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


As I type this, Mouse is in the crib, inspecting it thoroughly — poking at the breastfeeding pillow and stuffed animals, and even running around a little bit within its confines. She still doesn’t seem to sense the imminent arrival of another small being in the house, but she does seem to understand that our attentions have been decidedly elsewhere lately.

On Jan. 31 our friends Sara and Tara threw us a very sweet shower. There was much good food, laughter, mingling about, and gifts. Devin’s dad took this photo of us, showing off some of the baby clothes Victor gave us. I think I was laughing almost to the point of tears by this point, but I can’t remember why.

We came home and inventoried everything, mostly so I could take good notes on who gave us what so that when we send thank-you cards, we thank the right people for the right things. Devin piled most of the items on the rug in the baby’s room. Within minutes Mouse was rolling around in the clothes like they’d been spiked with catnip. She also crawled into the co-sleeper. There is no way we’re going to have a cat-hair-free household when the baby arrives, so it’s good we’re not even trying.

Last Saturday we took the co-sleeper on a test drive to see how it felt to have it in the bed without a wiggly, grunty baby in it. We both slept reasonably OK, although predictably it made the bed seem smaller. Smaller for me because I have a hard enough time turning over in bed these days without having limited space; smaller for Devin because Mouse slept behind his knees, pinning him into a very tiny area. We’re pretty sure she’ll keep sleeping with us when the baby comes, so we might as well get used to it.

Yesterday, Monday, I hit the 37-week mark, a major milestone in the sense that a baby born anytime between now and 42 weeks is no longer “pre-term.” (After 42 weeks is “post-term.”) It also means that if I go into labor now, the midwives are OK with me delivering at home — labor before 37 weeks would have meant an automatic hospital birth.

I’m not having any signs of imminent labor — in fact, my Braxton Hicks contractions have actually eased off this week, maybe because I am on leave, more relaxed and off my feet more. That said, three women in our prenatal/birth groups have already had their babies — one at 37 weeks, one at 38 weeks and one at 39 weeks. It’s hard not to imagine that ours could come early, too.

My last day of work was Thursday, and I’ve been pretty busy since then, doing at least a few baby-related or birth-prep (or both) items each day, trying to get myself and our house prepared. My to-do list has included everything from “buy coffee for the midwives” to “meet with anaesthesiologist.” I’ve done a mind-numbing amount of laundry, and that’s just the beginning. We finished our birth class last night and scheduled our “reunion” in May, presumably by which time we’ll all have babies.

All that said, I still can’t get over the strangeness of imagining that one day soon — and we don’t know when — my body will kick off the inevitable beginnings of birthing this baby into the world. Waiting — and yet trying not to wait — is a very strange headspace.

It’ll sink in at some point, right?

— Beth

Crossovers in work, life, and the animal kingdom

My last day of work before I start my leave is tomorrow. I know it’s really corny, but I was happy to write recently about the birth of a new giraffe at the San Francisco Zoo. Early in my pregnancy, one of the other giraffe moms died of some kind of pervasive cancer — while also three months pregnant. So hearing about a new, happy, healthy birth at the zoo kind of brings things full circle.

Plus, somehow I can’t look at this photo of the new family — Floyd, Bititi and the unnamed giraffe daughter — and imagine our little family-to-be.


— 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

Welcome to the third trimester

I’ve kind of been in denial about entering my third trimester of pregnancy. I mean, it’s the long, dark tea-time of backaches, sore belly, heartburn, shortness of breath and swollen ankles, right?

At 27 weeks I could argue that no, it was still the second trimester. By 28, I was convinced I was just barely on the cusp. But last Friday, at 28 and a half weeks, while my midwife and I were waiting for my high-carb meal to digest so she could test my blood-sugar level and tell whether or not I had gestational diabetes, she said, “If you’re having this test and getting your Rhogam shot, you’re in your third trimester.” I’ll be 29 weeks tomorrow.

For what it’s worth, I’m not gestationally diabetic and I’m getting my Rhogam shot on Tuesday.

I keep having this sensation of time speeding up as my due date draws closer, which explains why I’m stressing out about getting everything ready while Devin keeps reminding me that we still have nearly three months to go. I’ve busied myself with getting the components of our home-birth kit together, which is almost complete now. This weekend I started worrying about what kinds of thermometers and baby shampoo we’re going to need. We already have a crib, along with some bedding and an adorable fleece snowsuit thing that I can’t wait to put the baby in.

