Archives for category: Pregnancy

Dear Uterus,

Dude, get your shit together! I can’t keep doing this. Every single month, you announce the release of your egg with about as much restraint as Kanye plugging his next terrible album. And in the meantime, you make me go on just about as many nonsensical rants.

Look, I get it. Babies, man. BABIES. They’re amazing. (Well, mine are. I’m not sure about anyone else’s, ammirit, Uterus? Heh, yeah. You know I am.) They’re soft. They’re warm. They have that crazy strong grip. You know the one? When they grab your finger, and it’s like all of the strength in their tiny little bodies is just concentrated in one chubby fist. Just holding on to you with everything they have. Nobody else can do that. Nobody needs you that badly. Only babies. They only want you. They only need you.

And then the smell.

Oh, sweet tap-dancin’ Christ, the smell!!

It’s the smell of angels.

Kids smell like a fart inside of an old egg, dipped in rotten chicken trimmings, but babies? Damn. If they ever figure out how to bottle that stuff, I swear I’m going to buy it, then just sit on my couch, sobbing and lactating.

So, see? I get it. I know how excited you get. I understand it. Really, I do.

But, seriously. We can’t keep doing this dance.

img_20160730_100417911

See? How perfect are we!

I mean, my family is perfect. The girls are incredible. They’re doing new stuff all the time. Sophie is getting so responsible. Do you know she actually put herself to bed the other day? Just looked at me, said, “I’m tired,” then walked up to her room and went to bed! And she knows how to make her own toast. I never have to worry about her burning herself, or putting a fork in the toaster or anything. She just tells me she’s going to make some toast, then, boom. Toast. She amazes me every day.

And Maddie? She’s a riot! She’s still obstinate, and cantankerous, and will never listen to anything I have to say, but I’ll be damned if she doesn’t get away with it. Because she knows that if she can get me laughing, I’ll forgive anything. She’s only three, but she’s seriously one of the wittiest people I’ve ever known.

So, see? We’re good. We’re only having to budget for two sets of Christmas presents. Two college tuitions (Though, really, our girls are such geniuses, you know they’re going to be rocking those full rides, ammirit, Uterus? Ha! Up top, Uterus!). Finding babysitters for two kids is way easier than three. I get to have a craft room. Nobody has to share a room. Nobody has to sacrifice. We got to plant a garden this past summer, for cryin’ out loud!

Dear Uterus, we have to be done. Really.

Because pregnancy sucked. Well, okay, not all of it. Those stretchy pants were pretty awesome. And the feeling of that firm, round belly? Man. Nothing like it. My nails were pretty sick too.

But that’s it!

Well, except for those wiggles. And jabs. Remember how excited the girls would get after dinner? We’d just sit there and watch my belly contort. I always tried to film it. But those things never really turn out. You can’t capture that movement. Not really.

Oh, and do you remember Maddie at the ultrasound? The tech set that wand down, and, BOOM! Maddie’s flipped herself over and is showing everybody that–yup!–there’s a girl in there! The technician was so freaked out. She jerked back, “Woah! Uhhhh. You did want to know the sex, right?”

Oh, dear Uterus. We did have some good times.

And, really, I have to admit that I think about it too. All the time. (Not just when you remind me every 28 days.) I think about how Sophie would love to help. How she would want to feed the baby. And wash the baby. And grab me a million little diapers for the baby. I think about how Maddie, in spite of how crazy she can act sometimes, is so so gentle around anyone smaller than her. How she loves to stroke her cousins’ soft, round cheeks. How, like a wild animal, she just knows–just knows–that these tiny people are things that need her love, her protection. I think about what great big sisters they’d be.

And I think about us. About how scared we were both times. About how he would over think it. Go over every possible scenario. He researched all kinds of potential outcomes, good and bad. We could never be sure that you knew what you were doing, Uterus, so we worried. (Guess we shouldn’t have. You had it all on lock down, didn’t you?) Now, when I talk to him about it–about the maybe–I think that the only things he can remember are the bad scenarios.

And, it’s true. Billions and billions of possible genetic combinations. The odds are good that something could go wrong. I mean, you’re good Uterus, but you’re not perfect. You kicked that last one out a bit too early, right? I mean, you didn’t really bother giving her lungs enough time to develop. Just started to push her out. That was definitely a mistake. And I can’t go back there. Not to the NICU. Not again. I can’t.

But, then again, we’ve already walked through that Hell. We’ve been through it. And we made it. We made it. A little war-weary. But whole.

We keep on making it.

It’s funny, Uterus. Just when you think that you can’t possibly have any more.

Any more patience.

Any more money.

Any more time.

Any more love.

You find a way. You scrape, and weep, and gnash your teeth. But you find it.

And then you find some more.

I do have more.

I do.

I have more.

I just need to find someone to give it to.

Oh, dear, Uterus.

Is someone missing? From you? From me? From us?

After three years, isn’t this feeling supposed to go away? Shouldn’t I know by now? Shouldn’t there be an answer? Or am I calling out to someone who doesn’t exist? Who can’t answer me back?

Oh, dear Uterus. This was going to be our breakup letter. My way of removing myself from your constant guilt and reminders of what could be.

But now? I don’t know.

Maybe it’s not you. Maybe. It’s me.

Signed, Rachel.

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I didn’t sleep well last night. Twice I woke up with intense, sharp pains in my stomach and abdomen.  I told myself that if it happened a third time I’d be waking up Honest Dad and telling him to meet me at Labor and Delivery (I didn’t think that they were contractions, but in a sleepy haze, it’s hard to make these distinctions, and at almost 32 weeks pregnant, it’s better to be on the overly-cautious side).  I was uncomfortable all night.  I knew I was keeping him up.  I tossed.  Lay on my side.  Lay on my back.  Try the other side.  Stack up pillows to prop my head up.  Cross my legs.  Uncross my legs. Kick one foot out of the covers.  Tug on the covers that Honest Dad had stolen (again).  Put my hand under my head.  Fold my hands across my belly.  Pull everything, even my tee shirt, away from my belly and just think about breathing.  Breathe.  Just breathe.  There.  Like that.  Just like that . . .

Alarm.

Instead of waking up Honest Girl to send her to daycare for her usual 7:30 start time, I decided to let her sleep in.  (Poor girl’s working on three molars right now, and those things just look painful.  They’ve reduced my usually easy-going, completely non-picky eater to a pile of tears who can only handle applesauce and mashed potatoes, and who now has to eat her favorite food [cold watermelon] with her front teeth only)  While waiting for my husband’s alarm (set for just a half-hour later than mine), I read a blog post that one of my girlfriends had linked to: The Three Things I Learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: On Being a Radical Scholar.  It was a beautiful post, about how to be an “academic” woman while still being a “whole” woman.  The author argued in favor of openly wearing our femininity, and not feeling ashamed for feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, and, most-importantly, of not feeling guilty or somehow less-than for wanting just a day where we can put our work away—physically and (the nearly impossible task) mentally—and just snuggle and play with our children.  How can a woman be a “radical scholar” while at the same time being a wife and a mother who knows that those things will always rank higher on our priority list than the tenure-track?

One part of the post in particular stopped me cold.  While at a session, the author, Dr. Kate Clancy, was asked, “It is 5 years from today. If you were wildly successful in your work and personal life, what will you have achieved?”  She described the answers that the other women in the room gave:

It was powerful to hear women’s answers all around the room. They gave bold answers: to become a leader in their field, to embody social justice values, to raise a family, to be on the path to becoming a provost, to have several federally funded grants. Like many women, I have been chastised in the past for daring to say that I want to lead a big life. But here was only encouragement and excitement.

