Monday, March 30, 2009

It's not all bad

It seems like ever since I announced that I was pregnant, all my blog entries have been focused on complaining. While it certainly has been no walk in the park, it’s not all bad, and I realize that there are plenty of people out there in situations much worse off than mine.

The past weekend, Rob was gone for a cycling training camp, and to keep me from being too lonely, my parents (Rick and Nan) came for a brief visit on Saturday. My mom even went with me to this month’s neighborhood coffee, and she got to meet all the ladies of Vermont Avenue. I think she was duly impressed with them. My being pregnant is kind of a big deal on this block—most of the women are in their 60’s or older, so it’s been a long time since any of the neighbors were pregnant, and everybody is excited for me. I love hearing all the ladies tell their stories of their own pregnancies, their children, their grandchildren. Many of these women have had amazing careers as well—in a time when being a working mother was comparatively rare across the country. It’s really pretty inspiring for me to spend a morning with the ladies on my block.

In addition to getting to show off my mother at the party, I also found myself brave enough to try a little decaf coffee—for the first time since Christmas. Coffee has been one of those things that the sight of, smell of, even the thought of, makes me feel like I’m going to wretch. The coffee I had on Saturday didn’t taste quite like it did to me in my pre-pregnancy days (most things haven’t tasted quite right since Fig has been present), but it was still really comforting to try it again.

My mom and dad brought me a bouquet of irises, my favorite flowers. The next morning—when I awoke to snow on the ground—it was nice to see the flowers while snow swirled outside.


Another positive thing to note is that by now (19 weeks), I am pretty sure I have felt Fig moving around. Other women have described it as feeling like butterflies or popcorn popping or even gas, but to me, it feels more like a muscle twinge. Kind of like the pinging you might feel in your legs after a long walk/run/bike ride (or is it just me that gets that?) I’d actually felt this abdominal pinging for a while and thought that it was really was just a type of muscle twinge—resulting from organs shifting around or expanding. And maybe it partially is. But I’ve realized that there are some distinctive thumps and taps, and I have decided to conclude that this is Fig. Once after I had gotten home from a walk and was resting on the couch, I felt a thump, thump, thump, and I actually laughed out loud—just picturing Fig taking his or her little arm and smacking the wall of my uterus as if to say, “Hey mom, why did you stop walking all of a sudden?”

I’m not sure if one semi-happy post can counteract all the nausea-induced gloom and doom posts I’ve been writing, but at least it’s a start. Hopefully there are more to come. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A long post about nausea

(Sensitive information about vomit and then a bit of a rant follows. Read at your own risk)

My whole life, I’ve had severe motion sickness. When I was little, I couldn’t get into a car without a “choke bowl” (usually an empty Cool-Whip container). I have distinct memories of the journey across town to my aunt’s house—I can still see the roadside littered with the puke dumped out of my Cool-Whip bowl and the kleenexes used to wipe off my face. Over the years, I somehow learned to suppress the vomit reflex but was always left with the nausea. It was a useful skill to have. There are many times when it is inopportune to puke, such as a taxi-cab in Paris, a bus in Ireland (Amy, you will remember this), or your in-laws’ mini-van. I’m not quite sure how I do it… maybe it’s part self-hypnosis, part meditation, part mystery. But what has resulted is that over the years I’ve become so good at suppressing the urge to vomit, that it is very, very difficult for me to throw up.

Since becoming pregnant with Fig, I’ve thrown up 81 times. All but about 3 of these times were between week 5 and 11-ish, at which point I went on Zofran. The most I ever threw up in one day was 9 times, which really isn’t that much compared to a lot of women who’ve had all-out hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). During a typical day, I would only throw up 4 or 5 times (some women with HG throw up 20 times or more). The problem was, of course, the nausea. To get me to throw up even once—much less 4, 5, or even 9 times—required no small feat. Generally, I would wake up in the morning… feeling sick. Sometimes I would puke once or more. I might eat, or might not eat; either way, the nausea would rise to a deafening crescendo that would leave me motionless in bed for several hours, until finally around 1pm I would throw up. There might be a few more hours of lying in bed before I threw up again. Usually it would get worse around 5 or 6pm, and I’d throw up several times in the evenings. On more than one occasion, I’d be puking when Rob came in the door after work/swimming/biking/running or whatever it was he had going on.

