Inside the smallest, darkest room

I’m spending a lot of time imagining what it’s like for our baby right now, growing bigger and bigger inside this warm, dark, muscley, whooshing pool. My understanding is that babies this young don’t really have cognition yet, so everything they feel and do, all their responses, are more about instinct and reflex. That, too, is hard to imagine: what would life be like if you were distilled back down to those things?

Apparently, one of the things you would do is wiggle and kick a lot. Our baby grows stronger and stronger every day, and the kicks are now visible from outside although they’re still too intermittent for Devin to be able to spot them. When I’m lying on my side the baby rests side-to-side, head toward the ceiling, feet thumping the bed. During a few parts of the day the baby is head up, dancing a little jig on my cervix. And the rest of the time it’s head-down, letting me know it’s aware of the warm tea I just drank, that the shower water’s too hot, or that there are voices somewhere in the room around us. Often the kicks are strongest during meetings and interviews — times when I need to pay the most attention to the person talking, not the person playing Spider-man in my belly. Of course, what I really want to do in those moments is retreat somewhere and focus in on the mystery of what our child is doing in there, exactly.

Speaking of mysteries, I’m also thinking a lot about the next 17-18 weeks or so — a stretch with no sonograms offering us a window inside, no other chances to learn the baby’s gender or see it sneezing, sucking its thumb, hiccuping, dancing, or making its presidential endorsement. I’m not typically someone who sits well with unknowns, and there are many unknowns before us that sometimes make me uneasy, but somehow I am comfortable with — even thrilled by — this idea that I don’t know who’s in there, not yet, which makes the day we begin to find out all that much more exciting to think about. And yet, in some ways it also feels like a lesson in what’s to come; as close as you can be to someone, there’s always going to be some part of them you never quite fathom. And I suppose with a child it’s a good idea to get used to that even before they show up.

It’s possible that I’m pondering all this darkness and mystery because of the season. Who knows. But I like how this excerpt from Judy Grahn’s poem “Like a Woman in Childbirth Wailing” puts what’s going on in there:

A queen am I
my city is within me

ever and ever did I swell
with its messages
delivering all it ever needed
to know of itself
cell by fleshy cell
and spark by spark
and all entirely in the dark.

I plied on the smallest, starkest loom
inside the smallest, darkest room
knitting fingernail to finger
iris to eyeball to socket
I rarely missed a stitch.
Almost the hardest thing I had to know
was when to call the baby done
and let it go

— Beth

Empty Shelves

The shelves containing our (pre-Seed) adult lives are slowly emptying.

That wasn’t a metaphor. I mean, we’re finally making some headway on making some space to put a baby in. Or at least the baby support apparatus — babies themselves are still fairly compact, even in this modern era where every damn thing has cupholders on it. We emptied out a nice little plastic filing box which the baby would fit in nicely, at least until around age two, provided it curled up a little. But, no. I’m living in my own little personal fear of the Giant Mounds of Stuff. I acquire too many material possessions, for good reasons and bad. It builds up; occasionally I get rid of some of it, but seemingly not at the rate it arrives. Growing up it fit (barely) into a bedroom; since then it’s fitted into (for the most part) increasingly larger apartments as my (and then our) living situations and careers developed. Okay sofar — messy but comfortable, and I do realize I could do without it if I had to. My occasional Stuff Crisis Fantasy goes like this: economy (or whatever) goes to hell, necessitating drastic cost- or risk-reduction measures in living arrangement. Rent truck, fill with everything but the proverbial change of underwear and hot plate. Drive truck to cheapest real estate in the U.S. (in the fantasy, that’s usually Oklahoma, mostly because I read a few years ago that $90k there will get you a quadruple-wide on 25 acres.) Empty truck, return to City blissfully unencumbered but quietly feeling reassured that mounds of stuff are still packed away awaiting better days.

Implausible, but whatever. It can stand in for something more sensible. But Stuff represents an obligation of sorts. You have to pay to keep it un-stolen and out of the rain, which usually means taking space meant for people and using it for objects. Obligations become liabilities in the face of risks, and one job of a parent is to manage risks on their child’s behalf. Our child, meanwhile, will have all sorts of needs, and some of them are attended to by the use of more Stuff. Babies take in nutritious stuff at one end, excrete messy and smelly stuff from the other, need to be maintained within certain basic temperature, humidity and radiation parameters, provided with various maturation-inducing stimuli, and isolated to some degree from pathogens, parasites and predators. A bunch of that is customarily done with Stuff, which you have to keep somewhere when you’re not using it (and hoist onto the 14 Mission when you are). So the house has to accommodate it, which implies certain liabilities in terms of real estate, employment, disaster planning, etc. Risk management, essentially.