Yesterday was my first real day of extended physical discomfort — the baby had crammed itself into my right side for some reason, pulling the front ligaments on one side and my sciatic nerve on the other, plus I was just feeling worn down and moody. Overnight, I was woken at one point by the tapping of small but insistent hands, letting me know I’d rolled over onto my belly in my sleep and telling me to knock it off already. This afternoon, while attempting to write a news story, a series of sharp kicks were delivered to my right side that left me gasping. It’s tough not to feel how present and imminent this baby really is.

(As an aside, I had an amusing experience at a press conference last week, which I attended to gather some comments from the San Francisco mayor for a story I was working on. Standing with the other reporters, waiting for my turn to interrogate him, the baby started kicking forcefully against the top of my belly. I wanted to focus on it, but I didn’t want to miss my shot at the mayor. There are so many ways in which pregnancy could be subtitled “10 months of divided consciousness,” and this is just one of them. However, I’m pleased to report that when it came my turn to talk to him, he turned out not to be one of those people who randomly touches pregnant women’s bellies.)

Devin and I have already taken the first of our baby-prep classes. Last weekend we did a two-hour workshop on cloth diapering, where we learned about the environmental benefits and drawbacks of cloth (home washing or paid service) compared to disposables. Disposables are shockingly bad, in more ways than I imagined. I already knew about the landfill issue (apparently we toss something like 450 billion disposable diapers per year), and the dioxins used to bleach them. I didn’t know about the chemicals used to absorb wetness, which not only heat up and could cause testicular damage to baby boys, but also absorb groundwater once they make it to the landfill.

To my relief, a diapering service is more efficient water-wise by about 40% than washing at home, which is good because I could have nightmares about my life turning into nothing more than the endless washing of poopy diapers. Also to my relief, when it came time to practice actually diapering a baby (OK, a plastic baby-shaped doll), folding and wrapping the diaper around the baby came pretty easily for me. Plus, instead of safety pins we now have these little clip things that are easier to fasten on with one hand, plus diaper covers are much cuter and easier since the invention of velcro (no more horrid elastic-leg rubber pants!). I say “to my relief,” because — in addition to not wanting to buy a new car or contribute to the purchase of brand-new baby clothes and linens — we are trying to be environmentally conscious about the whole diaper thing, too, and having it be easy(ish) really helps.

In the coming months, we’ll also have classes in infant/child CPR and first aid, newborn care and parenting, and of course the obligatory six weeks of birth-prep lessons. In the meantime, we’re having a series of group visits with our midwives where we hang out in a room with a bunch of other expectant parents due between late January and early March. Because it’s a small world, one of the couples includes a man I’ve written news articles about and his wife, who does something related to affordable housing in the city, which means it’s only a matter of coincidence that I haven’t interviewed her yet.

And then there’s everything we haven’t figured out yet, such as who will be our pediatrician, when my last week of work will be, and, oh, what we’re going to name the baby. For starters.

— Beth

Wayward nesting

As Devin mentioned, we managed to get half the office pretty much cleared out. It doesn’t really look cleared out at the moment because it’s got a bunch of empty shelves and things, and some random stuff where the crib will go, and a baby swing, and so on. On top of which, we haven’t actually acquired most of our baby furniture yet, though I suspect that’ll happen over the next month or so.

For now, it kind of looks like this:

So there’s the swing (with the hard drives still in it from Devin’s experiments). To the right is a stack of artwork we still need to frame and put on the walls. To the left is the tall bookshelf where we’ve been storing the first baby stuff, including all the adorable things from Devin’s babyhood, a bunch of stuffed animals, and the beginnings of our home birth kit (towels and receiving blankets at this point, mostly).

The second and third trimesters are supposed to be a time of hardcore nesting. Neither of us has ever really enjoyed shopping, or furnishing apartments, or decorating, so it’s a bit haphazard.

In fact, as far as I can tell, about 99% of my “nesting urge” has so far gone toward baking. Perhaps it’s hormones, or perhaps it’s the fact that I stumbled on a really excellent recipe site, but in the past couple of months I’ve made pumpkin bread, chocolate-chip cookies, chocolate-peanut-butter-shortbread bars (I wish I’d gotten photos of those), cheese biscuits, apple-cranberry tarts, and mini cheesecakes, and I’m already planning my next baking foray.

