This land is your land

A couple of weeks ago I was standing in the kitchen, I pulled out one of my breasts for another woman (OK, it was one of our midwives) to feel, and that’s when I became certain that my body is not my own — at least for now.

Oh, sure, I had an inkling before, like the 41 weeks in which a small person grew inside of me, or the fact that being naked during the birth meant it was easier for our midwives to check on me, or the fact that every couple of hours I stop what I’m doing, including sleep, to nurse the aforementioned small person.

And then there’s all the medical personnel who have looked at or touched various bits of me in the past six weeks — from the half-dozen or so who watched as a UCSF doctor stitched me back together after Laurel was born (and the three who have checked the progress of my healing) to the countless folks who have looked at touched my breasts to show me nursing techniques or check them for lumps during two rounds of mastitis, not to mention everyone who’s seen me breastfeed so far.

I’m not an especially modest person by any means, but found myself strangely amused during one of our mastitis-driven visits to UCSF, when nurses kept trying to protect my privacy by closing a broken curtain around my half of the room and I kept telling them not to bother, since a) it was broken and b) too many people had already seen my breasts for me to care anymore. I was amused because I wasn’t always so lax about it.

I kind of wish someone had said, “pregnancy and motherhood will mean that your body stops belonging to you.” I don’t know if I would have believed them, any more than I would have believed that taking care of a baby takes all your time and energy, but someone could have mentioned it at least.

A lot of women grow up feeling like their bodies aren’t theirs to begin with, between self- and society-imposed body issues and the sometimes-predatory nature of sexuality in our culture. Some of us work pretty hard to develop healthy boundaries so we respect and care for our bodies while also knowing when to tell people it’s OK to touch us and when to keep their distance. And then pregnancy and childbirth come along like whiplash and create a space where all those boundaries have to be on hold.

I can imagine it would be too much for some people. There are times when it’s too much for me, but I attempt to both honor and suspend the part of myself that is troubled by it, because I recognize the importance of letting myself be communal property, so to speak, for the time being. But I do hope someday I’ll return to being someone who minds ever-so-slightly when I have to undress for or be manhandled by medical personnel, or even non-family.

— 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

The great cornholio and other unorthodox pregnancy teachers

“I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant. Since I had conceived six months earlier, one might have thought that the news would have sunk in before then, and in many ways it had, but it was on that early morning in May that I first realized how severely pregnant I was. What tipped me off was that, lying on my side and needing to turn over, I found myself unable to move. My first thought was that I had had a stroke.” — Anne Lamott, “Operating Instructions”

I have been very fortunate so far in this pregnancy to have a minimum of physical complaints — sure, the first weeks of nausea and somnolence were difficult, and I’ve had more than my fair share of misplacing my own belongings and then blaming Devin for their absence. But I’ve gotten all the way into my eighth month without having gained 60 pounds, or watching my ankles turn into hams, or even having more than mild back pains. Sure, there’s plenty of time for at least one or two of those things to happen, so I hope I’m not jinxing myself here.

However, I am noticing a certain lack of ability to roll over in bed anymore. I can’t roll from side to side on my back because I invariably get stuck on my back like a helpless turtle, and at this point having the baby press against my guts makes me light-headed and gasp for air. However, to roll over face-down, I have to get up on my hands and knees, and even then my belly drags on the mattress and it tugs all the poor, strained ligaments trying to keep my uterus upright like the tethers on a full hot-air balloon. Neither of these options works well in the middle of the night, and sometimes I just can’t muster the ability to budge at all.

On top of that, I seem to be having another go at hearrburn — which has emerged and vanished a couple of times in pregnancy so far. Each time I fear it’s here to stay and then it vanishes again, but this time it’s too soon to tell. Since it’s been emerging in the afternoons the past few days, I’ve been walking around the office in what I’ve taken to calling Cornholio pose to try and raise my esophagus out of my stomach. It actually works, kind of.

That said, we had our first birth class on Monday and the teacher showed us all these diagrams of the insides of pregnant women. She had one for 28 weeks and another for 36. She said, “When women start talking about how uncomfortable they are at 32 weeks, I think, ‘Yeah… sure you are.'” That’s when she showed us the 36-week diagram, which looked like a madman had attempted to reconstruct some poor woman’s entrails. I still have three and a half weeks to go before I look like that.

So maybe I am jinxing myself. Keep your fingers crossed.

— 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

Our flat needs cleaning

But the light was nice.

Beth & Devin at 15 weeks

– Devin

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.

Too early for bed

This pretty much sums me up right now:

— Beth

Pregnant lady & cat

“Mouse, you’re standing on the baby.”

(repeat occasionally)

– Devin

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

A counterexample