Risk’s been on my mind more lately. Partly because managing it is part of my job, and partly because the US economy is currently going through an elaborate, obfuscated and expensive demonstration of the sort of messes you can make when you don’t manage risk correctly. The greater fool theory is subject to violent corrections, and anyway I haven’t seen it usefully applied to childrearing.

To all that general end, we’ve taken various loads of Stuff to be gotten rid of. A carload or so donated to charities. Another carload to e-waste collection (not a clean business, that). I spent an afternoon dismantling and removing platters from hard drives. I also bought some lumber and spent a couple of days building furniture to hold more stuff, whilst Beth and I have started peering at diagrams and books and catalogs relating to the sorts of furniture useful in managing the stuff associated with children, or at least keeping them off the floor during the application of food, cleaning products, sleep or stimuli.

A small amount of progress has in fact been made. We can see the shelves, now. One that I can see from here is actually empty, and there are plans which should empty a few more. If nothing else, each empty shelf is a tiny bit less risk the Seed will be born into. And one more place they can sleep, if need be.

– Devin

A walking paradox

In the past week, I’ve had several people comment that I’m “starting to show,” at least a couple people say I’m “getting big” and a couple people say “you can’t tell you’re pregnant.” I seem to still be in that in-between stage, except that folks who say I really look pregnant say there’s no way I am looking in-between. I know in a couple of months I’m going to wish I could go back to this phase, where I’m rounded but not huge. :)

Still, these differing comments remind me a little of the phase in my life where I wouldn’t get carded when buying alcohol, but I would get carded at the movies — when I said, “I look over 21, but under 17.” I never could figure that one out.

— Beth

The first of the goodies

Devin’s mom came by on Tuesday night and brought us a whole bunch of goodies (thank you again!), all of them from Devin’s own days as an infant. Among them:

A knitted hat and sweater (both from Devin’s grandmother, I think), two long nightgowns and a wee little shirt with his name embroidered on it. I’m considering adding an apostrophe and an s.

Two pairs of very awesome 1970s overalls and a little button-down shirt.

Three blankets, including two knitted by his grandmother and a quilt made by his mom.

Bunches of brightly colored toys, some made of wood and some made of plastic.

Our teddy bears. That’s Devin’s (whose name is pronounced “Shasha”; nobody knows if it’s ever been spelled out) on the left, and mine (Paddington; his clothes and face are gone but his music box still works) on the right. I’ve been winding up the music box and playing it to my belly before I go to sleep at night.

All of these things are right in keeping what we hope to encourage throughout this process. If people want to give us things, and we by no means expect it, we’d love hand-me-downs or gently used stuff. There are plenty of baby clothes and toys and things already in the world — there’s no need to manufacture more. :)

Aside from the goody box, the only new items we’ve acquired specifically for the baby are a bunch of prints. Somehow, after years of not really buying any art, we’ve kind of been on a spree. We bought a Bernadette Sipkes piece, and several ilustrations by Mike Dutton.

We are still (slowly) making changes around the house. After much fretting and research about what’s leaching off our nonstick pans, Devin bought some new ones this week and we should be using them any day now. We’re still weighing whether to replace our plastic food-storage containers. I almost never drink out of plastic, already. There are still more contaminants to think about around the house, but we’re starting with these ones.

As for the baby, it seems to be growing and wrestling around and generally doing well. The past three days have been full of movement and kicking — including the first externally visible kick, during the presidential debate Wednesday night (for the record, McCain was talking). Much of the smaller movements really, really tickle — which is both delightful and a little weird. Sometimes it’s all I can do not to just drop everything and focus on those movements.

— Beth


Some days, I still don’t look really pregnant.

Other days…

(20 weeks, 4 days)
(The mirror still needs cleaning)

— Beth

Signs you might be having a baby in San Francisco …

1. Your options for midwives include a former nightclub owner whose birth center is off an alley known for its street-based sex workers.

