Consciousness

I forgot to include this in the other entry, but I found myself asking the same question several times this week: when does consciousness begin?

(Pretend, for the moment, that we agree on what consciousness is; this blog is not big enough for that topic!)

Arguably some humans never become truly conscious (ha), but learning about the stages of fetal development week by week really makes me wonder. Does it start the moment those cells divide? OK, probably not. How about when the neural tube closes and the brainstem starts to form? Is it when the brain is truly formed? When a fetus begins moving in response to stimuli? When it begins reaching out and exploring its little aquatic lunar-landing module? At what point is a being conscious?

It makes me wish we could remember back that far, so we could say for ourselves, “Yes, that was my first thought. That was when I became conscious and aware of myself in the world.”

Mostly, I’m wondering this because I’m still in awe of the fact that a little bundle of cells, snug in my body, knows what to do — and my body knows what to do — to produce something as complex as a functioning, thinking human being. Maybe I shouldn’t be asking when consciousness begins, but rather: how the heck can I develop a conscious being when doing so, at least at this stage, is an almost completely unconscious process? I guess it’s a good thing I love paradoxes, huh?

— Beth

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Gathering up the threads of the week

There were no cohesive themes this week, just a lot of little goodnesses.

On Monday I told several of my higher-ups and a couple of fellow reporters the good news, and everyone reacted with surprise and good cheer. My managing editor is so excited; I’m her first pregnant reporter (yes, really) in her many years with the newspaper. It’s nice that people know — and was a relief that nobody immediately said, “Well, no wonder you’ve been sluggish and forgetful for months.” In fact, the consensus was that I’ve carried it well. But hiding it was becoming a bit strange, nonetheless.

This is the week that I noticed my belly is starting to round out and feel firmer — not so much that it shows under my clothes, but enough that I notice it (and Devin will, I think, when he gets back). It’s interesting that as my first-trimester symptoms are fading, I’m not nauseated quite constantly and I have times of better energy, that there is more physical evidence of a life growing inside me. I’m starting to compulsively hold on to my belly, too, which is another good reason my co-workers know about all this!

Yesterday I was supposed to meet a third midwife, but she canceled because she’d been up the entire previous night helping deliver a baby, so we rescheduled for this coming Friday. In addition, I got a little more good news on the genetic side — my bloodwork came back and I am not a carrier for cystic fibrosis. The doctor said they test for 30 different mutations, which catches most but not all of them. This is good news for Devin, too; if I had been a carrier, he’d need to be tested, too.

I go on a lot of walks — fewer now that I’m feeling tired and yucky, though I hope that will improve. This summer, the canyon has been full of ripening blackberries. Last night I found the most ripe ones yet, handfuls and handfuls. It’s a little strange, but one of the times I feel most connected to this pregnancy is when I’m out in nature, eating off the land like that, and part of me wonders what it’d be like to gestate in the woods, closer to the earth, something like that. Not very practical, I know, but it feels right to go straight from plant to mouth to stomach to baby.

Knowing that my clothing needs are going to change pretty soon, I’ve been stocking up on “transitional” and outright maternity clothes. Yesterday I poked through the racks of the giant Salvation Army over at 28th and Valencia, where they did have quite a few items (mixed in with regular clothes, so they were not so easy to find). I found four shirts that will work well, two for this interim period where my regular clothes are snug but my belly isn’t big yet, two for later when my belly does get big, all of which can be worn with work clothes or more casual things. And, because they were having some kind of Labor Day sale, everything was 60% off. I also popped in to Natural Solutions on Valencia, a baby/pregnancy-supply store that has everything from anti-nausea gum (I bought some, and it’s wonderful) to nursing bras and changing tables. Everything is natural/organic/etc. as well. I wonder if they do registries? :)

Although I haven’t had very many outright pregnancy-related dreams, I have had dreams that seem obviously related. Last night, I dreamed I had a huge fish tank full of baby fish that had sprung a leak, and I had to work quickly to get the fish into another container. I was scooping them with a small glass into a bigger glass, but they were so small they would stick to the sides of the small glass, and sometimes I couldn’t catch them. The water level in the tank got lower and lower, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to save all the baby fish. It was very frustrating.

More soon, I’m sure!

— Beth

Sploosh

Tara and I were walking down Church St. Thursday night to have dinner at Crepevine and I was telling her some story about women’s waters breaking really suddenly and dramatically. At some point for emphasis I said “sploosh!” and waved my hands.

Tara echoed me, also saying “sploosh!” really enthusiastically.