I stared at the screen.  With the exception of raising a family, nothing in their answers meshed with my own.  Nothing.  Grants?  Provost?  Leader?  In my head, I started to list all of the things that I wanted to have in five years.  What would it take for me to consider myself “wildly successful”?  I made a quick mental list:

  • Have my girls be intelligent, kind, loving to each other, but still maintain that fierce independence that Honest Girl especially is starting to exhibit (Watching her develop a preference for what hair clip to put in her strawberry blonde hair, or what color socks she should wear, I just think about the final scene of Bull Durham, where Kevin Costner tells Susan Sarandon, “I got a lotta time to hear your theories and I wanta hear every damn one of ’em.” <Sidebar>Best sports movie EVER.</Sidebar>)
  • See my husband advance in his new career.  Not necessarily monetarily, but in terms of his abilities, his passions, his responsibilities, the respect he commands.  And, okay.  Monetarily would be really nice too.
  • Have an article or short story published in the New Yorker, or some other literary magazine, and have regular freelance work for smaller, local publications.
  • Have my novel and memoir completed and at least being looked at by literary agents and publishers.
  • Finally run a half-marathon in a slow but respectable ten-minute-mile pace.
  • Slowly work on our new house and make changes to make it feel more like “us.”  Maybe by the end of those five years, we’ll have enough time and money put away to start tackling the downstairs kitchen and bathroom remodel we keep fantasizing about.
  • Maybe have a third child. A boy.  <Sidebar>Is it wrong that after two girls, I would prefer to have a little boy?  Am I not feminist enough for admitting that?</Sidebar>

And that was it.  Are those “bold answers”?  Do my dreams constitute a “big life”?  Was that “radical” enough?  It certainly doesn’t sound like it.  And where was my PhD in all of this?  How did all of this scholarship and research fit into it all?  The truth is, I never even thought about it.  It didn’t factor in.  In five years, if all goes well, I’ll be able to sport the title of “Dr.” (hopefully, I’ll have that title before the year runs out), but I’m sweating and working and stressing on that title now so that I can finally throw it aside and get to work on what I really love—my kids, my husband, my writing, my fitness goals, “Team Family.”

Why am I doing this?  Why do I want this?  Do I want this?

Do I want enough?  Am I enough?  Am I—good God—typical??

Maybe I just need some sleep.  Maybe I just need the catharsis of non-academic writing (which is what I’m trying out right now).  Maybe I just want to spend some time, thinking about my new baby girl, focusing on her and on my body, and how we’re going to spend the next eight weeks in increasingly tight quarters together.  Maybe I need to figure out why it bothers me so much that I seem to be neither “radical” nor a “scholar.”  Why do I feel so uncomfortable “just” being wife, mother, writer, caretaker?  And can I ever actually do and be all of these things, if I feel as though I’m “just” those things?  Why am I feeling guilty for not wanting a “big life”?  Or is my definition of “big life” too small?

Either way, I’m going to sit down and work on my dissertation today.  I have a few short sections that need some serious attention, and I have not gotten the amount of work done these last few weeks that I needed to (family visiting, a teething toddler, the general malaise that comes with entering the third trimester during a heat wave—the reasons and excuses for this slacking are prodigious).  So I’m going to do my work.  I’m going to be a scholar.  Not a radical one.  Not really a willing one.  Not today.  Not right now.  But I’m going to be a scholar today, notwithstanding.

It’s been a rough morning.  And I’m frankly afraid of posting this blog.  I’m afraid that someone from my department, one of my committee members, could stumble across it.  Be angered by it.  Or disappointed.  Or frustrated.  But I’ll post this in spite of those fears, because maybe the only part of being “radical” that I can manage right now is to be my “whole self.”  Frankly, I just don’t have the energy to be anything else.

He was being sexy.  He was being complimentary.  He was being kind.  And what’s more, I’m pretty sure he was being honest.

The pictures flashed across the screen in a regular progression.

“Look, baby.  You look so good.  You are so sexy.  You still look like that.  You can’t tell me you don’t look hot.”

One file was from the summer of 2006.  I was 24.  Wearing a bikini.  Smiling seductively at my then-boyfriend behind the camera.  My hair was tousled and looked like it had been pulled back in a ponytail all day.  I wasn’t wearing makeup.  I had on a red hooded sweatshirt, half zipped. The top of the hoodie had fallen down.  It lay, rumpled in the crook of my elbows, exposing my shoulders. I had the distinct glow of a sunburn across my freckled chest.

He clicked the mouse again.  The next file appeared on the screen.  It was from the summer of 2012.  My daughter was only four or five months old at the time.  I was again wearing a bikini, my hair again showing signs of having been pulled back in a ponytail all day.  I wasn’t wearing makeup.  I remember the day he took those pictures.  I was arguing that I needed to buy a new bathing suit before we left for our upcoming trip to Las Vegas.  Some good friends were getting married, and my husband and I were taking advantage of their elopement to spend some much-needed alone time over a long weekend away.  My husband told me that I didn’t need to buy the body-camouflaging one-piece I wanted.  He took several pictures of me, modeling my old bikinis, hoping that when I saw myself as he saw me, that I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious. I was doing my best to look confident and sexy, but I could see the strain on my face.  I was holding in my stomach, standing with my thighs slightly apart, hoping to make them look thinner, less prone to cellulite.  My hip was cocked, trying to look firm enough so that the small bikini bottom didn’t cut into the soft, ample flesh.  I was trying to stand the same way in every picture, the images all looking stiff and uniform as my husband clicked through them.

I wound up packing the bikinis, but we never made it to the pool that weekend.

“That was only four months out.  Look how sexy you are after just four months.  And this one’s different.  You haven’t even put on much weight.  You’re going to bounce right back.  Just you wait. You already look so good.”

He was staring hungrily at the screen, his hand on my thigh.  He was speaking quietly, earnestly. He was being sincere.  He loved the images of me on our computer.

He smiled as he turned to look at me, but it quickly crumpled away.  He immediately dropped the mouse and folded me into his arms when he saw the silent tears streaming down my face.

 

I didn’t recognize the girl in either picture.

 

In less than two months, I will give birth to my second daughter.  My oldest child will be eighteen months old when her little sister gets here.  Since Saturday, June 5th, 2011 (the date of our intrauterine insemination), I have been either pregnant or breastfeeding.  I will be breastfeeding my second child as well, for at least 8 months.  When it’s all over, I will have nearly 4 solid years of rigid physical reproductive focus, and that’s not counting the year we spent in infertility.

I want my body back.

I’m not saying that I want my body to look like it did before I had children.  I don’t need to be that 24 year old in the red hoodie again.  I don’t need that tan, smooth skin.  Those muscular thighs.  Those firm, small breasts.  I’m adult enough to know that those days are gone.  I know that the body I’m occupying right now is going to be my “new normal.”  Softer, hairier, greater fluctuations from dark to light. This is going to be me now.  But I want some time to myself, time to acquaint myself with this new body.  I’ve been living in this body for two years now, but we’ve never been formally introduced.  I don’t know what it’s capable of, what it can do.  I haven’t pushed it to its limits (not counting childbirth, of course).  I don’t know how it feels when it’s just mine.  When its primary function hasn’t involved the creation and sustentation of my children.   I got pregnant with my second daughter only six weeks after weaning Honest Girl.  I barely had enough time to start looking at (much less appreciating and familiarizing myself with) the new, soft, empty breasts that had replaced the full, firm, milk-filled boobs that Honest Dad used to joke looked like leaky implants (the result of my over-production of milk).  I never made it back to the gym before this second pregnancy, and because of the bladder damage caused by Honest Girl, I haven’t even gone for a jog since early fall, 2011.  I don’t know how this new body breathes, how it moves, how it bends, how it flexes, how it dances.

