When I first started telling people about my pregnancy, a lot of people told me to take it easy.
Now, I may be on the record as unenthused about advice generally, but this was advice that I was willing to take. I love napping, for example, but I never have time for it. Ditto taking a walk every day, eating warm meals, meditating, yoga, and all the stuff we’re supposed to do but never find time for.
Pregnant, I found it much easier to fit these things in. Whenever I’d be tempted to power through lunch or work late, I’d remember that Beano needed a rested mom, and take myself off for a light snooze.
This worked for a while. Then, for various reasons (OK, panic about saving money for maternity leave) I started working too much and resting too little, and now I’m right back where I was before I got pregnant, albeit with slightly better nutrition.
It’s not a permanent state of affairs. I took on a bunch of extra work, and now I’m crunched for time — a familiar situation for any freelancer, and as they say, a nice problem to have. But it’s still disconcerting whenever I realize that I’ve put in a 10-hour day.
My current situation reminds me of something my friend Ilisa said to me early on in my pregnancy. At the time, my big problem was that I couldn’t stop reading the news — or worrying about how my constant news-reading was flooding my body with cortisol and adrenaline and screwing up my baby for life.
“You’re not an incubator,” she said. “And also if fetuses were so fragile the human race would never have survived this long.”
Of course, just hearing that made me feel calmer. Eventually, I started breathing again. I even backed off the news. (A little.)
Now, my problem is that I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, which if you think about it, is just good practice for being a working mom.
I still sort of wish that we lived in Sweden, and that I could take a year-long leave starting five weeks ago, but I also love what I do and feel grateful to be able to do it from home, where my bed is, if I ever have time for a nap again.
And, full disclosure, I did take a break and go for a walk today, because it was a balmy 34 degrees here, and that’s swimsuit weather compared to the highs of 5 degrees we’ve had for the past week-plus.
For the past few days, Con Ed has been tearing up our street to fix something, or else just to see if they can finally break our spirit, and on my walk, I saw that my neighbor had put out coffee for the workers, complete with a little pitcher of cream and a tiny bowl full of sugar cubes. And for some reason, this made me think that things would be all right, deadlines or no.
The past year has been stressful, even for folks who aren’t contemplating a big life change like a new baby, but we still live in a world where nice people put out coffee for Con Ed workers. Probably things will be OK.
If you’re in a certain demographic of impending motherhood, breastfeeding is not really a recommendation: it’s an assumption.
And although I feel like I should have a lot more money to be in the mandatory-breastfeeding demo, I am an older, college-educated, white female person — which means that I’m part of the club, whether I want to be or not. (Note: plenty of women breastfeed who do not check all these boxes. We’re talking assumptions, not reality.)
I’ve written extensively before about my decision to exclusively formula feed, and I meant every word. But to be honest, even I suspected that I might waver in the face of overwhelming pressure. It’s really hard to stick by your choice when the whole world seems to be telling you that it’s a bad choice for your baby.
Only sociopaths don’t care what people think.*I care what people think. A lot. And I want to be a good mother. But I also know that breastfeeding is not for me.
Before I got pregnant, I assumed that I would know a lot about my baby long before she was born. My mother says that she knew who my sister and I were when we were in the womb — and this was before ultrasound was common, so she couldn’t even see us.
Adam scoffed at this when I told him.
“This is like when you claim to remember things that happened to you when you were six months old,” he said. “Memory is unreliable. You think you remember because you saw pictures and filled in the gaps.”
“No, it’s for real,” I insisted. “My mom knew that I’d like to stay up all night, because I started doing the rumba as soon as her head hit the pillow, and she knew that Meggy would be shy and quiet, because she was a much more mellow baby. The memory thing is real, too: Meg remembers being weighed on a baby scale.”
“Sure, she does.”
“Women remember things much earlier than men do.”
“That’s because women are lying liars who make things up.”
I’m not going to get into the memory thing here, but Adam may have a point about inventing insights about babies, because I can’t say for sure that I really know that much about the Great Baboo (aka Beano, aka The Miracle Child).
