Growing a brain (and a carapace)

I’m a couple of weeks behind with the boss monster jokes, so here’s one.

And Telling

As Beth said, we told our families, and it went pretty well. They were all enthusiastic and happy after their respective fashions. Not that we were really worried they wouldn’t be, intellectually, but one worries about these things anyway. It’s one of those events where you come home and present a choice you made, and it’s a done deal without a sales slip tucked away in your wallet with a return policy on the back. Bigger than dogs (or cats, in my case) that follow you home. It’s also around the time where, with a career and financial independence and 1.6 cars and 1.2 dogs (or, again, cats) socked away, you had just started thinking of your parents as equals, and as adults pretty much like yourself. Then, you go doing something like this, and they’re decades ahead of you again. Moreover, they’ll probably remind you of it periodically for the next twenty years by comparing your emergent experiences with theirs.

At any rate, the families know now. And since we started blogging this in substantial part for their sake, they’re probably among the first readers. Hello, our parents. We’re working on assembling your grandchild. The Seed is about the the size of an organically-grown kumquat, or a conventionally grown grape, and it’s got fingers and toes now. We’re really happy about it and glad you folks are too.

– Devin

For Science

Within a week of making my prenatal appointment with my ob/gyn, who is part of the Women’s Health Center at UCSF, I got a letter in the mail asking if I wanted to participate in a study looking at how women make choices about whether to have prenatal genetic testing. I magnetted it to the fridge to think about, and before I knew it one of the researchers was calling me to find out if I would pitch in. Considering a) I like contributing to science and b) it paid, I answered her eligibility questions and said sure.

Yesterday I went over to meet the researcher. Now, let me back up and say that I love the UCSF Women’s Health Center. When you walk up to the doors, they open automatically and sense you coming from quite a ways off — which is probably going to be handy when I’m 9 months pregnant and waddling up that ramp. The main hallway is lined with these hand-made looking tiles with different herbs on them and lots of text, which is very appealing to a former typographer/designer like myself. There’s a little cafe and a nice garden outside with benches, not to mention the resource center, where a chipper lady shows you all the books you can borrow out, or will give you a complete tour of all the baby items and nursing bras they sell, or pile you on with pamphlets and info sheets, which she did the first time I went in there.

Anyway, so we went into the garden and the researcher told me I’d soon find out whether I was in the control group, which just does two interviews and nothing else, or the experiment group, which gets to play with a computer-education tool and can opt in for different genetic tests that might not be offered to typical prenatal patients. She asked me to respond to lots of questions — the first set was about my beliefs, and seemed to be testing my feelings about predestiny vs. choice/free will, as well as how I felt about a woman’s right to choose an abortion and other such things. The second set was about how I’d been feeling physically and emotionally so far in my pregnancy. The third set was about whether I’d known anyone with Down Syndrome (yes) or another genetic abnormality (yes) or had ever taken care of someone who couldn’t totally take care of themselves (yes). Then there were a series of semi-quizzes on how well I understood statistics and probabilities, how well I knew a list of medical and biological words, and whether I could fill in the blanks on a lengthy instruction passage telling someone about an X-Ray they were scheduled to have.

It was all reasonably straightforward, and toward the end she opened the envelope and discovered I’m in the group that plays with the computer tool. Since I failed to bring my reading glasses with me, I couldn’t do that part yesterday — I’ll likely go back next Friday to give it a whirl. I’m sort of curious what it will teach me about and what kinds of tests I’ll be offered that I haven’t already. (For example, another nifty UCSF thing: I am doing the majority of my trisomy blood testing at home next week; they send you a kit with lancets and some circles you blot your blood into, then mail it off to be tested so it’s ready when you go in for your nuchal-fold screening for Down Syndrome.) They’ll also cover any tests not covered by my insurance, which is nice. But they’re not pushing tests — they’re just matching your belief sets with the kinds of tests you’re likely to wind up choosing, and looking for different ways to explain those tests to women with different belief systems.