<Sidebar>God, I miss dancing.</Sidebar>

Honestly?  I’m afraid.  Afraid that I’ll never feel normal in this new normal again.  Afraid that I’ll never feel confident, sexy.  Afraid that I’ll never be able to see my husband behind the camera and flash him that seductive, you-know-you-want-me look again.  Afraid that I’ll never recognize the girl looking back in the mirror.

There are so many unknowns with this pregnancy.  I have to have a C-section.  I have to be in the hospital three, maybe four days.  I have to wear stiff, strong stomach binders, and be on pain killers.  I have to have a spinal instead of an epidural, my torso and legs completely numb, perhaps unresponsive.  My stomach will be sliced and stitched back together, through skin, tendons, muscles, and organs.  I have no idea how my body will react to any of these things.  I have no idea how long it will take for the new normal to take hold, to establish itself.  I have no idea how my new scar will look, will feel, or where it will be.  I have no idea what the normal will look like on the other side.

I’m hoping to join a gym.  And, because I will be breastfeeding, I will be eating as healthy as possible.  For the sake of my new daughter.  Because for at least a little while longer, my body will be hers.  It needs to be.  It should be.  And for now, all I can do is hope.  Hope that the new normal will become a normal that I can feel comfortable about, confident in.  Hope that one day I’ll be able to look at pictures of myself and see what my husband sees, what he’s always seen.  Hope that, after my body is hers, it will be all mine.  Because only after it’s all mine, can I ever think about giving it to him again.

In honor of me entering my sixth month of pregnancy, I’ve decided to compile a list (in no particular order) of some of the biggest and most common lies we tell pregnant women, for good and for bad.

You’re glowing! You’re hot.  You’re sweaty.  You look so miserable.  You’re obviously making too much blood, and half of it’s not even yours!  Would you like a lemonade and a foot bath? Here, take your shoes off.

Your hair is so shiny!/Your hair is so long!/Your fingernails must be SO strong!/Ohhh, gotta love those prenatal vitamins! Each one of these mean essentially the same thing: You are now the missing link.

Everyone will tell you that your hair will get thick and luxurious when you’re pregnant, and they will almost exclusively attribute this to you taking prenatal vitamins.  But that’s not actually the case.  Pregnancy causes the production of a hormone called relaxin.  This hormone slows down your digestion (Everyone, say, “Yay for constipation!”), loosens your tendons and joints (so you’re more flexible, which is pretty useful for prenatal yoga, and, you know, actually pushing a human being out through your lady parts),  and it also makes your body stop shedding hairs at a normal rate.  The average person loses 100 hairs a day as part of the normal hair-growth cycle, and only certain follicles are actually creating hair at any one given time, but while you’re pregnant, that number that falls out daily decreases, and while it may not seem all that significant, you can certainly notice the change!  Your hair doesn’t “grow faster” or “get thicker” while you’re pregnant.  You just feel like you have more hair because you’re not losing as much.  Follicles that are usually inactive while others are active are suddenly activated, and everyone is joining the furry party!

<Sidebar>This is also why a lot of women claim that they “lose all their hair” after pregnancy.  Once your relaxin production dies down, you lose the hairs that you were holding on to for nine months.  It can be pretty impressive, seeing all the hair that should have been shed over the course of your pregnancy coming out in giant wads in the shower in the first month or two post-partum.  But odds are really good that you’re not going bald.  You’re playing catch-up.</Sidebar> 

But here’s the big thing that nobody tells you: you stop shedding hairs ALL OVER YOUR BODY.   You know those fuzzies you have on your tummy?  Well, that goes through the same cycle of growing, dying, and shedding as the hairs on your head do.  The reason why the “peach fuzz” stays peachy is because those follicles generally have a shorter lifespan than the follicles on your head.  This is why your eyelashes aren’t six inches long.  They only grow for about a month or two, before they fall out and are replaced by new ones.  It’s your follicular lifespan.  But when you’re pregnant, these natural cycles get completely thrown out of whack.  Hairs have the ability to grow longer than they ever did before (Just ask a pregnant woman how many “new” gigantic chin hairs she’s found since getting knock up!  Wait.  On second thought, don’t ask a pregnant woman that), and not as many hairs are falling out, so you are going to develop a lovely pelt.  It’s a great reminder of your position as a member of the animal kingdom.  And humbling.  And embarrassing.  You know that gigantic uterus you’re now sporting for the world to see?  Well, the world wants to see it.  In the hirsute flesh.  Your girlfriends, your mother, your sister, your older kids, other pregnant women, photographers.  Everyone wants to see your belly.  Because that’s where the magic is.  And hair.  Lots of hair.  And if you’re especially lucky (like me), and you’re of pale Eastern European stock, then that hair is going to be thick, black, and make a lovely contrast with your glow-in-the-dark pasty whiteness.  So, yes, your hair looks gorgeous. Like the love-child of the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Wolf Man.  Mazel tov.

Pregnancy makes you SOOOO horny!  I don’t know what kind of perverted asshat came up with this doozy, but it makes me crazy.

Firstly, yes, you will get horny while you’re pregnant.  You’ll get the horniest you’ve ever been in your life . . .  for approximately thirty-two seconds at 2:43pm on a Tuesday.  You will be hot.  Then, it will blink out of existence like New Coke.  You WILL get horny, but it will be the most useless, frustrating, temporary horny ever.  Even if you had the means and the inclination and the time to do anything about it (either alone or with your partner), you’ll get just about far enough to start rolling down your gigantic tummy-covering elastic waistband, feel your child kick inside of you (it’s like they already know and are already scolding you for the yucky grown-up thing Mommy is about to do), and realize that it’s just not worth the effort.  I mean, even if you can forget that your kid is technically in the same room with you while you’re engaging in adult activities, and even if you can forget that by about 24 weeks their tiny little ears are fully developed and they can recognize both you and your partner’s voices through the muffled haze of amniotic fluid.  Even if you CAN forget that the little tyke is actually capable of experiencing the same rush of hormones and dopamine that come with your orgasm (always making me think that they are also orgasming, by proxy), and often will kick or wiggle in response to your throes of pleasure.  Even if you can work yourself up to the point where you don’t care about any of that, by the time you start rolling down that enormous waistband, you probably realized that you’d have to bend all the way down to take your shoes and socks off too, and, well, it’s just easier to eat a pack of Skittles instead. *Blink!*

Secondly, whosoever started this rumor that “pregnant women get super horny” because of an unspecified collection of generic “hormones” of which we are eternally the victims  may have done this with the intention of making pregnant women feel “better” about being sexual creatures, but they did in a totally dickish way.  We have sex.  We can’t hide it.  My stomach is a huge sign for the entire world to recognize, “Hey! She puts out!”  But “attributing” our sexuality to our pregnancies is, firstly, asinine (I’m pretty sure it was my pre-pregnancy sexy time that got me into this mess), and, secondly, claiming a pseudo medicalized reason behind this behavior (It’s those damn hormones.  She just can’t help herself!) is tantamount to controlling a woman’s sexuality and sexual impulses.  It’s not up to us.  It’s our out-of-control bodies that are to blame.  Oh.  Whew.  Thank goodness I don’t have to take responsibility for my own sexual impulses!  In an attempt to relieve us from the “blame” of our bad behavior (sex, or anything else that gets blamed on those generic “hormones”), these kinds of statements actually remove a woman’s control and her choices.  Maybe I’m not just being “hormonal” when I yell at you (even when I’m pregnant or on my period).  Maybe you’re just an insensitive asshole.  Maybe I just don’t want your penis shoving against my engorged, tender cervix right now.  Maybe I do.  Maybe I don’t feel like it right now, but I will after a little coaxing.   But whatever the answer is, it’s MY answer.  Not my “hormones’.”

