Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Electric Slide

Fig does this thing sometimes that we call the “Electric Slide.” It often seems like I don’t feel Fig move as much as other pregnant women feel their babies move, but I think Fig just has a different way of moving. It involves less kicking and more sliding. Yesterday I was sitting here working on my dissertation and I felt the Electric Slide again. Fig firmly planted the foot (well, I think it’s a foot, but it could be anything I suppose) making my stomach rise in that area what seemed to be at least 2 inches. Unlike a kick, which would have been a quick jab, Fig kept the foot there for a while, right at the top of my stomach. Then Fig began slowly sliding the foot down… I could see the protrusion on my stomach move as Fig did this. After traversing a certain distance, Fig powerfully returned the foot to the top of my stomach.

I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically. As in, I was laughing so hard that tears actually started streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t really know what to do about this firmly planted foot, so I rubbed it. I thought maybe Fig wanted a foot rub. Fig pressed the foot harder and seemed to give a giant stretch—I could feel the whole little body extending through the entire length of my belly. I thought, the poor dear must be terribly cramped in there. I tried to sit up very straight and tall to give Fig more room.

Today I’ve been doing Fig’s laundry. Three loads to be exact. It was blisteringly hot outside—nearly 90 degrees and sunny, with what feels like 900% humidity. Adding a few clouds to tone down the sun would have made it perfect, but then Fig’s little clothes wouldn’t have dried as fast.

Tiny clothes

Tiny socks

I also got a chance to see a couple of old friends from high school who were both in town this weekend. It was a lot of fun catching up, even though the time went by so quickly.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 15, 2009

San Francisco 2009, Part 2 (of 2)

I suppose I left off on Wednesday. Laura and I went to Golden Gate Park, all the way over on the west end of the city. It required kind of a long bus ride, and since I started off the day in a haze of bone-crunching nausea, this did not bode well. I had hoped that the fresh air of the park would revive me, but no dice. I felt bad that my infirmities were slowing us down because although I’d been to the park last year, this was Laura’s first visit. She was a good sport and assured me that she was fine with taking it easy. We managed to visit the Rose Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, Stowe Lake, and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. Crummy as I felt, I wanted to stay in the park as long as I could because I did not relish the bus ride all the way back downtown.

I didn’t take too many pictures, as a result of my general crumminess, and also because I have a plethora of photos of these same places from just one year ago.

Rose Garden

Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden

On Wednesday night, Rob and I walked up to the Embarcadero from our hotel. We found some dinner, watched the sunset on Pier 19, and then took the California Street cable car just for fun.

Melissa & Rob

Thursday morning, as I recall, I went up to Fisherman’s Wharf on my own for a little more souvenir shopping. I think I may have actually worked on my dissertation in the afternoon, or maybe just slept off some nausea. Perhaps both. Thursday evening, Rob and I went back up to the wharf area again, where we had an overpriced, terrible dinner (what could have been a lovely pasta primavera was smothered in alfredo sauce. I think I got heart disease just looking at it). As if my fat cells hadn’t exploded enough, we went onto Ghirardelli Square, where we split a brownie sundae. It was the best thing I had ever tasted in my entire life. I vowed to never eat again, but I woke up at 3am with Fig kicking and my stomach growling.

Rob's classy photo of Ghirardelli Square

Rob's classy photo of the Powell-Mason cable car

On Friday, I was eager to walk off the excess alfredo and sundae from the night before. While Rob did a long bike ride to El Diablo (I’m sure he’ll blog about it), I decided to go up to Telegraph Hill. On my way, I walked to the Redwood Park by the Transamerica Pyramid.

Fig and I paused to hug some trees

Then I proceeded to Telegraph Hill. I walked up Kearney Street the whole way, which is so steep in places that it is closed to traffic. I took it slow and rested a lot on the way up.