At least, that’s what they’re telling us they’re studying. :)

As I said, I’ll go back next week to play with the teaching tool, and then I talk to the researcher again at about 24 weeks for a follow-up interview. The researcher said she’s enjoying doing this study — she said she worked on a menopause study some years back, and many of the participants were really depressed, whereas all the newly pregnant women she’s talking to now are happy and excited. However, they’ve only interviewed maybe 120 women, and they want 1,200. I wish I knew more pregnant, local women who’d want to chime in.

— Beth


One of the nice things about the timing of this pregnancy (other than it looks like I get to skip being enormous in the summertime, which feels like a brilliant move on my part) is that we’ve been able to arrange it so we tell our families right near their birthdays — since almost everyone in our immediate family has a birthday in July. I imagine there are few things nicer than finding out near your birthday that you’re going to be a grandparent/great-grandparent, at least if it’s something you’ve been wanting. And, in keeping with our family’s tradition of having children near the birthday of one of the parents, I’m due near my birthday.

Right now I am working very hard to take care of myself, eating the right things even though my appetite is so low, getting enough rest, and fighting the pregnancy-zombie-brain enough to continue doing my job effectively when really, I’d like a nap now, please. I’ve been going to bed feeling like I’m coming down with a bad stomach flu, and then waking up wondering who I am and why I don’t feel perky after so much sleep. Then I remember. *smile*

One of my favorite authors and bloggers, Shauna James Ahern (who wrote “The Gluten-Free Girl,” definitely one of my Bibles over the past year) is due to give birth to her first child next week, and she wrote an amazingly touching entry this weekend that, like everything else so far, felt well-timed. Especially these lines:

I have loved being pregnant, including the bouts of nausea, the gas up in my ribs, the waddling toward the end, the swollen feet. Because I waited so long to be pregnant, I decided to notice every moment, to live within it with as much peace as I could.

— Beth

Laser beams and fireballs, week-by-week

I admit that I’m not addicted to week-by-week guides to pregnancy in the same way. Not for lack of investment in the idea of pregnancy, but because I don’t feel the same attachment to minute-by-minute statistics, estimates, and little drawings. I saw enough of that as our friends started getting knocked up — one day they might have the Blog of the Pretty Ordinary Person, with their goings-on, commentary and photos of whatever. A bit of PIV action later, and it’d look like they’d installed gkrellm on their uteruses. Only it wasn’t actually their uterus, mind you, it was the pregnancy-website interpretation of the medical-researcher’s statistical summary of the hapless grad student’s lost autumn spent slaving away in a basement lab endlessly dissecting, sketching and cataloging the developmental state of deceased fetuses while the prof is off golfing. In, as I’ve mentioned before, blue and pink pastels. Now, if I could actually install gkrellm on Beth’s uterus, you could sign my ass up right this second — I’d be lining up for that like it was Apple selling a cellphone or something.

It’s not that Beth and I fundamentally disagree on this, it’s just that she can get some satisfaction out of the innumerable baby-meter web gadgets around, while I’ve been reduced to translating the pregnancy guides into R-Type boss monsters.

We’re actually a bit past week 5 now, as near as I can figure this wacky scheduling system prenatal medicine came up with, but it’s topical and all, and this is the flashiest of the series. So on to this “week”‘s installment.

– Devin

Your astronaut, week by week

I am, at this stage, completely addicted to week-by-week guides to pregnancy — and to gauge by the number of them out there, so is every other pregnant woman. I like the ones on BabyCenter, particularly the “peek inside the womb” graphics, even though if you’re 6 weeks, x days along (and therefore in your 7th week) it’ll show you the 6th week. I liked the ones in “Up the Duff,” an Australian humor book also stuffed full of useful information about pregnancy, childbirth, and preparing to be a parent. I also like the ones in “Your Pregnancy Week By Week,” although I’m making myself wait on that one, and am trying not to read ahead. It’s tough to be patient at this stage. (In fact, I’ve started wishing for day-by-day guides, although that wouldn’t really be very accurate.)