Thirdly, the majority of women I know are made to feel guilty about their lack of sexuality during pregnancy, because of this particular lie.  Aren’t pregnant women supposed to want sex?  Then what’s wrong with me?  Is something wrong with me?  Is something wrong with my marriage?  Oh, god, my husband must be so frustrated and disappointed right now!

There’s nothing wrong with you.  You don’t have to want sex every day, every week, or every month, no matter how much popular culture throws images of sweaty, tan cleavage in your face.  And don’t worry about your husband.  Odds are really good that he thinks the whole “the baby’s in the room with us” thing is gross too (It’s off-putting.  Like someone whispering “The call is coming from inside the house!).

<Sidebar>Last night, Honest Dad and I were trying to get into a sexy mood, and after some awkward attempts at foreplay, he finally said, “This is weird.  This is going to be weird.”  We agreed that it would be okay with both of us if we kept our eyes closed the whole time, to forget about, you know, the kid between us.  And that was okay too.  We both concentrated on what it was like to not be six months pregnant, to not have a teeny little person hanging around while we bumped uglies.  Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, even you “do” nothing at all.</Sidebar>

Your boobs are going to get HUGE! Yes, this is true.  Your boobs will likely get bigger.  They’ll also likely have areolas the size of helicopter pads, and be connected by an intricate network of bulgy, blue veins that look like early maps of the Amazon River basin.  Sorry, Western culture, but “big boobs” doesn’t mean “sexy boobs.”  It just means big.

You are ALL belly!/You can’t even tell you’re pregnant from behind! Oh, god, how I wish I could believe this one.  This one is so nice.  Especially when you’re in those final months, and you walk like a duck, look like a walrus, and have the coordination of a tyrannosaurus rex trying to wipe his own ass, it’s so nice to hear someone say that it’s only your stomach that gives away your pregnancy.  Not your bloated chin and jaw (a phenomenon reported by just about every woman I know that I can’t quite explain.  We all get the jawline of a cattle rancher).  Not your duckbill platypus feet.  Not your swayback and pinched sciatic nerve.  Not your frazzled look of exhaustion and mania.  Just your belly.  This implies that you did your pregnancy “right.”  That you didn’t “eat for two,” but made good, healthy decisions, keeping your child foremost in your thoughts at all times.  But, sadly, no.  Ask your most honest girlfriend if this is true.  She’ll still lie, but listen for that hesitation.  I asked Honest Dad yesterday if he could tell I was “pregnant from the back.”  He asked me to turn around, then went, “Hmmmmmmmmmmm—*breath*— mmmmmmmmmm” (imagine the longest verbal musing ever produced by man).  I turned back around, “Okay.  I got it.”

Welcome to the sixth month.

Finally, the biggest, fattest, pant-on-fire lie that we tell pregnant women:

It goes right back!!!

It doesn’t.

I’m sorry.

So sorry.

It almost goes right back, but it doesn’t entirely go right back.

Here’s the analogy I use.  Think of one of those rubber bands that farmers use to castrate cows.  It’s a surprisingly small rubber band, and very strong and tight.  Now, stretch it over a melon for approximately two hours (the average length of time that a woman pushes during vaginal delivery).  Take it off the melon.  Do you think that rubber band is going to be the same after that?  These are very strong, tough rubber bands, but do you really think it is going to retain all of its elasticity after two full hours on a watermelon?  Do you?  Honestly?

That is going to be one pissed off cow...

That is going to be one pissed off cow…

Yeah.

So, so sorry.

Nobody told me either.

Want some of my Skittles?

This is only my second Mother’s Day with children (I’ve already written about having Mother’s Day without children).  And it’s been a pretty spectacular one so far.

Two days ago, while getting ready for bed, Honest Dad and I were talking about what it means, exactly, when people say that having children “changes” you. This is what he said:

When I saw all the guys I worked with getting married and having kids, yeah, they changed. Not who they were. They were still the same guys. But I didn’t see them as often. They didn’t want to come out to my shows, or go to dinner. They wouldn’t work as many hours, and never did overtime. But you know what? They all seemed happier. Just, happier. And I wanted that. And now, I have it. And you know what? I get it. I totally get it.  Happier.  Just happier.

Mother’s Day Gift #1: The universe reminds me (yet again) that I married the right man.

Mother’s Day Gift #2: My aging parents drove nine hours, through thunderstorms, to spend this weekend with me, my husband, and their granddaughter.  My mother cooked and changed a million diapers (and attempted to reorganize my kitchen), and my father mowed the lawn and perfected his Angry Birds: Space game play.  He also drove me crazy by jiggling his change.

Though my parents live over 500 miles away, Honest Girl always remembers them, always smiles when she sees them, and always runs to play with them whenever they’re in town.  My mother is terrified that Honest Girl is going to forget her, is going to treat her like a stranger. Honest Girl’s complete, loving trust alleviates that fear every time.  She’d follow her Grammy anywhere.

Mother’s Day Gift #3: Watching her play puzzles with Grammy.

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We had good food this weekend.  We laughed.  We bickered.  We drank pots and pots of black coffee.  We celebrated our family.

Then, we went into a little, dark room together with a highly trained young woman.  She poured warm goo on my distended belly, and allowed us to see what nobody else could.

Mother’s Day Gift #4: THIS.

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. . . . And this

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After a hard day of playing and tea parties.

All in all, not a bad Mother’s Day weekend.

Happy Mother’s Day, ladies.  I hope you got everything you deserved, and (like me) a bunch of awesome  stuff that you didn’t.

I would like to dedicate this post to all of the women who have so bravely contacted me with their own stories of struggling with motherhood, from trying (and failing) to conceive, to wondering when to stop breastfeeding, to how to discipline a toddler.  You are my heroes.  My heroines.  My online community.  I appreciate you more than you know.

It was Mother’s Day, 2011, and I had just received a card in the mail.  “Happy Mother’s Day! We love you!” It was signed by my mother-in-law, and included a $50 gift card to a clothing store that I liked.  I cried when I opened it.  We were just about to hit the one-year mark of trying to have a child, and six months of using fertility treatments.  In less than a month, we were going to have our first artificial insemination.  We were already having long, serious conversations about what kinds of budgeting we’d have to do to afford the rounds of IVF we were certain were in our very near future.  I wasn’t a mother.  And I had very real fears that I never would be.

And then, she sent me this card.

My husband tried to explain to me.  “She feels as though Mother’s Day is for every woman.  She probably sent you a card last year too.  You just didn’t notice it then.”

“No. Mother’s Day is for mothers.  I’m not a mother.  I do nothing but talk about how much I want to be a mother, and then she sends me a card??  How could she do something like this?”

My mother-in-law has always been known by her incredible kindness and generosity, so nobody believed for a second that the gesture was done out of malice, but I felt as though that card was mocking me, my lazy ovaries, my husband’s sperm count, all the months of planned sex on a schedule, without joy, spontaneity, excitement, or lust.  It mocked the months of the negative blood work, the marital fights, the hormonal tears, and the silent rage and jealousy as I watched the budding families around us.  For Christ’s sake!  It’s called Mother’s Day!  How could it be for “all” women??

Then, our IUI worked, and I became a Mother.