I’m sure of the following:
Beano hates: the Doppler, loud noises, and when I get stressed out about stuff
Beano loves: car rides (Zzzz), spicy food, Mel Brooks movies, her thumb
Also, on the last ultrasound, she clapped her hands and got the hiccups. It was the cutest fucking thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I once got to feed a baby lamb with a bottle.
I have a few other inklings. I feel like she’s probably a very determined person, but that might just be based on the skill with which she avoids the ultrasound wand. I think she’ll probably be a very silly person, but I don’t know how she’d turn out differently with me and Adam for parents.
I don’t know whether she’ll be shy, chatty, bookish, athletic, practical, dreamy, organized, creative, and/or analytical. I don’t know what her romantic or sexual orientation will be, or her gender identity, or whether she’ll be a plump person like her mom or a muscular person like her dad or a lean person like my aunt or my grandfather.
I’m guessing she’ll have wavy or curly hair, based on our hair, and that her eyes will be brown, because Adam’s eyes are brown and mine are hazel and I still remember a few things from high school science classes. She probably will not be excessively tall, since both her parents are compact, for ease of travel.
I hope she’ll love the Oxford comma, and be kind to herself and others, and be fairly liberal (or at least not someone who would cut funding for CHIP). I don’t care what she does for a living when she grows up, or whether she’s a genius or good at school or sports.
All jokes about punctuation and politics aside, she doesn’t have to like the things we like, although I hope for her sake she can at least tolerate hockey and Sherlock Holmes or it’s going to be a long childhood.
Most of all, I’m just glad she’s here. I wish she would live in my belly forever, and also that her birthday was tomorrow.
Yesterday, on the car ride home from Christmas at my sister’s, I told Adam that I thought the solution would be to grow a pouch, like a marsupial.
“That way, she could climb back in whenever she got cold or we needed to go someplace in a hurry,” I explained.
Since that’s not possible, I guess I’ll just focus on enjoying the last four months of pregnancy. It’ll be good to keep that goal in mind, since I’m already getting a few mid-to-late pregnancy symptoms that tell me the third trimester will be less comfy than the second has been.
For instance, on our car ride to Maryland, my feet swelled up to the size of pontoons and spilled right over my socks. It was like something you’d see on a medical reality show, and I was honestly afraid that my skin would burst.
They went back to normal pretty quickly though, and I got out of a lot of kitchen duty during the holidays because everyone was horrified by my hooves. So, I guess I can’t complain.
And in any case, I don’t mind having a few complaints. I’m just glad that Beano – the Great Baboo, the Miracle Child – is with us. We’ll figure the rest out as we go along.
Yesterday was the scariest day of my pregnancy so far.
There was always a fair chance that would be the case, given that the 20-week anatomy scan was scheduled for that date.
The anatomy scan, in case you don’t have babies but are (for some reason) reading this anyway, is when the maternal-fetal medicine specialist and ultrasound tech measure just about everything that can be measured on a baby: how long the baby is, how wide around the trunk, the width of the head, the length of the thigh and shin bones, etc. They also examine the brain, heart, and kidneys and look for blood flow to major organs and through the umbilical cord.
I know several people who got seriously bad news during the 20-week scan, up to and including the worst possible news: that something was so wrong with the baby, it wouldn’t live outside the womb for more than a few days. So, while I was looking forward to seeing Beano’s little face and belly and hands and feet, I was also terrified, starting from the time we made the appointment. As the day crept closer on my Google calendar, I grew more and more panicky.
That was before I woke up the morning of the ultrasound to find a fresh batch of test results waiting for me in my LabCorp inbox. My endocrinologist ordered the tests, because hypothyroid moms have to stay on top of their thyroid levels to make sure the baby has enough hormones to develop properly. But he also ordered a complete metabolic panel and a CBC, because it had been a while since I had either.
My thyroid workup was fine. The metabolic panel is where things got hairy. A few values were outside the normal range, including carbon dioxide, protein, and albumin, which were all slightly low. More worrying: the ALT value was slightly high, which could indicate issues with my liver.