And then one of the guys hanging out near the cafe yelled out “sploosh!” just for the fun of it. Oh, if only he knew.

— Beth

Intrauterine calisthenics and chromosomal relief

Yesterday was a big day for us! But before I get into all the details, how about a couple of new images?

The little one in profile, about 12 and a half weeks.

Perfect little hand and strong jaw.

I started off the day meeting a midwife at the house, part of my process of checking out local midwives and seeing if there’s one whom I’d like to care for me and help us deliver our baby at home. I’ll write more about that process when it’s all finished.

Then I went over to UCSF for the big “genetic counseling and nuchal translucency ultrasound” visit, which is supposed to take place anytime between 11 and 14 weeks gestation. I’d already submitted blood samples so they could test the chances that our baby has either Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), Trisomy 13 or 18. So this visit was to measure the thickness of the fluid at the back of the baby’s neck and to combine that measurement with my bloodwork to determine our chances (again, it’s not absolute; it’s probability) that our baby has one of these chromosomal defects. Because I’m 35 I’m considered “higher risk” for these things — as we age so do our eggs, making them more prone to having flaws and then copying those flaws in gestation. Going by just my age, my chances of Down Syndrome was given as 1 in 246, and the chances of one of the others was 1 in 444. Less than 1%, but still high enough that the risk of them happening is comparable to the risk of miscarriage with CVS or amniocentesis (about 1 in 200-300), so they start arguing that it’s worth it to go ahead and do the riskier procedures to be sure the baby is healthy, unless the screen shows that things are very likely just fine.

I came in and talked to the counselor, who asked me questions about my and Devin’s genetic and ethnic backgrounds, and the genetic histories in our families. Then I went in and had the ultrasound, which lasted ages and I got to see the baby for close to half an hour.

When the scan started, the baby was wiggling a little bit but mostly holding still enough that the technician got lots of good images she could use to see the baby’s organs as well as measure the back of the neck (a perfect 1.8mm). We started off with a sight of the baby’s brain — including both little hemispheres — and then the body, legs, feet. The baby seemed to grow more active, stretching its legs and pushing its head against the opposite wall of my uterus, which the technician called “stretching out.” Then at some point the baby stretched its legs out fully and started kicking and springing against one side of the womb, which from the position of the sonogram wand looked like it was jumping up and down! From there the baby generally wiggled and waved its arms, put its hands to its face a few times, and so on. It was a delight to watch — I think I could have watched all day.

Everything looked good — we could count the correct number of fingers, legs, arms, heads, etc. We could see the jaw and stomach clearly, as well as the strong and perfectly curved spine, and the little heart beating (she even turned on the sound so I could hear it whooshing away, 146 beats per minute). She finished up and printed a bunch of pictures for me, including some of the 3D ones (which didn’t come out that well — by that point the baby was jumping and wiggling a whole lot). Then another doctor came in with a resident-in-training and was going to show her how the machine works and try to do some more measurements, but the baby wouldn’t cooperate for him at all and kept moving all over the place. Hee hee. Oh, and its total length is about 4 and a half inches. The technician gave me another due date — which they estimate by the size of the fetus — as March 2. “What did they say last time?” she said. “March 2,” I said. “If you get two that are exact like that, I’d say go with it!” she said.

I cleaned all the gel off myself and went back to the waiting room, after which the counselor called me back into her office. Even before I sat down she said, “You got the best results you possibly could have.” She showed me a print-out that goes by my bloodwork, the NT measurement, our genetic history, my age and so on. Risk of Down Syndrome was reduced to 1 in 4,116; risk of Trisomy 13 or 18 reduced to 1 in 8,861. These are akin to what they’d be if I were 19 or 20. There’s always a small chance of false negatives — the screen is 90% accurate — but the odds are definitely in our favor. She did recommend I also take a screening for cystic fibrosis to see if I am a carrier, so I had another blood test in the afternoon and will hopefully get results in a week or so. And then, in mid-September, there’s another blood screen that checks for the chances of neural-tube defects such as anencephaly. But, I am much, much relieved; the combination of seeing that our little one is developing well physically and is very active and bouncy, and learning the results of the screen, have put me greatly at ease.

And, I’m sure, will put all of you at ease as well. :) Now all I can think about is the little one boinging up and down in there. That’s going to hurt in about 12 weeks, isn’t it?