2. The midwife you pick is married to a professional clown.

3. Your birth class is taught by someone who also teaches two different kinds of yoga.

4. Someone on your birth-related email list asks for references on turning her placenta into nutritional supplements, and the replies and references fill the next edition of the list.

5. You wonder whether people’s willingness to give you seats on public transit (because you’re visibly pregnant) is courteous and sweet, or a diminution of your abilities as a strong woman — whether your willingness to take them is a rejection of the ideals feminists have fought for, or just a good idea because you’re feeling wobbly today.

6. You’re lamenting that you had to give up swordfighting during pregnancy — not because of the pregnancy itself, but because pregnancy is preventing you from getting the ganglion cyst removed from your wrist that makes certain sword techniques painful.

7. You’re starting to think about naming the baby about favorite local parks; “Dolores Park” or “Holly Park” are good girls’ names, and “Glen Park” is a good boy’s name, right?

8. Nine-tenths of the pregnant women online are talking about which Lean Cuisines make the best prenatal meals and talking up the new Dairy Queen pumpkin milkshake — and you’re fretting over whether the baby’s getting enough nourishment from all the organic produce and dairy, sustainable meats, raw-food cereals and vitamin supplements you’re taking.

9. You wonder if not learning the baby’s gender until birth will be good practice for any gender-related self-questioning your child will do in his/her/zir teens.

10. You hope the sound of the Blue Angels practicing near your office building is as soothing to the baby as it is to you.

— Beth

Mouse’s new favorite piece of furniture

(If you can’t quite tell, the bump in the foreground is my breast. Mouse’s head is on the top of my belly. Her tail end is on my lap.)

— Beth

Ready for my inspection, ma’am

We’re back from our “anatomy scan,” the mid-point sonogram where we make sure the baby has the right number of limbs, heads, etc. (it does) and that all its organs are in the correct place (i.e. inside, not outside, its body). Everything looks shockingly normal, down to the two kidneys, one stomach, and single four-chambered heart.

Here’s a profile shot of 3/4ths of the baby (yes, it does have legs below the knees — I kind of wish she’d given us a picture of the baby relaxing with its legs crossed; it has very cute knees). Right to left: thighs, torso — I think that dark spot is the stomach — and head:

A foot! More specifically, the left foot, I think — possibly with the same wonky pinky toes I have:

Frontal face shots of babies at this stage are pretty creepy and skeletal, but there you go. The baby had its arms bent at the elbows and its hands up near its face (or covering its ear, possibly, with the right hand):

They started off looking at the top of the baby’s head — which turned out to be kind of a challenge, since it was laying with its head nestled in my cervix. The sonographer wound up tilting the table so my head was angled a bit toward the floor, sliding the baby’s head just up above my pelvic bone. The brain looks good, and no doubt the Seed is up to no good with it already. :) The heart rate was 152 beats per minute.

The little one wasn’t nearly as active this time as last time, but I could definitely see and feel it wiggling around during the scan. I was also pretty surprised to find out that the placenta is on the front wall of my uterus — typically women with frontal placentas don’t tend to feel their babies moving so early, but I’m apparently feeling it even through all that cushioning. Either this baby’s strong or I have the most sensitive uterus ever.

We went in not wanting to know the gender, and it sounds like we’d have had a tough time finding out anyway — the first sonographer said she didn’t see it, either, especially because the baby’s legs were crossed and its knees were close together. We looked away, just in case, to avoid any spoilers. :)

I also got the results of my second-trimester blood screen and it echoed the very low risk we have of Down Syndrome or Trisomy 18/21, and came back negative for all the neural-tube defects. Of course, these are not 100% conclusive, etc. etc., and they even made us sign a silly form saying we weren’t going to have amniocentesis, but both the sonographer and the doctor said everything on the baby looks totally, utterly healthy.

(It’s potentially worth noting that I’m not *quite* at the mid-way point yet — 18 weeks and 3 days today.)

Also this week, we’ve spent a bunch of time decluttering the house (though we are nowhere near finished) and I signed us up for a birth class that starts in early January — we’ll be cutting it a little bit close, but I really like this instructor and it’s on a good day and time for us. I’m a little glad we won’t be having holidays and classes at the same time, too. Devin is poking around looking for a GP who also does pediatrics — I don’t have a GP and neither does he, but it’d be good to have someone lined up for the baby when the time comes.

— Beth