Now, there were a few things I was worried about, for myself, before getting pregnant. I was worried about dying in childbirth and about having my choices taken away by doctors or midwives who might decide that pain relief was unnecessary or breastfeeding mandatory. But most of all, I was afraid of developing complications, because of my age, weight, and medical history. In our house, you’re not allowed to say “preeclampsia” or “HELLP syndrome” without holding a lucky rabbit’s foot at the same time — especially since my rheumatologist warned me that I’d be at increased risk for HELLP syndrome, because I have Behcet’s disease.
The “HELLP” stands for Hemolysis (basically, exploding red blood cells), Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count. So you can see why I was not thrilled to have an elevated liver value.
I’m a monster who reads her phone in bed upon waking up, which means that when Adam got out of the shower, he found he huddled under my fuzziest blanket, clutching my Snoogle to my chest, and weeping over my phone.
“You OK, sniffly?” he asked, before he saw my face.
“I HAVE ELEVATED LIVER ENZYMES,” I shoved my phone in his face. “Look!”
“OK, let me see,” he said in his calmest voice. (I think of this as his nurse voice, but I think it would also come in handy during a zombie apocalypse.)
I passed over my phone and hugged my belly with both hands. “It’s too soon for her to go.”
“She’s not going to go!” The nurse voice had temporarily disappeared. “Jesus, why would you say something like that?”
Now we were both wrapped up in blankets like disaster victims and freaking out.
After a moment of reviewing my tests, Adam’s calm reasserted itself. “OK, these aren’t that bad. Your ALT is very slightly elevated, but nearly normal, and your other liver value is fine. Your platelets are fine. I think you should just call the doctor and see what he says.”
So, I did. Our OB’s office, thank God, is very good about getting back to people, so we got a call from the doctor about an hour later. Adam had to read the labs to him, because I was curled up in the fetal position — or as close to it as I could get, with an actual fetus in the way.
The upshot was that he wasn’t overly concerned, but wanted to monitor my liver enzymes with more blood tests. It was too early for preeclampsia, according to the doc, but we should keep an eye on things. It might turn out to be a fluky lab, or the start of something we’d need to know about for later, or a ginormous gallstone hanging out in the wrong spot. We would find out. But in the meantime, I was able to unwind myself from my position on the floor and stop crying for a minute. Good thing, because I was getting dehydrated.
Two hours after that, we were in the other OB’s office, getting the anatomy scan. Which was terrifying right from the start, because one of the first things the doctor said to me was, “Did you decide to opt out of the AFP test? I couldn’t find anything in your chart.”
We had never heard of an AFP test, nor did we have any idea of what it was. It’s the alpha fetoprotein test, by the way, and it tests for spina bifida. Who knows how that one got lost in the shuffle, but we hadn’t had it. Also, if we wanted it, we had about 24 hours to squeeze it in, before the lab cut us off for being too late.
“I wasn’t worried before,” Adam told me later. “But as soon as he mentioned that one specific test, I was sure that something was wrong. Not even spina bifida, necessarily, but something. I thought, ‘He’s going to start this scan, and we’re going to see something really, really bad on this screen.’”
So it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who gets nervous about these things.
Long story short, he did the scan and we saw nothing atypical at all. We did see:
The baby sucking her thumb and yawning.
Adam’s nose, clear as anything, on her tiny little face. (Slight variations accounted for by size, and the fact that the baby has never had her nose broken.)
A spine like a string of pearls.
The heart, beating away at 150 beats per minute.
Two kidneys, two halves of a brain in a giant Hubley/Luckwaldt head, two eyes and two hands and two cute little feet, kicking away at the probe.
We left the office and both fell apart like our strings had been cut. Then we went to the other OB’s office and got some bloodwork done, and went to a diner for an outrageously early dinner. It was barely 5 o’clock, but I felt like I’d been up for about 20 hours.
If you see either of us today, don’t take our vacant facial expressions personally. Yesterday was quite a day.
