The naming of things

As I write this, I’m puzzling over what to do about Laurel’s very first fear. For a long time I’ve wondered what it would be, and now I know: the garage. What I don’t know is: what about the garage scares her? She won’t walk around in it anymore, like she used to. When one of us takes her down there, she clings and whimpers and refuses to be set down. If we do set her down, she screams. Today I tried asking: “Are you scared because it’s dark?” “Is it the car?” “Is it the neighbors’ dog?” (who once barked at her in there and startled her.) I got no conclusive responses. Nevertheless, I want us to learn how to alleviate her fear, to help her overcome it. Right now I’m stumped, but I’m working on it.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of good stuff going on. Laurel’s range of expression has really snowballed. She’s using many more two-word phrases and some three-word phrases, which makes communicating with her much easier. Of course, one of her favorite phrases right now is “have it?” As in, “can I have it?” (whatever object she’s just pointed out.) She also uses the word “help” a lot to request help doing something — we’re not quite to the point where she insists on doing everything herself and her own way, although I thought for sure I heard her say “[I] do it” today. She has caught on to my limiting certain objects — such as tissues or food items, so often she will hold up her index finger and ask for “one tissue,” “one wipe,” “one fig,” etc. It’s cute, until you realize she doesn’t understand the concept of “one” yet and will ask for one again — once she’s already gotten her hands on one. We’re working on counting, too. :)

Laurel went through a recent spate of learning all the names of everyone in her life. She can say mine and Devin’s names, though when she does it, she usually calls us “Papa Devin” and “Mommy Beth.” She also likes to talk about Grandma, Poppi, Grandpa, Gram, Nana, and so on. She recognizes all of her friends and knows their names, and many of their moms’ names as well. It started with Arlo and Kate and blossomed from there. She also learned her babysitter’s name early on. I think she’s happy and relieved to know the names of the folks she sees all the time, and she loves reciting them. She also names all the local shops as we walk from our house to the train station and back — our neighbors’ house, the grocery store, the library, the frozen-yogurt shop, the taqueria, the coffee shop, etc.

We had our second Halloween. Laurel wore a skunk costume and I dressed as an animal-control officer. On the day of Halloween we took Laurel trick-or-treating with a couple of other friends in a nearby neighborhood. At each house, she would get a piece of candy in her basket. Then she’d squish it in her hands until it was unrecognizable. Devin would take it and we’d give her a single M&M for the “treat.” She was very sad when we stopped after about 10 houses, and requested “walk treat” several times in the weeks after Halloween.

She seems to be a natural climber. At the playground, she loves any climbing structure — yesterday, she really mastered a ladder made out of chains that leads up to a small slide at the park. Then she would hoist her leg over the side and slide down. (She surprised me in another way: when another girl was climbing up, Laurel pointed to her and said “turn.” I said, “Yep, it’s her turn, but she’ll be done in a moment and then it can be your turn.” Laurel waited, then when the girl had gone down the slide, started climbing up.) In the kitchen, she loves pushing chairs around and then climbing up into them to get at things on the counters, or attached to the refrigerator. This has made the kitchen almost unbabyproofable, but it’s amazing to watch.

Laurel is very into giving hugs and kisses lately — to us, to her friends, to random toys. It’s cute and sweet, and I’m trying to enjoy it because I know it won’t last forever. She’s also somehow gotten into the idea of having her feet rubbed while she nurses. She will press her foot into my hand and, if I use my fingers, will correct me and ask me to use my thumb. Occasionally she will pause and say, “tickle,” asking me to tickle the bottom of her foot. She giggles, squirms away, then presses her foot into my hand again and resumes nursing. She’s not spoiled, right?

Devin and I have started the task of learning about preschools in San Francisco, as well as when and how to apply. Laurel isn’t eligible until the fall of 2012, but given that there are 150 preschools in the city and we need to apply a year ahead of time, there’s some work ahead of us. We recently took a class on the topic, which ostensibly helps us sort out the Montessoris and the Waldorfs and the play-based and the child-centered and so on and so forth. It’s overwhelming and intimidating — and one of those topics that drives everyone’s blood pressure up. It’s tough to predict what kind of school will be right for your child one or two years up the road, when toddlers change so much in the span of a few months. But we’ll do the best we can.