Coit Tower stands in a park on top of Telegraph Hill. There were some really great views from the park. I also went inside the tower and took the elevator up to the top. It was neat to go up there, but kind of cold and also encased in glass, so it was hard to get any good pictures.

Coit Tower

Golden Gate Bridge from Coit Tower

Downtown from Coit Tower

Lombard Street from Coit Tower

Alcatraz Island from Coit Tower

I left Telegraph Hill via Lombard Street. It wasn’t quite as steep as Kearney had been on my way up, and I tried to convince myself that this would have been possible with Fig in tow, providing that Fig is as hardy as his/her father and me. I was able to see the crooked section of Lombard Street as I wound my way back down Telegraph Hill. I eventually caught a cable car back to the downtown area. At some point on the return trip, we passed through the filming of a Bollywood movie. I don’t think we’re going to be in it though; it looked like they stopped shooting as our cable car sped by.

Coit Tower on the way down Telegraph Hill

Lombard Street (can kind of see the crooked part at the top of the hill)

Saturday was a big day for Rob and me. After we procured a breakfast smoothie, we took a trolley (sort of an old-timey looking bus) to the Castro to pay our respects at the Harvey Milk Plaza. I loved the Castro. There were rainbow flags everywhere, same sex couples holding hands, guys in short shorts, and even a shop selling onesies with logos like, “I love my two daddies.” I saw a cyclist who was riding down the street with his pet Chihuahua in a backpack—that’s not the crazy part—the crazy part was that the Chihuahua was wearing pink sunglasses. It was great. I stuck out like a gigantic heterosexual pregnant woman, but nobody seemed to care.

The Castro

Harvey Milk Plaza

Flag at Harvey Milk Plaza

Produce market on Castro Street

We ate lunch at a sandwich shop centered around Fig’s favorite food: the avocado. I had the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my entire life. As luck would have it, the sandwich shop was also next to an ice cream shop, which made for a fine dessert.

We then proceeded to walk on the famous Haight Street till we got to Golden Gate Park. We hopped on a bus and took it to Ocean Beach. This became my favorite part of the trip (the ocean part, not the bus ride). I am thrilled to no end that Fig’s has had his or her first trip to the ocean before he or she has even been born.

Melissa in the Pacific

Team Ragfield

Next on our agenda was the Cable Car Museum, which involved a long, nauseating (well, just for Fig and me) bus ride all the way back across town. We finally made it there and it was well worth the trip. Seriously, the Cable Car Museum is one of the best museums I've ever been to-- and it was free!! Given Rob’s affinity for Things With Wheels, I’m sure he’ll blog all about it and post the pictures that he took (eventually). In addition to the displays, I was also really thrilled with the gift shop, where I found a couple of cute little things for Fig (Fig really lucked out with the souvenirs on this trip).

By this point, it had been a long day, involving much public transportation. We eventually took a bus back to our hotel (but not before stopping for one last brownie-to-go at Ghirardelli Square). I was completely beat, and that brownie (while amazing) pushed me over the edge in terms of nausea. I managed to get my stuff packed up and then crashed in bed, most likely crying a little because I felt like hell.

All day Sunday we spent traveling home—again without incident (except a minor delay to one of our flights). Nobody asked to see my doctor’s note, and I didn’t experience any of the complications that the Internet seems to indicate will happen to you if you travel while you’re pregnant. Take that, Internet. I was hell of nauseous though, and I still am. It’s wearing quite thin these days, I have to admit. Two months to go.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

San Francisco 2009 (Part 1 of I don’t know how many)

*Note: I've added a few more pictures since I originally posted this.

Just about every year that Rob has worked for Wolfram, he has attended the WWDC in San Francisco. Last year, I came with him for the first time, and I loved it so much I decided to come back with him again this year. Besides, it will be our last trip that’s just the two of us. Even though Fig is with us now I suppose (well, one of us at least), and regularly makes his or her presence known with little kicks, jabs, somersaults, and in general pressing on mama’s bladder. It’s still a heck of a lot easier right now than traveling with a child, who I am told will require all sorts of cumbersome paraphernalia (please, refrain from reminding me how cumbersome my life is about to become).