Here’s how happy I am about being pregnant: it’s a real struggle to avoid using the phrase “over the moon.” Given that I spent a solid 20 percent of my pre-pregnant life making fun of people who say stuff like that, it’s pretty clear that I’m delirious with hormones and love.
And a good thing it is, too, because it I weren’t, I might be annoyed about all the advice I’ve been getting, much of it from perfect strangers. I was safe for the first four months, when it looked like maybe I’d just had a burrito for lunch, but now it’s obvious that I’m pregnant. I own a lot of shirts with ruching all of a sudden, and sometimes I knock things off shelves with my stomach. Plus, I groan a fair amount. I’m a clear target for busybodies.
To be totally honest with you, I’m not a big fan of life advice even when I’m not pregnant. Career advice? Sure. Recommendations about auto repair places, dentists, restaurants, or vacation destinations? Send ‘em my way! Advice about how to live my life generally? Hard pass. I try not to give this kind of advice, and when people offer theirs unsolicited, I grit my teeth and escape as soon as possible.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far — and really, it might be stretching it to claim that I’ve learned even one thing — it’s that no one really knows what anyone else should do in their personal lives. There are just too many variables, and it’s too hard to put ourselves in each other’s shoes. The right answer for me might be the wrong answer for you, or the lady down the street or the guy at the market.
But that doesn’t stop the advice-givers, who are sure that every pregnant person and parent needs their insight desperately.
“Thank God I went mini-golfing today,” they must think to themselves. “Otherwise that pregnant woman wrangling four kids might not know that she should be avoiding gluten in order to get at least one child who can behave in public.”
People who give unsolicited parenting advice should be flogged, is what I’m saying. But since that’s illegal and immoral, and since I usually think of the best retorts when I’m in my car 20 minutes after an interaction with a buttinsky, I’ve decided to rely on literature to help me get through.
With this in mind, I’ve gathered the following list of inspirational quotes, mostly drawn from Victorian literature, with the occasional Romantic or contemporary writer thrown in. Because if society is going to pretend that every single minor parenting decision carries enormous, life-changing weight, we might as well respond appropriately.
I hope you’re eating well for that baby! (Or: Here’s what your baby/toddler/5-year-old/teenager should be eating, and why doing anything different is child abuse.)
“At present I cannot spare energy and nerve force for digestion.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
You should really at least try to breastfeed. Breast is best!
“This is the end of the line for you and the rest of your ilk. We shall no longer seek the counsel of false matriarchs, keepers of the Old Order, quislings whose sole power derives from the continuing bondage of their sisters. Like the dinosaurs, your bodies will fuel the new society, where each woman shall be sovereign, and acknowledge her rage, and validate her neighbor’s rage, and rejoice in everybody’s rage, and caper and dance widdershins beneath the gibbous moon.” – Jincy Willett
Let me tell you about the advantages of natural childbirth/unassisted birth/dolphin doulas.
“And if no Lethe flows beneath your casement, And when ten years have not brought full effacement, Philosophy was wrong, and you may meet.” – John Crowe Ransom
Have you thought about sleep training? (Or: Don’t let that baby cry it out. That’s child abuse!)
“In his house at R’lyeh dead C’thulhu waits dreaming.” – H.P. Lovecraft
You absolutely must get a nanny/do daycare/stay home until the child is X months or years old/become a stay-at-home-mom.
“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Whatever you do, don’t worry. If you get stressed out while you’re pregnant, you’ll give birth to a litter of rabbits … and the rabbits will all die.
“Memory haunts me from age to age, and passion leads me by the hand–evil have I done, and with sorrow have I made acquaintance from age to age, and from age to age evil shall I do, and sorrow shall I know till my redemption comes.” – H. Rider Haggard
Does your child do sports/take music and art classes/know sign language and Mandarin/have SAT prep built into her preschool program?
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” – Charlotte Bronte
I can’t help but notice that your child has a behavioral and/or medical issue. Have you tried essential oils/prayer/a vegan diet/family calisthenics/moving to a yurt?
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
How much screen time do you permit your child? (BUZZER NOISE.) Wrong.
