it over with.”

“Do you want to put the wand in?” she asks.

“No,” you explain through gritted teeth. “I want to go to Paris in my mind. You do whatever you need to do down there. I’m leaving, essentially.”

“Is it better if I don’t talk?” she asks, and you’re grateful, because someone gets it. You work out parameters: she’ll tell you when you’re going to be touched, and then she’ll spare you the blow-by-blow. After, she’ll tell you what she saw on the screen, and that everything looks healthy and sound—uterus, ovaries, follicles, all present and accounted for, all as they should be, in order to conceive the baby you’re not conceiving.

Later, popping an Ativan before the first of a series of injections, you wonder about that. Your official diagnosis is Unexplained Infertility, but most of the doctors you’ve seen are pretty sure the issue is egg quality. It’s the only thing they can’t measure, without more invasive means, for one thing, and for another, you’re getting up there, late 30s when all this started. But there’s a lot they can’t see, even if they did exploratory surgery, even if they did a whole-body scan.

For example, they can’t see if you’re damaged in ways science can’t measure right now. They might be able to, someday—measure your cortisol levels and whether those suppress hormone function, see if your telomeres are hopelessly shrunken, making you years older than your actual age.

For now, though, you just have to wait and endure. You don’t have much hope that this will work. In the blood lab, a tech says brightly, “This is the cycle.”

“We’ll see,” you tell her, thinking about how tired you are of talking to anyone about any of this.

She reaches up behind a sheaf of papers stapled to a bulletin board and pulls out a ceramic figure. “It’s a fertility god. We have them all over.”

“Probably no Irish ones,” you say. “They’re not safe for work.”

She laughs and you think of the bright blue Sheela Na Gig you bought years ago in Ireland. The goddess (or gargoyle, depending on whom you ask) squats and holds her vagina open. Probably she’s just showing off her fecundity, but to you, it always looks like she’s saying one thing: Take a good goddamned look.

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She’s doing what you think she’s doing.

Scared of ultrasounds? She’d swallow the wand.

Picture that, then, and forget Paris. Think about a woman, any woman real or imaginary, so strong she levels buildings and streets, city centers and town squares. A woman with every past and future, who doesn’t so much recover from what’s been done to her as she consumes it, uses it like fuel to create and destroy. A woman who is angry and terrified and powerful and insistent.

Look at me, you think. Take a good goddamned look.

Image Credit: fhwrdh/Flickr