We booked the ticket ages ago, and then just about a week before we came, I listened to a PregTASTIC podcast (one of my favorite pregnancy resources) while I was running (yes, I still run; get over it) that just happened to be about traveling while pregnant. They had an expert on who gave advice and one of the things that she seemed to stress was that you need to have a document from your doctor indicating it is safe for you to travel. Because apparently if you look “too pregnant” when going through security, you can be denied entrance onto the plane. Just like that. Unless you have a note from your doctor. If I wouldn’t have been outside when I heard that, I would have hit the roof.

Although I thought that this was quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard of, I’ll be damned if anyone is going to tell me I can’t get on a freaking plane because I’m pregnant, so I got a note from my “doctor” (who I have never actually seen—I just see the midwife). My name is misspelled. But whatever.

So we went to the airport on Sunday and I tried to wear something that made me look svelte (not a chance) and gave Rob explicit instructions to say (if asked) that I was only 25 weeks pregnant (as opposed to 29). But nobody asked or even seemed to care that I was hugely pregnant, and I got on the plane without incident. The flight was also without incident. I had been warned that I would have aches, pains, swelling, deep vein thrombosis, and premature labor. But none of that happened. In fact, I wasn’t even nauseated. Let me reiterate. I wasn’t even nauseated. I have been nauseated and/or vomiting since December 21. But put me on a plane—which is guaranteed to make me nauseated and/or vomit even when I’m not pregnant—and I’m suddenly fine. I credit Zofran.

After we got to San Francisco, we got settled in and walked around for a bit. I had forgotten how cold and windy this city is. We decided to get 7-day transportation passes and after that, we took the cable car up to Fisherman's Wharf and eventually found a place for dinner.

Monday morning started early. Rob got up around 5:30 and was gone on his bike as the sun rose. He got back in time to get in line for the Keynote by about 7:15. By that time, the line already had around 1400 people in it (and the Keynote wasn’t even going to start until 10am). It wasn’t long before I met up with my friend Laura, who had also come to WWDC with her husband. The two of us traversed every square inch of Chinatown and also did some shopping (mainly window shopping) at Union Square. After spending about 6 hours on our feet, we came back to the hotel to rest. I ended up being restless, knowing that there was a pool in the hotel. So I poured myself into my maternity swimsuit and went to “swim” a couple of laps. (I don’t really “swim.” It was just nice to get in the water and feel weightless for a little bit).

By the time Rob got done for the evening, I was exhausted and fighting off both nausea and hunger. Since I was beyond the point of forming thoughts or speaking, Rob got us to an Indian restaurant for dinner. After eating my weight and Fig’s combined in naan and chickpeas, I requested decidedly non-vegan ice cream for dessert, and I started feeling better.

Before we went to sleep, I showed Rob a few of the small purchases I had made during the day. One of the things I got was a book for Fig at the Paul Frank store. I had really wanted to get Fig a cute little outfit there, but they had nothing neutral for infants of unknown gender. So I settled for the book. In the long run, I’m sure that’s better, because a book will far outlast baby clothing. As I showed Rob the book, I started reading it to him. He pulled the covers up to his chin and was fast asleep by the time I finished. I think Fig liked the book too.

Tuesday was another early morning. For Rob at least. He got up and rode lord knows how many miles before the conference started for the day. Laura and I hung out near the hotel for a couple of hours in the morning and then ended up meeting up with Rob for lunch at Union Square, where we watched the 47th Annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest.