“I know you despise me; allow me to say, it is because you do not understand me.” – Elizabeth Gaskell
You know, you should really take care of yourself. I do yoga/train for marathons/fast every other day, and I lost the baby weight 45 minutes after giving birth.
“Fuck you.” – Unknown
Image: Mother Goose ABC, New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1891, via Pinterest
Did you know that about a quarter of American women return to work within two weeks of giving birth? It’s true. Twelve percent take a week or less.
This means, as John Oliver pointed out when the report revealing this terrifying statistic dropped two years ago, that nearly 1 in 4 women are forced to return to work before they’re even healed, never mind psychologically ready to return. (Or confident that their baby is ready to be left with a caretaker.)
I knew all this before I started trying to get pregnant, of course. In fact, I spent a long time talking about it with my therapist when agonizing over the fact that I really, really wanted a baby, despite it being just about the stupidest thing you can do in American society today from a practical perspective.
A few sample convos, to illustrate my dilemma:
Conversation 1: Financial Realities
Me: Did you know that infant care in the greater New York area costs $400 a week?
Therapist: I did know that, yes.
Me: Who has the money for that?
Therapist: No one, really. And yet, people pay it.
Me: I assume that the bulk of it goes to the actual caregivers, who are frequently women of color and/or recent immigrants to this great nation.
(Therapist and I laugh uproariously in unison … and then pause in silence to consider the torment of modern life.)
Conversation 2: A Horror Movie
Me: Here’s another problem.
Me: I don’t want to put my baby in infant care.
Therapist: I don’t blame you.
Me: They don’t even have neck control yet.
Therapist: It’s true.
Me: Also, every time you hear a horrible story about a baby dying in daycare, doesn’t it seem like two things are true? 1. The facility was unlicensed, or the license had lapsed; 2. The baby was about a minute old.
Therapist: It’s really terrible. We’re the only industrialized country that thinks this is OK.
Me: And then when something happens, everyone blames the mother, who didn’t even want to put her month-old baby in daycare.
Therapist: Well, I hate to tell you, but people often blame the mother. Period.
Me: I hate humans. Animals are way better.
Conversation 3: Anxiety
Me: If I hear one more story about how middle-class parents are ruining their children with their anxiety….
Therapist: Oh, I know. Why would they possibly be anxious?
Me: Ha ha ha. HA. Ha ha. Ha ha ha?
I’m bringing all this up now because I thought I was really clever and it turns out I’m not. I’m a freelancer, so prior to getting pregnant, I purchased a disability policy that covered maternity leave. Today, I decided to confirm with the insurance company that said policy was still in effect — I pay my premiums, but you never know — and also to see about the claim and coverage situation.
Are you ready for this? My policy, which again, I pay every month, entitles me to four weeks at half pay … if I have a C-section. For a vaginal birth, I’ll get two weeks.
Now, you can say that I should have already known this, having carefully done my research when I purchased the policy, and you’d be right. However, I just want to point out again the absurdity of anyone thinking that someone who recently gave birth should be up and ready to go two weeks later.
Things aren’t as bad as they could be, because Adam gets paid parental leave, thanks to New York State’s new legislation. I’m also banking money now, during my pregnancy, to support a self-funded leave. I’m lucky to be able to do that, and I’ll probably be able to swing two months off.
I’ll also be better off than most new moms even when my leave is up, because I’m my own boss and have a flexible schedule. So I won’t have to choose between a part-time job with no career path and a full-time job that won’t let me see my kid. This is a tremendous gift, and one I’m grateful for every single day.
But I find myself thinking a lot lately about countries with decent parental leave. In Sweden, for example, parents get 480 days of paid parental leave — and 90 days have to be used by each parent. What a difference a year-plus would make!
Alas, we live here, in the country that absolutely doesn’t want you to have access to birth control or abortion, but also does not give two shits in a hat about that baby once it’s born. There’s a lot on my list of things to protest right now, but these facts are near the top. Of course, it’s hard to take to the streets when you’re working constantly or healing as quickly as possible so that you can get back to work ASAP.
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.
“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?”
“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.