Most of the time when I threw up, my stomach was empty to begin with, so I didn’t have to contend with chunks of food. And I preferred it this way. Stomach acid is not pleasant, but I got used to throwing it up. There were times, however, when I would become ridiculously, freakishly, out-of-control, crazy-hungry. Desperate enough to have eaten roast beef it had been placed in front of me (thank god it wasn’t). I ate some very strange things during this time, and unfortunately I learned what it was like to throw each of them up. Below is a list—a guide, if you will—from the terrible to the downright pleasant.

Things that were terrible
  • Rice
  • Nectarines
  • Blackberries
  • Campbell’s Vegetarian Vegetable Soup (who would have thought it would be so bad?)
  • Healthy Choice Vegetarian Vegetable Soup (again, who would have thought?)

Things that ought to be outlawed by the Geneva Convention
  • Dairy. ( Oh. My. God. Dairy. ) The single worst experience of my life may have been throwing up cheese tortellini. Tied with the time I threw up tapioca pudding. Let us not speak of this again.

Things that weren’t so bad
  • Water
  • Gatorade
  • Herbal tea
  • Ginger-Ale (burny and zingy on the way back up, but I could handle it).
  • Pretzels
  • Baked potato (at the time I recall being surprised that this wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. But remembering it now makes my heart stop a little. I haven’t eaten potato since this incident).
  • Grapefruit (people told me that puking citrus was abominable; I actually didn’t think it was that bad).

Things that were surprisingly pleasant
  • Strawberry jello (leaves a nice aftertaste)
  • Honeycomb cereal, dry. (Seriously. It was not only not bad, I would go as far to say it was actually enjoyable. It digests remarkably quickly [like 15 minutes], and on the way up, it tastes good).

It isn’t always food that makes me nauseated. At my worst, taking a shower almost always made me throw up, but then again, going too long without taking a shower made me sick as well. I couldn’t stand the scent of unscented soap. I couldn’t wash my hair, wash dishes, scrub floors, vacuum, clean anything, fold laundry, turn on the stove, be in close proximity to people, ride in a car, ride my bike, or sometimes even walk.

It’s been tough, but what got me through worst of this was the thought that one day it would become something to laugh about—just a passing memory. Unfortunately, I have not quite made it to that point. At this precise moment when I’m writing, I feel okay. But I’m coming off 2 days when I felt like hell and had to lie in bed trying to breathe my way through the nausea. I found out the hard way that even though I am nearly halfway through this pregnancy, if I try to go off Zofran, I end up puking like it’s week 9 all over again.

When this whole pregnancy-induced-nausea began, I was actually pretty calm about it. I know from all the marathons I’ve run that the worst thing you can do is let negative thoughts creep into your brain, because once you do, all hell breaks loose. So I refused to let myself be anything other than calm. I didn’t even take it one day at a time—I just got through one minute and then would move onto the next. And I constantly reassured myself that this too would pass. It would all be over soon, and the only way out was through.

It’s gotten harder as the weeks continue to go on and I’ve passed several points of no return (I’ll feel better by Valentines’ Day… by week 16… by week 18…). The other night, when I was in the depths of a nauseated despair (all sense of calm having flown out the window), I started to get angry too. Over the years, a lot of people have said some incredibly rude and inappropriate things to me regarding my lack of procreation. I thought of these people and the things they had said to me, and all I wanted to do was smash my fist into a wall and scream something to the effect of ARE YOU HAPPY NOW??!! ARE YOU !@#$%^* HAPPY?? But I didn’t do that, and eventually I fell asleep and felt better in the morning.

I wrote all this down because as difficult as it has been at times, I want to remember it. People tell me that I’ll forget about this part eventually, and that I’ll want to have another kid—a sibling for Fig. I don’t know what the future holds. I said I would never, ever, have a baby, but now here I am, doing this. What I do know is that if somebody makes a remark about future progeny and I am in the wrong frame of mind, my likely response will be to strangle them.

