Having a Baby in the Age of Mass Shootings

There have been 30 mass shootings in the United States so far in 2018. The year is not yet seven weeks old. If we continue at this pace, we’ll see 193 more mass shootings before the end of the year.

I am expecting my first (and given my age, likely only) baby. She currently weighs three pounds, seven ounces. Her tiny keister is snuggled under my ribs. She likes spicy food and anything that makes me laugh. She moves constantly, kicking and wriggling and waving her arms and legs. She’ll quiet down if her dad whispers to her and strokes my belly.

She is everything to us. And someday, someone might kill her.

I’m crying as I write this, obviously. It feels like a crime for a mother to even contemplate someone killing her child.

But I have to, because we live in a country where the gun lobbyists won’t part with a nickel to save a child’s life, even though a child’s life is everything – and they know it. Many of the members of the NRA and their tame lawmakers in Congress have children and grandchildren. I cannot hold these conflicting facts in my head.

It’s not that they won’t ban assault weapons. It’s that they won’t let the CDC even study the public health effects of gun violence. It’s not that they won’t close the gun show loophole or even try to create better background checks. It’s that they weaponize racism, xenophobia and fear to sell guns.

In fact, no matter what you think the solution is – banning all guns or some guns or no guns – the fact is that the NRA is not on your side. They’re only on your side if you increase their “surplus.”

They’re snake oil salesmen: They’ve invented a disease and they’re selling us a cure. And the worst part is that most Americans disagree with their policies, but that won’t stop them, because they’ve bought themselves legislators who now care more about donors than voters.

That’s a mistake, because voters can change this, even if the donors don’t like it.

You can start today. Here is an interactive chart of every Senator and Representative who has taken money from the NRA since 1998. Call them and tell them that this is unacceptable. And then, when they placate you and take the cash, don’t vote for them again.

We can change this, but it won’t be easy. Of course, nothing worthwhile is. But I believe that most people want their children to be safe at school and their families to be safe at their church, temple, or mosque. I think most of us want to be able to go to the movies or an outdoor concert without worrying about a mass shooter opening fire on the crowd.

Start today. Start right now. Say that this is unacceptable and beyond that, we won’t accept it.

We don’t need to imagine the unimaginable – we’re doing that already. We just need to imagine a world where children’s lives matter more than the gun industry’s profits.

Image: Varshesh Joshi/Unsplash

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The Weight

I just want to finish this pregnancy weighing less than President Physical Fitness claims to weigh, and I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

My body, however, has other plans.

Here’s where I should say that if you’re someone who’s triggered by discussions of weight, now is an excellent time to hit the back button. The last thing I want is to make other people feel bad by reading this post. That doesn’t really achieve our group aim, which is to destroy the patriarchy and create a better future with no scales in it.

Still here? OK. I currently weigh over 200 pounds. Jealous?

I haven’t gained all that much during pregnancy, either. OK, fine, I gained more than my doctors recommended … but they recommended that I gain 15 to 20 pounds. I’m sure that somewhere out there, there’s an overweight pregnant woman who managed to stick to that recommendation, and I am very impressed by her. However, given that the baby weighs about eight pounds and the placenta and amniotic fluid, etc. weigh about six pounds and your breasts might add another two pounds, sticking to the low end of that recommendation would actually mean losing weight during pregnancy.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far by the fact that my doctors haven’t harassed me about my weight. Other than making that initial recommendation, no one has said a word about the creeping numbers on the scale. It helps that my fasting glucose is actually lower than it was when I started pregnancy.

(Turns out, walking two miles a day is good for your blood sugar, even if you have to waddle slowly the whole time. I think I’ll mention that to my endocrinologist next time, just to watch him grit his teeth in frustration. When I leave the office, he’ll pull a mirror out of his desk drawer and ask his reflection, “Why won’t they listen to me? I just want them to live long and healthy lives. It’s not like I suggest they all start running marathons. I JUST WANT THEM TO GET SOME WALKING IN.”)

Sorry. I’m back.

Anyway, if I seem surprised about the lack of weight-related harassment, it’s because I am. Ever since I started getting fat, which is about nine years ago now, I’ve come to dread my doctors’ appointments.

At first, the problem was that no one believed me when I told them I wasn’t eating more, was still exercising, and was putting on weight. Then, I finally found a doctor who agreed to test my thyroid hormone levels, and the focus switched to, “OK, but now that you’re on medication, you should be able to lose the weight.”

And I have been able to — but only on very extreme diets, and not permanently. And, to be honest, losing weight has always been hard for me — my body holds onto every pound.

Years ago, I was thin — 120 pounds thin — and here’s what it took:

  • Eating 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day
  • Exercising intensely for at least an hour, almost every day
  • No restaurant food, alcohol, or desserts
  • No social life, for the most part, because see above

I was also single, 25 years old, in an entry-level job with no management responsibilities, and my thyroid still worked.

Oh, also: my period stopped for eight months under this regimen, and my hair started falling out, and I could only sleep for about 45 minutes at a stretch. However, I was thin, so awesome, right?

You won’t be surprised to hear that the feedback I received from people, some medical professionals included, was a lot more positive when I weighed 120 pounds and didn’t get my period than when I weighed 160 pounds and felt better than I had in years.

Finally, last year, I decided to give up. This was in direct opposition to my primary care doctor’s pleas — direct quote: “The important thing is not to give up.” — but it was necessary for my sanity.

Being on a diet makes me feel poor and angry, and it never works for long. When it fails, I inevitably wind up weighing five to seven pounds more than when I started. I gave up dieting because I didn’t want to diet my way into a bigger pants size.

At a certain point, you have to listen to your body. Mine has been telling me for years that it wants me to stop torturing it. So, I did, and I’ve been pretty happy. I also got pregnant, after three years of trying, which might not be a coincidence. (Acupuncture also had a lot to do with it.)

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend of mine about getting older and body image. She was thinking about getting fat-dissolving injections in her chin.

Now, I am very pro people doing whatever they want to their bodies, whether it’s refusing to diet or getting a million tattoos or getting plastic surgery. You own your body, and you can damn well do what you like with it. And if anyone tries to stop you, I will sit on them until they apologize.

I was also curious about the procedure, so I asked her a bunch of questions about it, because science is amazing in all its many forms.

Finally, she said to me, “You know, you’re the only one I’ve talked to about this who didn’t immediately explain your chin fat problem to me.”

I said, “Oh, I have more fat under my chin than I did 15 years ago, but I think I just don’t give a fuck.”

And as I said it, I realized that it was true.

I’m not telling you this to try to convince you that I’m enlightened. I still grimace every time I see the scale at my OB’s office, and I have lines and wrinkles on my face that I could do without.

But after spending my whole adult life trying to get my body to do what I wanted — be thin, be fit, have a baby — and giving up, only to get what I really wanted — health, happiness, a baby — I feel like I’ve finally learned something.

Here’s what it is: whatever else you do, you might as well be kind to yourself. Nothing else works.

Image: Christopher Campbell/Unsplash

This Sacred Vessel Has a Long To-Do List

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.

Image: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

 

 

I Finally Brought Up Formula Feeding With My OB, and Here’s What Happened

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.

Continue reading “I Finally Brought Up Formula Feeding With My OB, and Here’s What Happened”

Who Is Beano and What Will She Be Like?

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.

Cathal Mac an Bheatha

 

The Terrors of the 20-Week Scan

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.

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Greg Rakozy/Unsplash

10 Inspirational Quotes for Use as Responses to Unsolicited Parenting Advice

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

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“Why is this goose talking at us?”

Image: Mother Goose ABC, New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1891, via Pinterest