— Beth

I carry your heart with me

I’ve been feeling especially sentimental and maudlin the past few weeks, but just in the past several days I’ve been hearing songs and poems — ones I’ve been fond of for ages — in entirely new ways. Love songs are something else when you’re pregnant, especially all the ones about waiting to have so-and-so in your arms. And then, sometimes, verses that were once metaphorical make even more sense literally:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

ee cummings

— Beth

Summer Fruit

I guess it’s appropriate that one’s developing child is compared in size to various pieces of fruit (Week 12 is apparently “Size of a lime,” and Week 11 was “Size of a fig”), since while so many of my favorite foods — from fresh veggies to beans to meats — have often left me feeling unappetized and nauseated, I can’t seem to get enough fruit.

Luckily, it’s summer and the fruit has been excellent. Apricots, bananas, dark cherries, bing cherries, rainier cherries, white nectarines, tart apples, even pedestrian old red grapes have all tasted phenomenal. Those, along with Greek yogurt, fresh milk, and many varieties of cheese, have kept me going when I thought all my interest in food would abandon me. I try not to eat too much — although fruit is loaded with vitamins, it’s also loaded with sugar — but on the other hand, I know the summer is coming to a close and soon I’ll be back to pears and bananas for months.

I had the most wonderful white nectarine over my yogurt this morning — it tasted like honey. I’ve read that the amniotic fluid comes out tasting a little like whatever mommy is eating, so I can’t help but hope it tastes a little like summer-fruit cocktail in there.

— Beth

On being named

I finally finished the last bit of The Expectant Father yesterday, to which I have to give some sort of nod for trying to deal with the genuine emotional and psychological experiences had by men who’re trying to turn themselves into parents. It accounted for variations in one’s reactions to most everything, and had a lot of “you might feel X about Y, but then you might feel !X about Y also because you’re already feeling X’ about Y’.” It’s not as detailed about the physiological topics as I could have wished, but it’s not the only book on this I’ve read or plan to read — this isn’t a subject on which a single-source text will suffice. It still goes deeper into the biology, chemistry and endocrinology than I’d expected. When it glosses over a complicated topic without a thorough treatment, it usually does it with a personal anecdote from the author and an implicit “your mileage may vary” sign, which is as good an approach as any.

At any rate, that crossed my mind because it’s got the word “father” in it. In the movies, when Incredibly Dignified Paternal Character is addressed by his Almost Equally Dignified Son or Daughter Character, they call him “Father” in the sort of tone that calls for a lot of voice-acting training, an expensive microphone and an acoustically tuned concert-hall of a sound stage. Then some foley thunder quietly rolls in the background, and a scene or two later the Harkonnens capture Venus or the Imperial Stormtroopers get their hands on the deadly viral serum or whatever. It’s the sort of dignified appellation that I fantasize about but need to get over, since there won’t be a sound stage or a foley editor, and doing multiple takes just to get the voice timbre right would require more of a biological commitment on Beth’s part than I can probably ask for.

When we discussed it with some of the impending grandparents (three of the five; modern relationships do have their upsides), it seemed a good idea to let them pick what they wanted the child to call them. The Seed will see Beth & I constantly, but it’ll see the grandparents infrequently enough that it’ll require a bit more structured explanation. Besides that, there are already some grandchildren running around on some by-marriage subsets of the directed graph, and the grandparents thereof already have assigned names. “Nana” and “Poppada” are already spoken for, and things could get more complicated yet if we have to avoid collisions and race conditions with the great-grandparents too — definitely a job for adults and/or computer scientists, not early-verbal babies, even if they’re mine. We could, I suppose, use that same approach for ourselves.

But what Beth and I are going to be called is another matter. We’ll be there every day. To see its grandparents, there will have to be lots of rigamarole involving car seats and traffic reports. To see its parents, all the Seed will have to do is look in our direction (or cry, which I’m told they do about an hour a day for the first year or so.) So we’re dealing with a more immediate sort of identification here, and one I’m more inclined to base on our child’s own inclinations, at least to the extent that it exhibits any. I like the idea of having a name my child gave me, and hopefully I’ll be grown up enough by then to accept it happily and not wish it had fallen closer to a reflection of my own ego.

But then again, I don’t know if naming things is innate human behavior or whether it’s something learned. Babies recognize faces and voices early on, but a lot of what they do seems to be done by imitation. So if one blurry-but-recognizable parental shape didn’t point to the other and say “See, here’s your mommy” periodically for six months or however long, maybe the baby wouldn’t choose that or a phonetically similar batch of syllables. That could make trouble during the Seed’s valedictory or Oscar acceptance speech, where it needs to cram “and thanks to those originally-indistinct shapes who gave me comfort and nourishment and changed my diaper and fixed my blankets” in amongst thanking its favorite teacher, its yearbook editor and the Academy.