Hoping for minimal nausea in week 19. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The state of my vegan-ness

Several people have asked if I’m remaining vegan or vegetarian while pregnant, so I thought I’d write an update about that.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to stay vegan, but I am still a vegetarian. I had every intention of remaining vegan throughout the pregnancy, but I also had no intention of developing hyperemesis gravidarum. When the first waves of nausea overtook me back at Christmas, I was unprepared for the onslaught on my digestive system and appetite. My mother had prepared a boatload of lovely vegan food for Rob and me, but just the sight of it brought bile to my throat. Fruits, vegetables, beans, soy—all if it somehow caused my innards to experience a full-fledged panic attack that ended in me kneeling before the toilet. What I found was that I was starving, but there was virtually no food in existence that didn’t provoke raging, nearly sentient nausea. Well, virtually no food. At Christmas dinner, I was horrified to realize that the ham everyone was eating actually looked good. What was the matter with me? I struggled through it, but eventually, I needed something, anything to eat. I realized that cheese and crackers sounded good. After much debate, I finally decided, so be it. If eating cheese and crackers would keep me from diving into the Christmas ham, then I would do it. So I ate cheese and crackers, but just like everything else, they tasted terrible. And that’s how I stopped being vegan.

I had hoped that this strange new nausea and my vegan-lapse would be temporary and fleeting. I was not prepared for the endless days and weeks of vomiting and the extreme desperation it would leave me feeling. If any food ever sounded even remotely like I could chew and swallow it, I attempted to eat it, whatever it was. The strange thing was, as averse as I was to vegetables and tofu, I was equally as averse to dairy, eggs, and meat. But every once and a while, without warning, something disgusting like roast beef or a glass of chocolate milk would sound good. On the latter occasion, I drug my vomit-crusted self to the store and bought an obscenely expensive carton of organic chocolate milk. Came home, drank 2 glasses of it (the first milk I have drunk since circa 2001), and then never touched it again. That time, luckily, I kept it down. Other times with my random food desires, I wasn’t so lucky. Two of the most truly horrifying experiences of my life involve throwing up 1) cheese tortellini –and- 2) tapioca pudding. These two incidents put a halt to my already minimal dairy consumption.

At this point in the game, I find dairy to be mainly revolting, but I haven’t been able to resume la vida vegan because of the incidentals. Egg and dairy are in an awful lot of foods that you’d never suspect, and in truth, I just don’t feel like fighting it. Being vegan often requires the ability and wherewithal to either prepare/bring your own food all the time, or to be willing to go without. I definitely don’t have the energy for that struggle right now. I just don’t feel like worrying about whether there is milk powder in the bun of the portabella mushroom sandwich I get at Crane Alley after yoga class, or asking them to withhold the feta cheese and pesto sauce (which undoubtedly also contains cheese) in addition to the red onions, which definitely make me ill. I have finally—thankfully—reached the point where some soy products are appetizing again. This week, I heard somebody mention chicken nuggets (which initially sounded revolting), but later when I was at the grocery store trying to figure out what I could eat, I saw that Morningstar had some Vegetarian Chik’n Tenders, and I simply had to have them. They contain egg whites and milk ingredients, which—under the circumstances—I decided to overlook. In other words, if I cannot taste that I am eating egg or dairy, then I will grudgingly do it. I have to admit, it does feel pretty weird to eat stuff like this. Rob and I used to eat veggie burgers every once and a while, but seriously, in over 11 years of being a vegetarian, I have never been a fan of fake meat products like that. I always felt like fake meat was the epitome of lame. With the whole pregnancy-induced nausea thing though, all bets are off. I’m just trying to hang in there and do the best that I can.

At this point—or even before, I suppose—I guess most people would wonder why I’d even want to be vegan at all. Let me point out that I’m opposed to evangelism in all forms, so I don’t want this blog to sound like a lame bumpersticker that’s been designed with the vain hope of converting a few tailgaters. Do what you want; I’m not here to tell you what to eat. But I will say that I am not a vegan because I think that animals are cute and furry (though—with the exception of cows—many of them are). I think if people really knew how the animal products they are eating actually get to their plates and what is in them, there would be a lot more vegans out there. I cannot even begin to comment on the horrors of the meat industry; this is neither the time nor the place. But dairy. It annoys the hell out of me when pregnant women are told to drink milk or consume dairy products for the sake of calcium. There are infinitely more efficient ways of getting calcium. Even if you eat organic dairy (which somewhat eliminates the issue of consuming antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides), there is still an acceptable amount of pus and fecal matter that the USDA allows in the dairy products sold to American consumers. Pus and fecal matter. That is why I am doing the best that I can to avoid dairy and why I wish that I were doing much better at it. For the foreseeable future, I am 100% responsible for Fig’s growth and development. And dairy is some nasty shit (literally) that I definitely don’t want to put into Fig’s little bod.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