And I realized.

Mother’s Day is for all women.

 

I knew that I was a Mother when my daughter was four days old.  It was our second night home from the hospital.  I was giving Honest Girl her long, nighttime feeding (it was about ten o’clock at night).  My husband, who helped to hold her hands down so she could get a good latch, had been unceremoniously kicked out a few minutes earlier, as his presence, his pained face, just reminded me how difficult breastfeeding was turning out to be. (She didn’t know what to do with her hands during those first few weeks.  She’d end up swatting and pinching my already tender breasts, and accidentally pulling and pushing the nipple away from her mouth at critical times.  My husband would have to gently push her hands down by her sides, let me get her latched, then release her so she could squeeze and pump the milk into her mouth.  But he often had to stick around, because she would lose control again, yanking and pulling at the skin, leaning back with my nipple still in her mouth, while I winced in pain with every strong pull.  Those first few weeks could not have been easy for him to see.  Her initial gulps of milk combined with my rushing let-down would elicit a pain so intense, my toes would curl.)  Those first few days, she would suck on the colostrum for an hour at a time, leaving us both exhausted by the effort (but also encouraging my milk supply to come in, fast and heavy, after just two days).  My family wanted to help, to keep me company, to encourage me, but I wanted to be left alone.  Aching, tired, filthy from not having showered, I was covered in fluids both foreign and domestic, and I didn’t have the energy or the patience to hear the chipper, “It’s just hard these first few weeks!  You’ll get it!  You’re doing great!”   I rocked her and fed her, every now and then calling in Honest Dad to come give me a hand.

After almost an hour, she leaned back, milk-drunk and happy, and I started burping her.  She gave a good belch.  I looked, frozen, at the burp cloth on my lap.

It was full of blood.  My little girl had spat up blood.

I started screaming.  I yelled for my husband, for my parents.  I asked them to look at the burp cloth.  I needed other eyes to see what I was seeing, to confirm that this horror was real.  Please, let me be asleep on the rocking chair.  Please, let this be a nightmare.  My husband and mother tried to calm me down.  Yes, they saw the blood. Yes, that really was blood.  Maybe we should call the pediatric nurse and see what she has to say?

I began to panic.  My child. My child. My child. Please.  Please please please please.

I pulled out my cell phone, where I had already programmed the number for the pediatrician.  But I couldn’t speak.  The air wasn’t going down into my body.  It would only fill my mouth before rushing out again.  My only memories of that night are tinged in yellow, like someone had dimmed all the lights in the house and left things illuminated by candlelight.  The nurse asked me to spell my daughter’s name, and I forgot how to.  On auto-pilot, I started to spell my own name, before getting confused halfway through and spelling my husband’s.  She asked me to spell her name again, explaining that she needed to find her chart information.  Her voice was concerned, but she was obviously losing patience with me.  There was a baby in potential distress, and I was wasting precious time.  I could only gasp, “Please, she’s only four days old.  She’s four days old.”  I handed the phone to my mother.

I hadn’t let go of my daughter this whole time.  My husband was pleading with me to let him hold her, so he could check her.  He wouldn’t leave my sight.  I could be right here.  Please, Rachel, just let me see her.  I just shook my head, my face buried in her dark, long hair.  I tried to smell her head, to fill myself with that comforting, new baby smell.  But my head was reeling by this time, and I only remember squeezing her, closer and closer, as though I could physically pull whatever was wrong with her into my body through some sort of mother-child osmosis.  Whatever it is, I’ll take it.  Put it into me.  Leave her alone.  Just leave her alone.  Give it to me.  Whatever it is.

My mother was gently tugging on my arm.

“She wants us to check on her, to see if she’s distressed or in pain.”

I nodded, and pulled my daughter away from my shoulder, so we could all look down at her.  Her entire body fit in the crook of my forearm, her head resting in my palm.  She looked at me, calm, relaxed.  Her grey-blue eyes—eyes the color of well-worn denim, eyes like your favorite pair of blue jeans—blinked sleepily as she studied the worried, frantic faces around her.  It was the same look she gave me after she was born.  It was a look that said, “I don’t know who you are.  But I know you.  And I trust you.  I believe that you will try your hardest.  That’s all I need from you.  To try.  And I’ll try too.  That’s a deal we’ll make together.  I don’t know who you are.  But I know you.  I really do.”

My husband smiled, rubbing me on the back.  “Look, baby.  She’s fine.  She’s totally fine.”

The nurse asked me to pull down my shirt and check my own nipples.  Still holding my daughter, I unclipped my nursing tank and exposed my breasts.  There, on my right nipple, was a small cut that was slowly seeping blood.  A few bright red drops were already drying on my grey tank top.  I hazily remember Honest Girl jerking back on that side, her strong jaws still tightly clenched on my breast.  My chapped nipple had broken under the pressure.  Just a little.  But it was enough for her strong sucking reflexes to pull out what looked to me at the time to be a mountain of blood.  Then, when she was finished eating, her little body had rejected it.  She threw it back up.  It was my blood.  Mine.  She was okay.

I’m certain that I had been crying prior to that moment, but that’s when I remember sobbing, shaking my entire body with large, catching breaths that made me feel dizzy from the sudden inrush of oxygen.  My husband took our daughter from my arms, and I collapsed onto my mother’s chest, her familiar softness and scent wrapping around me, as she laughed in nervous relief.  Somehow, my dad had gotten the phone from my mother, and he and my husband continued to speak to the nurse, checking on my tiny baby, confirming that she was, in fact, fine, and promising to keep an eye on her for the next several hours.  I’m certain the nurse could hear their smiles through the phone line, and she asked them to give me a hug from her.  She was once a new mother too.  She understood.

It had to be close to 2am before any of us actually fell asleep (which, for a newborn, was like a dream come true.  Honest Girl felt like it was a party just for her as we all hovered and cooed over her).  I stayed awake all night, watching her breathe in her sleep, and thinking about what had just happened.  In one of the most dramatic ways possible, I realized that I was now a Mother.  I became a Mother that night, after I realized, completely and fully, that my love was greater than myself.  When I swore to whatever higher power may have been listening that I would gladly take whatever was wrong with my daughter, that I would gladly give my life for hers, it wasn’t some lip-service bargaining tool that I may have uttered before in a moment of weakness and panic.  It was genuine.  I would and will give everything that I have—everything—for this other human being.  For somebody outside of myself.  That was it.  That was the moment that solidified it for me.

Before, I had just had a child.  Now, I was a Mom.

 

A  Mother isn’t a woman who carries a child in her womb for nine months (give or take).  She isn’t a woman who chooses to have biological children.  She isn’t a woman who cares for babies.  She isn’t a woman who necessarily even knows those who will become her children until they are older, well advanced in age, perhaps with spouses and families of their own.  She isn’t a woman who gets to see her children grow up, or even be born.  She isn’t even a woman who has the physical capability of personal conception.  A Mother is any woman who knows the strength of her own love.  A Mother cares for a person outside of herself, not out of a sense of obligation, but because something primal and undefined within her refuses to let her feel anything other than the most incredible, soul-uplifting love.

Other people may call it a “sacrifice,” but Mothers know that it isn’t.  It doesn’t feel that way.  Not ever.