Then Laura and I went on a “walking tour” of Russian Hill that I had found in a guidebook I brought. The book described this walk as “strenuous,” and that was not an understatement. We went through Ina Coolbrith Park, was amazingly beautiful, but I think I may have gotten a little bit of altitude sickness just from the climb up there. The view from the top was worth it though. We saw Coit Tower, the Bay Bridge, and the skyscrapers of the city (including the Transamerica Pyramid). As our walk continued, we headed down Lombard Street—the crookedest street in the world. We modified the walk a bit at the end so that we could hit Swenson’s Ice Cream on the way back—the guide book called it “one of San Francisco’s tastiest landmarks.” It did not disappoint.

Coit Tower

Transamerica Pyramid and other buildings

Bay Bridge

Lombard Street

Our trip back to the hotel was prolonged because 2 completely full cables cars passed us by, telling us to wait for the next one. Finally, the 3rd completely full cable car took us on, but because no seats were available, we both ended up having to cling to the outside—holding on for dear life. This actually made me more than a little bit nervous, but eventually a seat opened up that I could take, and not too long afterwards we reached our destination.

There was a bit of resting before the guys got home and we all headed for dinner at a kind of fancy Mediterranean restaurant. Laura and I were still fortified from our late-afternoon Swensons, but we split an order of goat cheese ravioli (also non-vegan), which was quite good.

Who knows what adventures tomorrow will bring?!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Like I said, it’s been hard to write lately. The main readers of this blog are family members, who I feel must have come to expect that the tone of my writing will be perky, upbeat, and cute. That I’ll write amusing little anecdotes and funny observations I make about pregnancy, all the while going on and on about how wonderful this whole experience is. Though I may smile and nod and otherwise act pleasant when face to face with people, in reality, this couldn’t be farther from how I feel.

For the most part, it seems like it’s me and Fig against the world. Maybe there are a few people out there who are actually not considering calling child social services because I don’t want to give birth in a hospital, but it seems like those few are definitely outnumbered. I generally just try to stay quiet on such controversial topics as home birth and cloth diapering when I’m in mixed company, because I feel that the general consensus is that I’m a first time mother—a newb as it were—and I really don’t have the right to have an opinion on things I haven’t experienced. Which is probably true. But trust me, I have an opinion. A very, very strong opinion. On everything.

The current system of maternity care in this country—and particularly in this state—infuriates me beyond reason. And what is even more infuriating is that people buy into it. There is this idea out there that women’s bodies are so inferior, so incompetent, so completely deficient and inadequate that giving birth is a medical crisis only made possible through the use of synthetic hormones and narcotics and a man (invariably) in a white lab coat that hooks you up to all sorts of machines and makes you lie flat on your back. And then he has to heroically intercede with a surgical procedure, forceps, or vacuum extractor when these interventions make it otherwise impossible for you to get the baby out. So you’re left thinking that being in the hospital with this doctor saved your life and the baby’s life and that newbs like me are crazy hippies who just ought to shut the @#$% up.

“Trust your doctor” seems to be the refrain people say to me, and even if they don’t say it, I swear can hear them think it. I feel this is na├»ve. I’ve heard and read stories of what the era of twilight sleep was like. You go to the hospital in labor, your husband is not allowed in the room, the doctor gives you anesthesia and you are rendered completely unconscious. You wake up at some point later with a giant episiotomy and are told, “It’s a boy,” or “It’s a girl” and eventually when you are able to move again, you are taken down to the nursery and shown which baby is yours. Maybe the doctor gives you an injection to dry up your milk, or maybe you are just told not to bother with breastfeeding because formula is just as good, if not better. I do not know what the pain of labor is like, but I don’t see how it outweigh the horrifyingly empty and hollow disconnection (not to mention anger) I would feel at being subjected to this process.