— Beth

Nine Months On The Outside

Laurel’s 9-month “birthday” was on Monday. This means that she’s been on the outside about as long as she was on the inside. (Prior to that, it’s hard to say where she was, exactly. Thinking about *that* question is like thinking about infinity.) We celebrated by having lunch with a friend and then going to see the pediatrician, one of Laurel’s very few doctor visits where she didn’t get poked with a needle. She was still pretty cranky about it.

He’s happy with her development in general, and feels she’s a normal, healthy kid. He was slightly concerned that her ingenious scoot hasn’t turned into a proper hands-and-knees crawl, but since she’s also standing, cruising on furniture and traversing from tables to chairs and so forth at home, he’s not too worried about it. She surprised me last Thursday by pulling up to standing while holding on to my pants, and then letting go for a few seconds. I think she also surprised herself, because she promptly fell backwards onto her butt and cried a little. I suspect she’ll try again soon, though.

Although nobody’s been able to get a good look at her gums, they’re swelling in a few spots and the pediatrician said he thinks she’ll probably begin to have teeth in a month or so. (The range of ages for first teeth is something like 4 to 9 months; it’s been nice to have her toothless, especially for the sake of nursing, but I suppose it’ll be useful for her to have some teeth.)

I mentioned before that Laurel is beginning to use some sign language; the past couple of days she has been using the “milk” sign gratuitously — at men on Muni, at the cat, etc. — and in many cases when there was no milk in sight. It does look like she more or less knows what it means, though. Today, she was nursing at a friend’s house and she turned to her friend (who will be a year old this month) and signed “milk” as if to say, “I’m having milk!” Then, during her bottle, I asked if she was having milk and she signed to me and smiled. Tonight, she was nursing when I didn’t have much milk, and between let-downs she seemed to sign “more” and then “milk.” It’s interesting to watch her work out this new “word” and use it to communicate. I’m excited for her to learn more.

The other thing she’s been doing lately is using her wooden play structure as a kind of walker, pulling up on it and then pushing it around the room while she steps along behind it. She also does with her friends’ wagons. Anyhow, I got a little video of it tonight, which you can see here.

— Beth

Solid Standing

No, no, not the applesauce

At our six-month visit to the pediatrician in early September, the doctor suggested (somewhat sternly) that he’d like Laurel to be “well established” on solids by 9 months, by which I think he means “comfortable with ingesting a variety of foods.” We hadn’t given her any food up to that point, and had been procrastinating doing so.

There are several signs that your baby is theoretically ready, including being able to sit on his or her own, being able to do a pincer grasp with thumb and forefinger, reaching for other people’s food or watching them interestedly when they eat, and no longer thrusting items out of his or her mouth with the tongue. Laurel was doing some of these, but even now she doesn’t sit that well on her own (and doesn’t seem interested in working on it). Plus, we didn’t know what we wanted to give her first, what foods we definitely wanted to delay or avoid, and so on.

It started with an apple core. I was eating an apple one day as we headed somewhere on BART, and when I was finished with it, I let her taste it. She sucked on it a few times interestedly, but didn’t raise any objections when I took it from her and threw it away. A week or so later, Devin gave her a taste of avocado, just a little chunk. She made the “yucky” face and spit it out. When she tried another bite, she gagged once it got to the back of her throat. We tried again a couple of days later, this time letting her serve herself, and got much the same response. We tried banana and sweet potato. She liked some of the banana “juice” but the chunks made her gag, and she was completely uninterested in the sweet potato. She’s also tasted daikon, spicy cheese, pomegranate seeds and bits of plain chicken.

Meanwhile, she’s been sucking on every apple I’ve eaten in the past two weeks, forcing them out of my hands if I won’t share. So I broke down and bought a jar of applesauce, and discovered this week that she’s happy to eat small bites of it, even opening her mouth for the spoon. Within a few days, she’d figured out that she should swallow it rather than spitting it out. She still makes a bit of the “yucky” face but she seems to enjoy it otherwise (although this enjoyment is often displayed by reaching for the spoon, grabbing a handful of applesauce, and then mooshing it into her face). Supposedly from here we’ll be able to get her to eat other things. We’ll see.

(That’s what she’s eating in the photo above. I know it looks like we’re torturing her, but in fact she was on her way to grabbing the spoon.)

That’s not all she’s been up to. Her scooting has gotten faster and faster, and is now interspersed with periods of being on her hands and knees or hands and feet (the latter with her butt stuck into the air). Both of these are precursors to real crawling, so she seems headed in that direction.