So perhaps it’ll have to be a joint effort. Beth and I can use some variety of terms for each other in the baby’s presence, and hopefully it’ll pick some suitable combination of the various syllables that it, we and any future siblings can all live with. So if “She Who Carries the Ever-nourishing Mammaries” and “Wielder of the Wonder-Working Phallus” gets contracted to “Canooma” and “Weepha” then you’ll know why.

There’s another corollary here, which is that what our child names us will probably be part of how Beth and I think of one another from then on out. With luck we’ll be mature enough and psychologically flexible enough parents to accept our child’s role there.

In which event “Wielder of the Wonder-Working Phallus” will be splendid, BTW.

– Devin

For science, part 2

It occurs to me that I failed to describe the computer-aided tool that teaches moms-to-be about potential genetic disorders, possible tests, and how to go about making up your mind what to do. It turned out to be a rather long interactive flash video hosted by KRON news anchor Pam Moore. In the first sections she explained the format, then went on to describe the various genetic problems, including all the trisomies, such as Down Syndrome, as well as the neural tube defects, cystic fibrosis, sex-chromosome defects, and so on. Then it described all the various screening options and actual diagnostic tests (the latter of which sticking a needle into the uterus in one way or another).

A lot of it was remedial for me because I’ve done so much reading by now, but the nifty part was at the end when it asks several questions about how you feel about the idea of raising a child with a genetic disorder (vs. aborting or giving a child up for adoption), how important it is to know things ahead of time, and so on. Then it took all your answers and put together a diagnostic plan that would probably suit you best.

In my case, it recommended a course I’d already been considering — the first trimester screen, which includes leaving several blots of blood on a sheet of paper for testing as well as a 12-week ultrasound where they measure the thickness of a fold of fluid on the back of the baby’s neck. Between those two, they can identify the probability of Down Syndrome and other trisomies — but only the chance, not the actual diagnosis. In the second trimester there’s another blood test, for alpha-fetal proteins, which measure the odds of more genetic defects. If the odds look high, then it can make more sense to have CVS or amniocentesis, both of which tell you for sure whether there’s a problem, but also carry some risk of miscarriage.

There are always unknowns — the screening tests aren’t 100% accurate, and they have small rates of false-positives as well as false-negatives. But they make it easier to determine whether to have the riskier procedures.

Shortly after I went through the computer program (which also told me that, at my age, and without considering we’re both of low-risk ethnicities, I have a 3 in 1,000 chance of having a Down Syndrome baby, and 8 in 1,000 chance of having a baby with any defect. Not low enough, but still quite low), I actually did the blot-the-blood-on-the-paper test in the diagnostic office, where I will go back in 3 weeks for “genetic counseling” and the ultrasound screening for the back of the baby’s neck. The technician had trouble getting blood to come out of my finger, but other than that things were fine. :)

Also, as a point of trivia, I got all my bloodwork results back today — I am healthy and clear of any infections that would pose a risk to the baby. My iron count is at the low end of normal, which is of no surprise to me whatsoever and I’ll need to make sure I get lots of iron through diet and supplements. Also, I turn out to have O- blood, which will require me to have shots later on in pregnancy so I won’t run the risk of developing an allergy to my own fetus. It just figures, given how many other allergies and things I have, that I turn out to have a blood type that can’t accept any other types. *chuckle*

— Beth

Tails are useful

The fetal development references here might be a bit too subtle, at least for those who haven’t read a hundred or so different and often conflicting accounts of early fetal development in the preceding month. The Seed doesn’t have a tail anymore, we’re told, and the second head was already gone by the time of the ultrasound. So if anything’s going to blow up our baby it’ll have to happen in subsequent levels.

Falling asleep

The falling asleep at all hours and in arbitrary places is pretty cute, actually. It’s not something that’s ever happened in our house, since Beth was seldom able to sleep anywhere but the bed, and I’m seldom subject to drowsiness. Now I’ll come around a corner (at least one of the corners near the bed or the couch — ours is not a large flat and the sleep-able surfaces are not numerous) and she’ll be conked out there, often having been colonized by the cat sometime after the fact.

Incidentally, if you’re planning a pregnancy and anticipate that falling asleep on the couch together is the sort of cozy, intimate act you think you’ll enjoy and won’t get to do again for the following ten years or so, then rent The Life of Birds. It’s about twelve hour-long episodes, or roughly a trimester’s worth if you space it out a little.

– Devin

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