18 weeks (give or take a few days)

Here is a picture of Fig from the ultrasound we had yesterday. The whole time, Fig was moving around like a little fish. I was actually pretty surprised to see that, since I haven’t felt Fig move at all (at least I don’t think I have). At one point, Fig did wave his/her little arms, and when the technician was trying to look at Fig’s feet, he/she was moving them around and rubbing them together. We could actually see Fig’s little heart beating. I think my favorite thing though, was Fig’s vertebral column. It was so bright and lovely.

And just for good measure, here's a grainy web-cam picture of my belly. I weigh probably about what I did in high school... my pre-vegan, pre-marathon running days!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Learning to Breathe

I’ve never been good at breathing. It sounds weird, I know. I tend to breathe shallowly yet sparsely, so I sometimes get out of breath just sitting around. I really don’t know why I do this. It may be partially because at least one side of my nose always seems stuffed up; another factor may be that I am kind of high-strung and often feel like a hamster spinning in a wheel.

A few times in my life, I’ve tried to do yoga, but it has always been difficult for me—mainly because of the breathing. I could never get the hang of how you're supposed to inhale doing certain poses and exhale doing others. But now is the time to get serious about learning how to breathe. A lot of what we do in prenatal yoga focuses on breathing, and I’m also reading Marie Mongan’s HypnoBirthing, which describes and 3 different types of breathing used to induce a state of relaxation. HypnoBirthing is so focused on breathing that Mongan insists the need to “push” is a medical myth, and all you really need to do is “breathe” your baby out. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I figure that just in case she’s right—it’s high time I learned how to breathe. Unfortunately, without the accompanying $300-$600 class (that isn’t even offered anywhere in my area), I’m not sure how much good the book HypnoBirthing is really going to do me.

To this end, I plan on having a doula. In the next couple weeks, I will be meeting with two local doulas to see which, if either, to hire. Maybe both a doula and a midwife is a bit of an overkill, but I’m willing to do anything to avoid the traditional hospital-birth experience that seems to end up in induction, pitocin, epidural, failure to progress, and c-section. My greatest fear in life is of invasive abdominal surgery. (It used to be spiders, but Nicaragua sort of took care of that). I am already displeased with the medical interventions I’ve accept so far. Mainly, the hyperemesis gravidarum and accompanying Zofran.

Speaking of which. I am now over 17 weeks pregnant, and still nauseated. Most of week 16 was fairly unpleasant, but then I had a couple of good days in a row, and I decided I am just going to be over this!. I mean, come on; it’s getting ridiculous. So I’m now more than halfway through Day 2 with no Zofran at all. And the results? Well, the side effects of Zofran have started to diminish a tiny bit, but last night I had to leave Frida’s party early because I was feeling so sick. I was able to sleep for a few hours last night, but then was kept awake by the unrelenting nausea. I came the closest to throwing up that I’ve been since initially going on Zofran, but I managed to keep it in. I almost broke down and took a Zofran this morning, but have made it this far, so I kind of just want to see what happens. It seems like I’m actually starting to feel a little bit better now, so I’m hoping the worst is behind me. Besides, it’s hard to say if this really has much to do with the Zofran anyway. I had a couple of nights like that last week when I was still taking it, so it’s definitely possible that this can happen even with the meds. We’ll see how this pans out.

Next week I have another prenatal appointment, and I will be having the Big Ultrasound—which they typically do sometime between the 16 to 20 week mark. Nowadays, most people find out the sex of their baby at this appointment. In fact, whenever I tell people that I’m pregnant, pretty much the first thing they ask (after when is the due date) is if it’s a boy or a girl. I hate to disappoint you all, but Rob and I have decided to keep the sex a surprise! So you’re just going to have to keep reading the blog until Fig’s birthday if you want to find out whether Fig is a he or a she!