For a year now, ever since my daughter started eating solid foods, I haven’t finished a single meal.  I’ve shared everything that I’ve eaten with her, and I noticed the other day, while we were splitting a fillet of fish, that I only give her the good, flaky bites from the middle.  I was eating all the burnt ends, the hard, thin, overcooked pieces (I’m not that great at cooking fish).  Though logically I knew that I could put any piece of fish into her mouth and she’d eat it, if only because it was “grown-up food” (or, more specifically, “Mama’s food”), I continued to give her the good, buttery middle pieces.  It was my choice.  And I when I have a choice, I will always choose to give her the best.  I’m not sacrificing myself.  I’m not making myself suffer, or reducing my quality of life.  Rather, my quality of life would diminish if I didn’t give her the good piece of fish, or kiss her boo-boos, or comb the tangles out of her smooth, straight hair, or even offer up my life in exchange for hers.  That’s not a sacrifice.  Not to me.  That’s something else.  That’s being a Mother.

 

Since starting this blog, and speaking candidly about my own struggles with motherhood, infertility, breastfeeding, and incontinence, I have received numerous emails from women who feel comfortable enough in my honesty to share with me their own stories, their own heartaches.  I treasure those communications, even though many of them break my heart, and I hope that you don’t stop writing them, if only to give yourself a space to vent, to speak freely, knowing that you can find in me an open ear, an open mind, and a non-judgmental sounding board.  Several women have told me about their struggles to conceive, their fertility issues, and their fears that biological motherhood will be a condition that will forever elude them.  To those women, I say, “Happy Mother’s Day.”  Because you are all already Mothers.  Because I know that you already feel the strength of your love for the children you are missing.  Because you understand already the power of the bonds you seek.  Because going through tests, treatments, embarrassing exams, having hormones shot into you, or thrown down your throat doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.  It’s not decreasing your quality of life, but increasing it, because it gives you hope for the physical realization of the love that you experience daily.  The love that is primal and undefined.  The love that refuses to be ignored.  The love of a Mother.

And for those of you who have reached the hard decision to stop the treatments, to live without children, or to move on to the (equally expensive and time-consuming) alternatives of adoption or surrogacy, I say, “Happy Mother’s Day” to you as well.  Because your love hasn’t disappeared with the removal of the laboratory or the doctor.  I don’t know who you are.  But I know you.  I know that the love you have within you, reserved for your children, can’t be contained to just yourself.  You love.  You love others with a capacity that shocks and amazes.  Spouses, significant others, nieces, nephews, friends’ children, parents, grandparents, siblings, the “family” that you create by choice, all of these people know the depth and breadth of your love and caring.  Even if your own acute pain and sense of loss means it takes you a little while longer to congratulate a friend on another happy addition to her family, I know that your love eventually triumphs over everything else.  And that’s what it means to be a Mother.  Sometimes our love hurts, but it is always love, notwithstanding.

 

So, my mother-in-law was right.  Mother’s Day is for all women.  Because (though I know that my own experiences are myopic, narrow, and limited) I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t shown the love of a Mother.  Who hasn’t stayed awake all night, hovering and cooing over the thing she adores more than her own life.  Who hasn’t gladly offered the best bite of fish.  Who hasn’t made the sacrifice that isn’t a sacrifice.  Who hasn’t made that genuine and real promise to give up everything for the sake of the life before her.

I don’t know who you are.  But I know you.  I really do.  You are a Mother.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

For a great article on the “Dos and Don’ts” of talking about infertility, please check out Dreaming of Dimples: Infertility Etiquette.  While we were struggling with fertility, my husband and I heard all of these well-intentioned (but ultimately hurtful) comments on a regular basis, and I wish that I had known then how to redirect the conversation away from my own sense of emptiness, even while I couldn’t stop talking about wanting and missing the baby that we couldn’t have.

<Sidebar>Today, I’m 16 weeks pregnant, which Honest Dad claims isn’t actually four months along, but I stopped listening to his opinion once I peed on a stick and got a big, blue line.  In honor of this latest milestone, I decided to write about sex, and how it occurs (and doesn’t) during pregnancy.  Now, I have actually met women who claimed that they felt sexy, horny, and irresistibly womanly while pregnant, but I hate those women. Those are the same women who gush, “Oh, I LOVED being pregnant! I never got sick! Not once! Every day was like a little miracle that was especially for me.  Isn’t being pregnant amazing??”  Yes, it is, but if you continue to talk about your perfect, glowing, fluffy-kittens-and-puppies pregnancy that made you feel so close to your husband, and your mother, and your aunts, and your neighbors, and your third grade teacher, I’m going to throw up on your shoes and send my toddler over to your house with a can of Day Glo Orange spray paint and a box of Cadbury Bunny Eggs.  The truth is, sex during pregnancy is hard (“That’s what she said! Woooo!”).  But it’s necessary, because it reminds everyone involved that you are not just a “vessel” for your unborn child. You are a woman who’s still trying to be a woman in all the ways that “woman” can be defined.  It’s a great stress reliever.  And it’s fun.  And funny. And totally worth it. And, Honest Dad, I want you to remember that you still do it for me. Every time.

I’m also aware that my father reads this blog.  Sorry, dad, but after watching me give birth, I guess you have to know by now that your little girl isn’t a virgin anymore.  Hope I didn’t shatter any illusions.</Sidebar>

 

Sex While Pregnant: An Only Slightly Exaggerated Play in Four Months

First three months

Rachel: Ugh. I’m so nauseous. Not tonight, okay?

Honest Dad: That’s okay, baby. Can I just look at your boobies a bit?

Rachel: (Shrugs) What the hell?  Knock yourself out.

Four months

R: I haven’t thrown up in a week, and I’ve only been nauseous for the first few hours of the day! Wanna fool around?

HD: Oh, yeah.  Can I see your boobies?

R: Yeah. Hehehehe.  Here ya, go, baby.

HD: Mmmmm. Can I touch them?

R: ARE YOU CRAZY??

Later. A birthday, anniversary, date night, or some other special occasion.

HD: No pressure, baby.  Let’s just get naked, and see what happens.

R: (Smiling) Oh, I think we could do that.  Wait, though.  I have to go to the bathroom first. I don’t want you to see my Poise Pad.

HD: (Trying to grab her arm) I really don’t care! No, don’t go away! No, no, no—!  Well, hurry back.

Long pause. Honest Dad is now watching whatever is on Spike TV, wrapped in a blanket.

R: (Returning) Okay, I took off my pad, peed, and gave myself a little “Irish shower.”

HD: You know we’re Irish, right? That’s a little offensive.

R: You’re Irish.  I just married into Irish.  And it’s not offensive.  It’s an historically inappropriate stereotype. It’s a throwback to when the Irish were considered a separate, non-white race. It’s retro.

HD:  I don’t think that’s how racism works.

R: I’m not racist against the Irish! I married one!  Besides, I also like to drink whiskey!

HD: You’re really not helping your argument.

R: Why are you being so sensitive?  It’s not like we’re Irish Catholic too, or something.

HD: This is so not a sexy conversation.

Later . . .

HD: Wanna try some doggy style?

R: You just don’t want to see my big, fat, pregnant belly!

HD: No, no, no!  I just want to look at your ass! I like your ass! It’s sexy!

R: Because you don’t want to remember that our kid is in the room with us!

HD: Of course I don’t want to remember that our kid is in the room with us!

R: Well, I can’t forget!

HD: (Stopping) Why? Is something wrong?  Is it painful?  Are they wriggling? Did they, you know, get poked?

R: I love you very much, and I find you very sexy, but don’t flatter yourself, baby.

Still later . . .

R: (Sighing) Well that was . . .

HD: (Also sighing) Yeah.

R: We’re still pretty good.

HD: Blow it up, baby. (Congratulatory fist bump)

R: Why don’t we do that more often?

HD: We should promise to do that more.

R: Deal.

HD: So, next date night?

R: Oh, yeah, baby.