This wouldn’t seem so misguided — in the sense that one day I’m planning to be a mom who bakes with her child — except for the fact that I’m trying not to eat too many sweets in pregnancy (or in general) (and especially not before my gestational diabetes test) (which is this coming Friday). I keep bringing batches of sweets to work — to the point where I’m actually beginning to wonder whether my co-workers find it annoying rather than generous.

Don’t get me wrong. I trust that the baby’s room will come together more or less in time for the little one’s actual arrival, but in the meantime I’m more likely to be found in the kitchen hunched over the stand mixer than in the furniture store, or scouring Craigslist for bargains.

— Beth

Bytes of Summer

You can see patches of floor in what will be the baby’s room now. We gave away the futon that had followed us since college, moved a worktable out to the living room, shoved the curbside-scavenged cat tree to a corner. There’s still too much there that needs not to be, but suddenly one can see what’s supposed to happen to everything. Our current plan is to cede half of a room we use as an office to the baby, and let it push us out the rest of the way according to its own needs and our own changing priorities. We’re planning to attempt to co-sleep for as long as seems appropriate, but that won’t last forever, and anyway it’ll be marginally easier to identify how clean the house is by the fraction of our child’s things currently in that room or not. Just think of it as entropy — the more evenly distributed the baby stuff is throughout the house, the higher the entropy level and the less tidy the house is. You can fight entropy for a while, by tidying, but you expend more energy than you recover in entropy, and eventually you’ve reproduced the heat death of the universe in the space of a single San Francisco flat. The real thing should take about a googol years. Based on the parents I’ve known, the parental heat death takes about three weeks.

The last couple of room-excavating projects have dealt with accumulated data, in the form of a shelf full of CDROMs and a large box full of floppy disks. Most of the floppies were left over from the early 1990s, when I was a young geekling with a whole life full of data generation and consumption still ahead. That was a transitional period in personal data history — hard drives were finally cheap enough to be widespread, but networks weren’t; meanwhile, floppies were plentiful and cheap, albeit slow and small. Hence they acted much like a packet-switched network; you might overwrite one many times over, so labeling became pointless, and a floppy you hadn’t touched in a month was probably one you wouldn’t touch again except to write over it again. You could still take backups on floppies, but it was a huge pain in the ass, an exercise in multiplicative failure probabilities, and so it was only done for the more important stuff.

This was probably something I should have dealt with a long time ago, but didn’t, so now floppies are obsolete and CDROMs aren’t far behind. Floppy drives are getting scarce. Fortunately, despite past attempts at house-emptying, I found four of the things, one of which worked. Scripted together a recovery process which required one keystroke plus the physical floppy swap, and on to a fun afternoon being reminded of long-lost data, in amongst all the I/O errors.

As it turned out, about a third of the data was beyond readability. Another third was on old 800K mac floppies, which the PC floppy drives I had on hand couldn’t read anyway. The remainder held a few good bits in amongst the random bits of elderly DOS software, install disks for ancient Linux versions, etc. There were bits of my old BBS in there (even USER.LST, which kept Beth occupied for a good while). Solutions to assignments in my early CS classes. Captures from chat systems that no longer exist. My registered copy of {COMMO}. It was all very entertaining.

On the other hand, between the floppy box and the CD shelf, it took about six hours to clear perhaps a cubic meter of space. That’s probably the worst ratio so far in this effort. I suppose it follows, since the complexity of the contents of that cubic meter was so much higher than on the other shelves — pick up a tripod or a rubber ball, by comparison, and you know quickly what you’re dealing with. At a rough estimate, a single unskilled person-hour is currently worth about ten gigabytes of storage, if it’s empty, but valuing nonentropic data is trickier. Was it worth six hours to save perhaps a quarter terabyte? Probably not — like physical possessions, most data depreciates. OS/2 drivers for a PCMCIA ethernet card? They probably took man-years to produce, but now their value is zero. There again, like physical possessions, a few kilobytes here and there will turn out to be genuinely valuable, either as antiques or as useful expressions of facts. It’s hard to know in advance.

Anyway, I saved what I could. And then I broke them down to their constituent parts — piles of steel and plastic, gauze liners, and a mound of ferrite-coated plastic film. A little degaussing on the latter, and now it’s just material scrap for the recyclers. And a bit more shelf space for the baby, who will at least have more mobile forms of storage for the data it’ll produce.

– Devin