She’s devoted a lot of time lately to clambering over things, particularly us. And just a couple of days ago, I laid her in her crib after a diaper change and went to wash my hands. When I returned, she had pulled up to a wobbly stand, and got herself more upright when I stood by her and provided some higher hand-holds. From there, she crept over to a taller part of her crib and stood for several minutes.

Pulling up to standing

The next day, she somehow pulled herself up on one of the coffee tables and went nuts grabbing pens, remote controls, and other fun stuff and knocking everything to the floor. I suspect the coming weeks will be spent sizing up every piece of furniture in the house for its potential to provide support for standing.

I just hope she learns to sit before she learns to walk.

— Beth


Laurel is so much happier being able to move. Each morning I put her on the floor and she gets this intrepid look in her eye, rolls over, and takes aim at her first object. She’ll do a few little swimming motions and then scoot, scoot, scoot over to whatever it is. She can’t get enough of movement.

But these new skills come with a big downside: she’s hurting herself a lot more. She doesn’t seem to be at all aware of where her head is, so she constantly bonks it into things — table legs, the couch, etc. Unlike some babies we know, who shrug off injuries and keep going, Laurel will start crying at the slightest head-bonk, and will want a cuddle. It’s sweet, but sometimes she hits her head several times in the course of a scoot session and eventually I begin thinking about getting her a helmet or something.

Some of these encounters have shown us places where we need to babyproof. For example, last weekend during a nap she woke up and scooted right off the bed. Fortunately, she landed on a soft pillow and was completely unharmed, just very startled. The next morning, she managed to pull the fireplace grate down on top of herself. And today, the worst yet, she pulled the Playstation 3 over onto her face, resulting in the red marks on her nose and cheeks you can see above. It was pretty scary, and resulted in lots of cuddling. At that point, we both needed it. :-/

We can’t possibly swaddle every item of furniture in bubble wrap, despite the temptation. We’ll probably get something to soften the corners of our few square-edged tables, and we’re borrowing a bed rail from a friend — probably a stopgap until we put the mattresses on the floor for a while, I’m guessing. She’s already trying to pull herself up to standing, and that’s not going to go over well in a bed as high off the ground as ours.

It’s so hard watching her go through this. Until now, the world was a relatively safe and gentle place, and now that she’s going at her own pace she’s discovering that it’s a hard and unpredictable one. We can only protect her so much. Devin’s pretty easygoing about it, but for me, it’s difficult.

— Beth


Laurel spent the Labor Day weekend deciding it was high time to get mobile. Here’s a short video from today:

(Unfortunately I can’t figure out how to get WordPress to embed a Flickr video; click through the link to see it).

Crawling will probably come with time, but for now she has a way of getting what she wants. :)

— Beth


I told Devin a few weeks ago that I have this recurring mental image of our baby’s journey: walking, naked and on two legs, with a little satchel slung over its shoulder, on a path that leads to us. We don’t know how long that path is exactly or when the baby will arrive. I imagine it smiling and humming to itself as it travels.

Here we are, in week 39. We’ve been cautioned repeatedly not to get too hung up on the “due date” since so few babies are born that day, or even within a week on either side. Still, almost everything we needed to do (both big and small) to get the house — and our lives — ready for the little one’s arrival has been done, which leaves us to wait and anticipate.

I’m not showing any signs of imminent labor. Sure, I have painless contractions now and then, and a bit of crampiness. Some of the wider-legged yoga postures now create a tremendous amount of pelvic pressure, so I’m easing back on those (with my teachers’ blessing). But psychologically, my subconscious seems to be preparing for the big event: in the middle of the night Sunday I felt a weird sudden sensation in my abdomen, which made me wonder if it was the “pop” some women feel when their water breaks. I spent about a half-hour in an adrenalized state before I realized nothing was coming out, and that the sensation had probably just been the baby moving strangely. Last night I dreamed I had another sign of labor, but it was just a dream.

On the other hand, I’ve been so tired that I haven’t been doing a huge amount of nesting lately, aside from the crazy urge to bake and bake and bake.

Also, as is probably typical, images and thoughts of babies make me super-emotional these days. If I watch a video of a birth, I’ll start crying (happily!) when the baby comes out. Television shows involving pregnancy get me all worked up — again, in a good way. We bought a few more warm baby clothes this weekend and I kept holding them up to my belly, imagining our little one snuggled into them. As s/he gets bigger and stronger and takes up more space inside me, the baby seems more and more real, more and more here, every day.