Today I discovered the lovely week-by-week format at Baby-Gaga, which has sidebars with photos of women at each week, as well as a little bar graph showing how the majority of women felt each week. I happened to discover this in the throes of some very bad nausea and was mildly comforted that many women felt atrocious starting in this particular week, and that some of them started feeling better within a few weeks. That was good, because I was starting to think my hunger — along with my sense of humor — was going to abandon me for good. I realize I may feel lousy for longer than that, but if I think it’s only going to be a few weeks, and it isn’t, then I can often go on indefinitely thinking, “I’ll just be one more week. I can do one more week.” Such small self-delusions are the stuff of perseverence.

Looking at the photos of embryos/fetuses developing in the womb keeps reminding me of images of astronauts in cramped lunar modules, floating around weightlessly and constantly attempting to communicate with the outside world by a series of badly-tuned signals.

— Beth

A counterexample

On relating to your pea-sized offspring

The Web is full of websites on pregnancy. The innumerable extroverted young women of the world who have been blogging/eeping/twittering/etc their daily experiences supply a ripe audience for informative little blurbs, baby-status-meter gadgets and a hundred other electronic trinkets once they get pregnant. The basic formula seems to be a long clickable timeline (some stop at 38 weeks, some extend outward sparsely a few years beyond). For roughly every week there’s a detailed (if flowery) description, an artist’s rendering, and maybe a sonogram image or two. The colors are usually soft baby-blue/pink/etc pastels.

Now, I’m liking this whole idea of parenthood, and relating to my child as an intellectual idea (observable so far only as a variety of symptoms in his or her mother) is coming along well. But the actual physical state, currently a little lump of delicate tissue about the size of a lentil, is a bit harder to relate to. A little nodule that will develop into our baby’s hands? Neat, but not the kind of irresistable emotional draw that I want to climb in there and cuddle. The whole package is sort of wrinkly and scary-looking, more like a boss monster from R-Type than an impending human. I’ve started talking to it, but of course what I’m really doing is talking to Beth via her lower belly (just as well, because our child doesn’t have ears yet). Beth, for her part, is growing into this a bit more naturally, though she summarizes her communications more as “who’s in there?”

Anyway, for the moment I’m relating to our baby’s physical presence less as a matter of seeing our faces melded together on an artist’s drawing and more as a progression of R-Type bosses, growing a bit more developed and fearsome week by week. It was a great series, after all, and over time the idea of the physical baby will catch up to the emotional one. Sort of.

– Devin

Talking to the third person, and where are the pregnancy books for savvy men?

Devin has already started interrupting his own comments to me with slightly louder comments directed at my abdomen. This is only adorable and sweet in context; under just about any other circumstance it would be my cue to begin researching mental illnesses involving talking to inanimate (or at least non-hearing) objects. Actually, our baby is still a non-hearing object for the time being, which is too bad, since we went to a Mark Knopfler show last weekend and the sound was quite good.

(As it happens, so far my favorite pregnancy related article is BabyCenter’s “Is It Safe to go to a Rock Concert When I’m Pregnant?”, in part because I’m hoping to see Iced Earth in October, and I’ve heard a rumor about a Baroness/High on Fire show that month, too. By then the little one will definitely be able to hear, and may discover mommy’s love of incredibly loud guitars and men who like to scream in poetry. We’ll see.)

I’ve spent several days trying to track down a good pregnancy book for Devin, and have so far been disgusted by the offerings. Most of them seem to tell the guys how to treat their women and understand why and how we’re a) sick, b) moody, c) craving strange foods and d) perhaps not up for that 20-mile hike after all. What I don’t understand — or rather, what makes me sad — is that there are books to explain what the pregnant partner should be able to explain in her own words. I realize there are many less-than-ideal circumstances, ones in which men either don’t buy it or don’t listen or whatever, but that doesn’t leave any good, geeky, emotionally sophisticated books for guys like Devin, who are already connected to their partners and who want a high-level account of what’s going on, what to expect, and what to plan for. You know, without “cook her her favorite dinner” or “bring her flowers.”

— Beth