HD: When will that be?

R: Let’s see.  This baby’s due in September. Probably will be weaned by the next June or July. So . . .

HD: I’ll pencil you in for spring 2014.

R: Good call. (Pause) Late spring.

HD: Lay one on me.

Kiss.

R: I love you, baby.

HD: I love you, too.

FIN

I wrote this while sitting in the parking lot at my OB/GYN this past Tuesday, immediately after my twelve-week prenatal appointment.

Dear Baby,

Today, I’m twelve and a half weeks pregnant with you. This morning, I had my alarm set for 6am, but I was so nauseous when I woke up that I stayed in bed, nibbling saltines and praying that the Zofran would kick in, until quarter to eight. Even with the medicine and taking it easy, I still managed to be violently ill, both in the toilet and, later, in the kitchen sink while I was making your big sister’s breakfast. If I didn’t have a doctor’s appointment this morning, I would have undoubtedly stayed home today.

I vacillated between crying in despair, and dry heaving in the van while driving big sissy to daycare this morning (and hour and a half late, because every time I moved, I once again became dizzy and nauseous).  I kept telling her, “Your baby sibling hates me.”  I was really only half joking at that point.

When I got her dropped off finally, and was actually at my 12-week appointment, I spent the first half of it complaining:  “We’re moving.  The house is a mess.  Honest Girl’s having diarrhea this week, and we can’t figure out if it’s Rotavirus or just transitioning to whole milk.  I’m popping Zofran like TicTacs, which means I’m more bound up than the Marquis de Sade.  I can’t. Stop. Puking.” Dr. Handsome nodded empathetically.  This was obviously a pregnant woman in misery.

Then, he couldn’t find your heartbeat.

For ten minutes, he pressed and prodded, asking me to shift one way or another.  We’ll try a little lower. Maybe off to one side.  Was that it?  No, that’s your bloodstream, your heartbeat (it sounded slower on his machine than it felt in my chest).  I tried to focus on the ceiling tiles, willing that microphone to pick up the wonderful, bilge-pump sound of you, living inside of me.  Then, I stopped focusing, and just closed my eyes. “C’mon, c’mon,” I whispered, tears silently running from my eyes back into my hair, my ears. Please, baby.  Please.  Baby?  Please.  Please?

Eventually, he gave up and took me the next room, where there was an ultrasound machine.  I was trying to not think.  The doctor said something about how hard it sometimes is to find a heartbeat at 12 weeks.  After all, you’re still so small.  I said nothing, and waited for him to turn on the machine.  I stared at the ceiling tiles again.  Then he said, “There it is!”

I started sobbing when I saw you.

Tucked up in the extreme right side of my uterus, too close to my bloodstream for your heartbeat to be heard over my own, there you were.  And there was your heartbeat.  I laughed as the doctor tried to get to you face us, tried to get you to turn your little body towards us so we could flick on the microphone and actually get a reading on your heart.  But you refused.  You just kept rolling away from us, showing us your butt and spine (it was a beautiful spine.  That has always been the best part of the ultrasounds for both me and daddy, seeing every single vertebrae, watching it curl and straighten.  It was a good spine.  A strong spine.  And it was a pretty nice little butt, too).  The doctor tried to get me a picture of you, but between my gasping and weeping, and your stubborn refusal to pose for him, the best he could do was a blurry blob, with that perfect little spine glowing, straight as an arrow, in the middle.

“The baby’s strong.  The baby looks perfect.  It’s okay.” I had never seen Dr. Handsome so gentle as he squeezed my hand while I was leaving.

I’m crying as I write this, little baby.  I’m crying because, in the middle of all the craziness and insanity and stress of the last few weeks, I’ve found myself forgetting to stop and think about you.  Oh, sure, I’ve thought about this pregnancy, and I’ve thought about my symptoms, but you, you, my little child, keep slipping my mind.  You are the closest thing to a miracle I may ever experience.  You are a life, a soul, a being, and you are inside of me.  Tucked up in the corner, but still there.  I realized this morning that I love you.  I love you without reason.  I love you without condition.  I love you without logic or sense.  I just want you.  I just want you here with us, healthy and happy.  I want to watch you play with your big sister.  I want to wipe that teeny little butt.  I want to watch that spine grow stronger, taller, and straighter.

I want you to know that your Mama is crazy about you, and I want you to know that I’m sorry it took this scare for me to realize this.  I suddenly realized that my life would not be the same, ever again, if you weren’t in it.  I realized that, in spite of the nausea and the weight loss, and the dizziness, and the pregnancy-induced car sickness, everything in my world is better because you, tiny little thing, are in it.  Everything. I love more because of you.  I laugh more because of you.  I cry with joy at my typical suburban life more because of you.  Life without you?  That would be misery.  So, do me a favor.  Don’t scare your Mama like that ever again, okay?  Because for those ten minutes, the walls were falling down.  The Earth was preparing to swallow me whole.  Everything was going black.  I need you.  You are my light, little baby.  My sunshine.  And I need my sunshine.  Every day.

Mama loves you.

Love,

Me

I’m knocked up again.  This was an “accidentally on purpose” development for us.  You see, back in the middle of November, after eight months of breastfeeding my daughter, I weaned her.  I was trying to wean her for six weeks prior to that, honestly, but the stubborn little butt just wouldn’t take any formula, even mixed in with her mashed up bananas.  I had always thought I’d breastfeed for the entire first year, but here’s the God’s-Honest: breastfeeding was making me a crazy person.  I felt trapped by my own child.  I couldn’t have a day off, an evening off.  It didn’t help that I also had a crazy over-production of breast milk that made everything painful, wet, and leaky if I didn’t shove my nipple in some kind of sucking device every three hours or so.  I was stressed, exhausted, and, though I was a stay-at-home mom, I felt like I had been stapled to my baby, my “spot” on the couch, and my living room.  I was in prison.  Worse, I was in solitary.  I was snapping at my husband, feeling like I was the only one responsible for keeping our child alive and healthy, which was unfair to him and way too intense for me to handle on my own.  Weaning was hard decision to come to, but ultimately it was the best decision for us.

<Sidebar> This overproduction of milk, though, let me do something really rewarding, but really difficult while I was nursing.  I donated 240 ounces of breast milk to Mother’s Milk Bank of Ohio.  That’s almost two full gallons of human breast milk.  It was a very time-consuming and hard process, but I’m glad I did it, if only to have had the experience.  Also, it was a great way to use up my extra milk.  There was no way that my daughter would have been able to drink all of my milk that I had pumped and stored up before it started to sour [every day, I was pumping an additional 8-10 ounces, on top of the 30 or so she was getting every day. I’m apparently part bovine on a genetic level], and this way, I get to have a great story of how the woman in charge of the local milk bank smiled at me and said that my donation was “like Christmas” for her.  “Until you came in, we didn’t have enough to run our pasteurizing tanks.  Now we do!”  That made all of the hassle of sanitizing and pumping and cleaning and freezing and labeling really seem worth it.  I don’t think I’ll do it again, though.  Because it really *was* a gigantic hassle. </Sidebar>

But then the decision to wean was just kind of made for me, several ways.  First of all, early in November, I contracted the worst UTI of my life.  Delivering my daughter vaginally damaged my bladder (I’ll talk more in depth about that in a later post).  My nerves on the inner sphincter to my bladder (the part that connects your urethra–your “pee tube”–to your bladder) got damaged from the delivery, and consequently, they atrophied.  It was a process that started during pregnancy (I had both stress incontinence [Oh, shit! I sneezed and peed myself!] and urge incontinence [Oh, shit! I had to pee and couldn’t make it to the toilet!] while I was pregnant), and one that can’t be fixed with Kegels (So, friends and ladies, though I know you mean well, kindly quit chirping, “Just do Kegels!!” to me when I open up about my recent and lasting relationship with Poise Pads.  I get it.  I do ’em.  All the time.  And still just pissed myself. Thanks for the tip.).  Anyway, these weakened bladder muscles mean that I am more susceptible to UTIs and other infections because I’m more “open” down there and exposed to any wandering bacteria that want to move in and take up residence (and they actually do call it “walking bacteria.” No shit. That’s a real medical term.).  So I got this UTI.  Within an hour, I went from, “Hmmmm.  I feel like something may be a little off” to pissing blood.  My pee looked like cranberry juice.  It was midnight on a Friday, and my husband had to pack me and our daughter into the van and take me to the emergency room, me now doubled over in pain and certain that I had cancer in my lady-parts.