Soon, right? :)

— Beth

What I Did On My Maternity Leave, By Beth, Age 35 and 11/12ths

This morning I was waiting for the 27 by Halladie Plaza. There was a trio of middle-aged African American folks sitting in the shelter, loudly and cheerfully shooting the breeze. One of them looked at me and asked if I wanted his seat; I politely declined.

“You having twins?” he asked.

“Nope, just one — very soon.”

Thus ensued the usual questions from all three of them, two men and a woman: when I’m due, how I’m feeling, whether I’ve gotten all prepared. The woman said, “You need to walk. A LOT.” One of the men said, “My wife’s had five babies. It hurts while you’re having them, but as soon as they come out it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“How would YOU know?” the woman teased him.

These kinds of conversations happen pretty often when I’m waiting for buses, which I do a lot these days. Sometimes I feel like an ambassador for all of pregnant-lady-dom. I don’t really mind it.

It has been kind of a pregnancy-laden day anyway; we had just seen our midwives and I was off to walk the outdoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. The labyrinth was lovely — two other late-term ladies turned out, along with Jane, our birth/yoga teacher. It was sunny and mild, and when we reached the center of the labyrinth a hummingbird flew straight through the center. I returned home for lunch sleepy and relaxed.

It occurred to me this morning that I have posted very little about what happens when our midwives visit — usually it’s a lot of talking and getting caught up, updates on anything new that has happened in the pregnancy, and any tests scheduled for that phase of pregnancy. Today was pretty low-key. One of my favorite bits is the short exam at the end, where they take my blood pressure (mine’s totally normal; no pregnancy-induced hypertension here!), ask my weight, and then have me lay down so they can listen to the baby’s heartbeat (also still very healthy), measure my uterine growth and feel the baby’s position.

I love how they always say “hello” and talk to the baby. Our Seed has been good about staying in an appropriate delivery position — s/he has been head-down, with head quite low in my pelvis, since about 18 weeks, and is spending more and more time in LOA position, which is considered ideal for labor. They also estimate that the baby is somewhere between 6 and 6.5 pounds, a perfectly respectable weight for this stage. S/he is also still moving a lot every day.

We’ll see the midwives every week now until I deliver. :)

Anyhow, I’ve been on leave from work almost two weeks now. I spent most of last week running around like crazy trying to get tons of things done. This week has been mellower; lots of yoga, massage and napping, though I’m trying to get out every day (especially when the weather is nice). I’m finally beginning to feel myself relax and unwind — this is the longest stretch I’ve gone without doing some kind of full- or part-time work in 11 years. I feel like being calm and relaxed is going to be an important place from which to start labor, so I’m glad I’m getting there.

— Beth

Not long now

In addition to the string-cheese-wrapper conundrum, I seem to have picked up a new absentminded habit: forgetting to close or lock the doors on public restrooms while I’m using them. Thankfully no one has barged in on me yet. Given the frequency with which I am using toilets these days, that’s nothing short of a miracle.

Our home-birth kit is done (early!). The midwife reports that our wiggly, squirmy little co-creation is now roughly five pounds or so, while the Web sites report that all its internal organs are basically ready to ship, and now all it’s doing in there is getting fatter.

I can tell you that’s not all it’s doing. It’s also performing diaphragm workouts (read: hiccups) 2 to 3 times a day, plus some kind of butt-gyrating exercises that would make Jane Fonda proud. Also, it has figured out how to press on all sorts of uncomfortable abdominal fasciae and nerve endings with its head. This, coupled with the fact that my pelvis has turned into one of those toys that collapses when you press on the bottom, makes walking rather more unpredictable than it was a year ago.

It seems like it should feel by now like we’re all set, but we’re not. Oh, we’re getting there. I mean, we got the car seat, but our midwife reminded us Friday that it’d be a good idea to have someone show us how to actually put it into the car. My mind has been in kind of a mental scramble since then, trying to work out how to fit that into our schedule. That’s just one example among many.