Well, I’d better wind this up. It’s almost a little nice outside and Fig would like to go for a walk or run. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 9, 2009

16 weeks

I sent a draft of my dissertation to SL today. All 8 chapters, 210 pages and 47,859 words of it. All 49 figures and 43 tables of it. It was a 7.4 MB file. I still don’t have a conclusion and future research chapter, and I haven’t even begun to make the bibliography. Those alone will probably add at least another 50 pages. And of course I have no idea what in the world my committee is going to think of this draft. The final version could end up taking many more months and only resemble loosely (or not at all) what I sent SL today. The ultimate goal is to get this completed and defended before Fig arrives, which is now closing in on 5 months. That may sound like a lot of time to those not enmeshed in academia, but considering that it’s taken me more than a year and half to get this far, the next 5 months will go by pretty quickly. Plus, a defense after May (when the semester is over) is looking fairly unlikely. My department does allow summer defenses, but at least one of my committee members may have plans to be doing field research until mid-August, which puts us dangerously close to Fig’s estimated birthday. If I went into labor while defending my dissertation, perhaps my committee would become sympathetic, expedite their signing of the necessary forms to officially make me Dr. Ragfield, and then take me to the hospital. But in reality, I could never actually schedule my defense the same week as Fig’s due date… who knows when Fig will actually decide to make his/her entrance into the world. On the plus side, if I do have to postpone my defense until after Fig is born, I’ll at least be able to have a beer at the after-party.

At any rate, we’ve made it to 16 weeks. Numerous women who have suffered horrifying morning sickness (including Dooce… yes, I read Dooce...) have reported that relief came at 16 weeks. I had assured myself that I’d feel better at 12 weeks (which came and went), and then 13, and then 14, and so on. In truth, I do feel better now than I did, but I am still not nearly back to normal. The smell of anything and everything is enough to bring me to my knees. And just the thought of any food other than whatever I am currently craving reinitiates the nausea (but Zofran still keeps me from throwing up). Food is definitely a challenge. It is difficult to be a vegetarian but have severe aversions to virtually all vegetables and most soy products. The biggest improvement I’ve had so far is that now I can stomach cereal and soymilk again, which helps immensely. That is something quick and reasonably healthy to eat when all else fails. I’ve also expanded the repertoire of fruits that I can eat: grapes and the occasional pear are now palatable. And as always, most things in cake or cookie form are generally welcome.

My major current food of choice is still—you guessed it—avocados. My need for avocados has become ridiculous. Many days I eat 2 whole avocados. I know that they are fairly healthy as far as food goes, but they are obscenely high in fat, especially when eaten in that quantity. And believe me, I would probably eat 10 per day if I would allow myself or could afford it. Sometimes I just eat them straight, and sometimes I mash them up and mix them with salt and lime juice. Lately I’ve been heating up frozen corn (an actual vegetable!) and then eating that with my avocado-mash.

It is somewhat ironic, then, that this week Fig is supposedly the size of an avocado. According to the internet, Fig is around 4.5 inches from crown to rump—which is actually much larger than the avocados I usually eat. It will be very interesting to one day find out if Fig likes to eat avocados him or herself.


Alright, a wave of nighttime nausea has just hit me, so it's time to listen to my hypnobirth CD and then go to sleep. Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Should I send this?

Dear Mr. Stewart,

I am writing to you in response to a segment you aired on February 26, 2009, regarding the recent chimpanzee attack on a woman living in Connecticut and the ensuing legislation to ban interstate primate pet trade. You repeatedly referred to chimpanzees as “monkeys” during this segment, including showing an icon of a chimpanzee coupled with the phrase “Felonious Monkeys.” On behalf of the primatological community, I must inform you this terminology is incorrect; in fact, chimpanzees are apes and not monkeys.

Both apes and monkeys are members of the order Primates, but there are many differences between these two categories. Compared to monkeys, apes are characterized by having more flexible shoulders, larger body sizes, larger relative brains, longer infant dependence, and simpler molars. In addition, perhaps the most salient difference between apes and monkeys is that apes do not have tails, whereas monkeys do. Apes include chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons. These species are entirely confined to Africa and Asia, and most are highly endangered.

Incessant media misrepresentation of primates makes it very difficult for educators to teach students the proper terminology for these taxa. In a course I recently taught, a full 40% of students missed the true/false exam question: “A chimpanzee is a monkey” despite the fact that I had explained the material to them thoroughly, specifically told them that this question would be on the exam, and even reviewed the differences between apes and monkeys in the class period immediately preceding the exam.

I implore you to use the correct terminology in future segments on your program that may be primate-themed, and I kindly thank you for your attention on this issue.

Melissa R.
PhD Candidate