Maybe in some ways though, twilight sleep was better than what seems to be the typical hospital birth experience for women today. It seems like hospitals routinely use pitocin to control or speed up labor—to the extent to which people regard it as harmless or even necessary. What the doctors don’t tell you is that pitocin makes contractions artificially strong, and the strength of these contractions (as opposed to normal uterine contractions) disrupts oxygen flow to the baby and can cause fetal distress. Moreover, the ramped up pitocin-contractions makes having some kind of pain relief—mainly, an epidural—almost mandatory. Sure an epidural will take away the pain (for most people at least) and I am routinely told that it is a lifesaver and that I will want/need it. But it can also cause your blood pressure to drop, which in turn causes both yours and the baby’s heart rate to drop (which is apparently not a good thing). It can slow the process of labor, which is not good, since most doctors put women on a strict timeline to deliver and will just cut them open if they’re not progressing fast enough. Even if labor keeps on moving, an epidural can prevent the baby from getting into a good position to be born. I suppose this is mainly because getting the baby into a good position often requires the mother to move—such as squatting or being on all fours—which is rendered impossible when you cannot move from the waist down and you are hooked up to an IV and various fetal monitors. Because of this it’s hard to get the baby out, so apparently the result is in increased use of forceps, vacuum extraction, episiotomy, and even emergency c-section.

Oh, and the fetal monitors. Mandatory in most hospitals, I guess. They put these bands around you that monitor the baby’s heart rate and your vital signs and that pretty much force you to lie immobile. The idea is that they will show any type of heart rate anomaly in the baby that indicates it is in distress. But when used continuously (rather than intermittently), these monitors can apparently show problems that do not really exist and what results may be an unnecessary emergency c-section (and all the complications that come with that, which is way beyond the scope of this post). The whole idea behind continuous fetal monitoring was that it was supposed to reduce infant deaths and instances of cerebral palsy, but apparently this practice has caused neither of these things to happen. Mainly just an increase in c-sections. In my case, if I tell them I want intermittent (instead of continuous) monitoring, they will allow this (supposedly), as long as there are no signs of fetal distress. But if I do get the epidural like people tell me I will, then I am pretty sure the monitoring will have to be continuous. And if they decide they’re going to put me on pitocin, the monitoring has to be continuous as well.

Oh, and the food and liquid restriction. Maybe some hospitals allow you to eat and drink while you’re in labor, but the one where I have to give birth does not. Once you walk in those doors, you cannot eat or drink anything until after the baby is born. God forbid they should need to do an emergency c-section on you because of a malfunctioning fetal monitor and you should aspirate on some undigested food. Even though this is only possible if they give you general anesthesia rather than an epidural, which is apparently exceedingly rare. At any rate, they give you a mandatory IV instead, to keep you hydrated (but does nothing to replenish your energy). Having an IV contributes to your lack of mobility (again preventing you from getting the baby in a good position), plus too much IV fluid in the mother can apparently cause the baby to have low blood sugar, low blood sodium, respiratory problems, or even seizures when it is born. But they don’t tell you that. And they don’t tell you that involuntary fasting makes you exceedingly weak and may even lead to an emergency c-section because you just don’t have the strength to get the baby out (particularly because you are completely unaided by gravity, hooked up to things and lying down). People tell me this won’t be too big of a deal because during labor I won’t be hungry anyway. This is probably true. During marathons (which only last around 4 hours) I am usually not hungry. But if I don’t eat or drink during a marathon, I know what happens. Me, sobbing on the side of the road saying, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t @#$%^&* do this.” If I eat and drink during a marathon—even if I don’t want to—I’m still smiling at the finish line.

Many will be aware that I have mentioned I am seeing a midwife rather than a doctor. This is true. She is a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), which is the only kind of midwife legally allowed to practice in the state of Illinois. CNMs are only allowed to practice in hospitals, under the supervision of an obsetrician. My CNM wears a white lab coat. She is not a little old lady wearing a babushka who will chant over me and sprinkle herbs on me when I am giving birth. She is a nurse practitioner who has had additional years of training in delivering babies. If anything goes wrong (as I am so frequently cautioned that it will), she will call in the OB, who will cut me open without a moment’s hesitation.

Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs), those who attend home births, are not legally allowed to practice in the state of Illinois. It is not illegal to have a home birth, it is just illegal to have anyone attend you. There is this sort of underground home birth community in various parts of the state; apparently there are CPMs who practice illegally, but so far I have been unable to get any names. It’s all very secretive because the CPM risks going to prison if found out.

Birth centers are also illegal in the state of Illinois. I have no idea why.

I do have a doula, which is the one shred of hope I am clinging to at this point. I pretty much hired her on the spot because within 5 seconds of meeting, she told me that (so long as there was no meconium and I didn’t have a fever) she would lie about when my water broke (so I wouldn’t be subjected to the hospital’s artificial countdown to c-section time clock), she would sneak me food and drink in the hospital, and she would keep visitors out of the room during the delivery and as long as I needed to afterwards to bond with the baby. She can come to my house and support me in early labor but ultimately, we must transfer to the hospital because it is illegal for her to assist in home births. We only live like 10 minutes away from the hospital (if that even), so I hope that I can just wait it out at home until I feel like pushing. It may ruin Rob’s plans for us to ride the tandem bike to the hospital though. Plus, we might have to get a tarp for the Prius, just in case I misjudge the timing. (But not the good tarp, I want Fig to get married on that tarp. [That is a modified quote from the Simpsons]).

I imagine that everyone who typically reads my blog is duly horrified at my irreverence right now. Most of the information from the diatribe I’ve written above comes from various books I’ve been reading on natural childbirth. The most recent is Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, published in 2003. Ina May Gaskin is a CPM who was a founder of community called The Farm in the 1960’s. In 30 years, midwives at The Farm have attended 2,028 births, over 95% of which were completed at home (less than 5% involved transfer to a hospital, only around 1% were actual emergencies). Their c-section rate is 1.4% (compared to the over 30% c-section rate in the average US hospital). Almost 70% of these mothers gave birth without any perineal damage. Forceps were used 0.5% of the time, and vacuum extraction just 0.05%. I don’t see their statistics on episiotomies, which leads me to believe I’ve either scanned the material too quickly, or they just don’t do it. The Farm has a 99% rate of initiation of breastfeeding. They let women eat and drink at will during labor. Zero maternal deaths have occurred. Eight infant deaths have occurred (a rate of 0.39%). It is difficult to come up with comparable neonatal death statistics in US hospitals, but from my best judgment, it seems to be roughly equivalent. I will keep looking.

And I also imagine that everyone is shaking their heads, going “tsk, tsk, tsk” and thinking “She needs to keep an open mind.” Believe me, I’ve been told. Everybody and their brother tells me to keep an open mind. Because childbirth is a crisis and you never know what might happen. You need to just accept what the doctor tells you because the doctor knows best. Both doulas that I interviewed (including the one I hired) told me to keep an open mind. My response to this is a clenched jaw and gritted teeth. Keeping an open mind is kind of bullshit. If I had kept an open mind about any of the 8 marathons I’ve run, how many of them would I have finished? None. Even the ones when I didn’t eat or drink and was sobbing on the side of the road, quitting wasn’t an option. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but eventually, in all 8 of them, I did. It was just really freaking hard. I wish that running marathons would somehow prepare me for having a baby. In fact, a lot of people compare childbirth to running a marathon. Most of these people have never run a marathon, or even 3 continuous miles in their life. I think the two things are essentially incomparable. Marathons have not taught me how to deal with pain, per se. Just how to endure.

My mother tells me that when she had me, she was in labor for something like 26 hours (I’m sure she remembers the exact time frame). When she got to the hospital, they made her lie flat on her back. It made things take forever. She kept telling the doctors, if they’d just let her get up and scrub the floors, she’d have this baby in no time. They wouldn’t let her move. Eventually I was born in spite of gravity and obstetric stupidity. And I was reasonably healthy. That’s all that matters, right?

Wrong. It’s also about the journey.