The ER doctor said that my urine was the worst she had ever seen.  “Awful.  Just awful.”  She gave me an IV drip, and started Morphine, because I was in so much pain (Morphine, by the way, made me completely stone.  I kept telling my husband that I was wearing football shoulder pads.  That my shoulders were out in front of my body.  I wanted my shoulders back in place.  But on the plus side, I had forgotten about my burning peepee.).  Then she started prescribing antibiotics.  A lot of antibiotics.  And then four days later, the hospital called me and said that they wanted me to continue my current run of antibiotics, but start an *additional* round of them, because it turned out that my UTI was drug resistant to the other two I was already on.  Technically, they said, I could continue breastfeeding, but my daughter would get diarrhea.  Bad diarrhea.  And my body wouldn’t be able to filter out all of the meds.  So she would get those too.  I decided that was it.  Before I started my third round of antibiotics, I breastfed her for the last time, crying into her hair and trying to explain to her why she was going to be unhappy the next few days, why this had to happen so suddenly, and apologizing for not living up to my end of the bargain, apologizing for secretly being relieved that I had a legitimate excuse to stop this beautiful, but exhausting ritual we had.  Three minutes into her feeding, while I was still blubbering, she was already asleep.  I put her in her crib, and I knew that she would be okay with this next phase, this new development.  “It’s okay, Mama.  I just want you.  Just you.”  And I was right.  Three days after I started my antibiotics, our little girl was taking all of her bottles with ease, and my husband could finally start putting her to bed at night. (He is now the champion of bedtime.  I can put her down, and she’s up and crying after an hour.  If he puts her down, she’s comatose until 9am.  I don’t know how he does it, but I will make him continue to do it forever.)

But as I said before, it wasn’t just the UTI that inspired me to wean my daughter.  It was also motivated by talk of conceiving #2.  You see, in order to get pregnant the first time around, my husband and I had to undergo fertility treatments.  We tried on our own for six months, after which I happened to mention to my gynecologist that there was nothing regular about my cycles, and he recommended us to a fertility specialist.  After a battery of tests, we were given a 4% chance of conceiving on our own.

<Sidebar>Remember in Sex and the City when Charlotte was having trouble getting pregnant, and she went to her doctor and started sobbing and freaking out because she *only* had a 15% chance of getting pregnant?  Well, now I know that Charlotte can suck a big donkey dick, because 15-20% chances for pregnancy are about the monthly odds for healthy, normal couples without fertility issues.  I was given 4% odds when they were able to make me ovulate.  After being on the drugs for a few months, we figured out that my lazy-ass ovaries weren’t all that interested in ovulation, even with medical intervention. I would have tap-danced on my doctor’s desk if he had said 15% odds.  I would have been able to just have sex.  Hell, I could have fucked.  Instead, I was having reproductive intercourse.  On schedule.  No funny business.  Let’s get this going, babe.  So, yeah, I loved that show, but that scene just makes me cringe when I see it now. </Sidebar>

I was on Clomid for six months, then we tried an Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI).  As far as infertility goes, it’s the easiest and cheapest of the procedures you can do for pregnancy issues.  The doctor takes your husband’s, ahem, sample (spunk), spins it up in a centrifuge so that only the good, strong swimmers get concentrated at the top, then takes a little pipette, and injects the boys directly into your uterus, bypassing the cervix altogether (which can also be murderous to sperm.  Really, it’s amazing that anyone is able to get pregnant, because the female body is NOT nice to those things!).  A few days beforehand, I got a shot of hormones directly into my ass, then had to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound to look at my ovaries and see if and how many eggs I had ready to release.  Our doctor didn’t have a lot of faith in this procedure for us.  He told us that we’d try it four times, then move on to IVF (to give you a sense of the scale of infertility treatments, let me point out that the IUI costs about $300 per session.  IVF, after insurance, is about $13,000 per session.  And you often need more than one.).  Bobbie and I were already discussing in a joking-but-not-really way the possibility of adopting a Chinese daughter (“They come with their own abacus!”).  But, then, I felt funny.  Just nine days after the procedure, five days before I was “supposed” to take the test, I woke up and took a pregnancy test.  And there it was.  Boom.  A blue line.  Our daughter.

When our daughter was six months old, my husband and I began talking about starting the process for our next baby.  We talked to our fertility doctor, and he said that before we began anything, we’d have to have our baby completely weaned from breastfeeding for at least two full months, then we could start the process again, jumping straight into the IUI if we so desired and skipping those months with Clomid (I so desired.  Clomid is wonderful, but I was an insane bitch on it).  I decided I would start the slow process of gently weaning my little girl, with the hopes that she would be fully off the breast in October, and we could start 2013 with a fresh outlook and a fresh goal for a new baby.  Well, like I said, my girl did NOT want to be rushed into weaning, and by November, we were still pretty much breastfeeding (and I mean *breast* feeding.  She often wouldn’t even take my milk from the bottle if she knew that Mama was at all close by).  Then, the strange godsend of that horrible IUI forced both of us to put an end to it.  By November 15th, I could say that my daughter was fully weaned from the breast.  The countdown was on.  By January 15th, we could start our process for baby #2.  Even though we knew that the odds of us getting pregnant again so quickly were slim, we began to talk in excited tones about me taking a pregnancy test on our daughter’s birthday at the end of February, and seeing that gorgeous blue line.  We’d have so much to celebrate!

In the first week of January, I started taking Provera, a hormone to make me start my period (my cycles have never made any kind of sense, so Provera helped while we were trying to conceive to at least give me some kind of a schedule).  I took it for ten days.  And waited.  No period, which was weird, because it always used to make me start right away.  But the nurse said that it would take up to two weeks for my period to begin.  So I waited some more.  Then, on a Thursday afternoon, while my daughter napped, I just decided to take a test.  Just to see.  Just in case.  And there it was.  That blue line.  I was six weeks pregnant.  I had been pregnant since New Years.  Without medical intervention.  Without drugs.  Without reproductive intercourse.  Without a pipette and an ultrasound wand.  It had just happened.  All on its own.  In spite of 4% odds.

And now I’m almost 10 weeks along.  My babies will only be 18.5 months apart in age by the time this one comes along (oy vey), which is almost exactly how far apart my big sister and I are in age (double oy vey).  Because this is my second pregnancy, I started showing almost instantly, and I realized today that I already can’t see my vagina anymore (hence, the title of this post).  I was planning on writing a hilarious post about the trials and traumas of the first trimester (I’ve thrown up in my kitchen sink, while feeding my daughter breakfast, more times than I’ve thrown up in the toilet thus far), but I guess sometimes I don’t have as much control as I think I do.  And as I look down at my little round belly, I guess that’s not always a bad thing.