We’re about halfway through our birth classes, which are part pep talk, part practice. Jane (also one of my yoga teachers) is enthusiastic and a little naughty in her descriptions, and she’s introduced us to all sorts of useful things like how to cope when a chunk of ice clutched in our hand is about to give us frostbite, and how to get down on hands and knees while our partners push on various hypothetical sore bits. Homework has included giving each other massages, cleaning the toilet to a sparkling finish (apparently it makes a good labor location), and practicing various labor positions around the house. Given that I’ve heard some birth classes spent time discussing whether newborns should get their ears pierced, I feel like this one is relatively practical.

Devin and I spent part of Saturday learning how to resuscitate mannequin infants and children (the latter represented by adult-sized torsos and heads). The infants had these detachable breast-pieces that, when a small bag attached to the creepily o-shaped mouth was secured into them, rose and fell with each “rescue breath.” Everyone in the room — which included at least one hedge-fund consultant, two reporters and an epidemiologist — did a good job of reviving their mannequins, while also admitting they’d be likely too out of their minds to actually use these skills when encountering their own unconscious child. Even working on a rubber, baby-shaped replica is a little unnerving.

(Devin also got to practice the Heimlich maneuver on me, although the instructor basically said there’s no good way to perform it on a pregnant woman without harming her or the baby, and essentially advised me to switch to a liquid diet until the baby comes out to reduce the risk of choking.)

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of a friend of mine who is conducting a psych study on intentional conception, came by to interview Devin and I about our pregnancy, how we planned it, and so on. I forget what she asked me, but I started talking about how — no matter how much I understand the biology of conception and pregnancy, it still doesn’t totally explain: Where does the baby come from?

A book I read a while ago, The Wise Wound, has a quote somewhere in it about the womb being a doorway to another place, and how children enter this world through that doorway. I wish I could find the quote, but I can’t, so you’ll just have to trust my vague recollection instead.

Anyhow, so I was trying to explain this to the researcher, and how when I try to imagine that place on the other side of the doorway, I can’t — I am just awestruck. It reminds me a little of when I was a child and would look out into the night sky and try to comprehend how big the Universe is, and the thought was so huge that it scared me and I would have to go inside. Trying to imagine the place children come from is like that; not as scary, but no easier to contain cognitively. My mind just goes blank with wonder.

I spend a lot of time, lately, imagining who’s in there — what wormhole he or she came to us through, what s/he’ll be like, and what s/he came here to see and do and show us. It won’t be long now before we find out.

— Beth

In which I get a little bit spiritual

Remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving, too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah?

— Leonard Cohen

I posted a while back about how some love songs have taken on a whole new light now that I’m pregnant; all those romantic words seem to mean something different now. An acquaintance of mine posted a link this morning to Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” in honor of the Christmas season, and the song — even Christmas itself — seems to mean something else to me just now.

The stories of the annunciation, Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus have been favorites of mine for a while, not in a religious context necessarily but as a myth that exists as a very deep part of our culture and shared psyche. Even if you don’t believe in it as part of your spiritual practice, you know the story. I’ve often wondered what it was like for Mary, being told that she would conceive a baby who would become this very important child in the grand scheme of the world, and that she needed to get ready.

In fact, I think in Mary’s shoes I’d be freaked out by that message. At the same time, I wonder if all gestating women couldn’t use the reminder that their child has the potential to be a major player on earth, that their child, as any child, is a miracle of biology, a mystery waiting to happen.

So it feels pretty special to be pregnant at Christmas, to be able to reflect on my own journey in light of this worldwide story about the return of the light and warmth of the sun, about the specialness of birth, to have this life moving inside me.

I’ve quoted Joseph Campbell here before, but another of his quotes is in my mind today:

According to legend, Buddha was born from the right side of his mother. Immediately upon his birth, he stood up and took seven steps, and wherever his feet touched the earth lotuses sprang up. Raising his hand he said: “Worlds above, worlds below, there’s no one in the world like me.”

Finally, Suzuki elaborated. “They tell me that when a baby is born, it cries. What does the baby say when it cries? The baby says ‘Worlds above, worlds below, there’s no one in the world like me!’ All babies are Buddha babies.” So what was the distinguishing characteristic of Queen Maya’s baby? He knew that he was a Buddha baby. According to Joseph Campbell, “The whole thing of Buddha consciousness means getting to know you are it. That takes a lot of work, principally because society keeps telling you that you are not it.”

Our friends Dave and Penny had a baby girl this morning, two days before her due date. Happy congratulations to them — and a good holiday to everyone else.
— Beth

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

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