Monday, December 27, 2010
I guess I don't really have anything to add to that, except that it continues to surprise me how many parents I know embrace the Santa thing. In part I think it has to do with happy childhood memories; if you believed in Santa and didn't feel traumatized by the disillusionment, you're more likely to want your kids to have the same experience -- or to want to revisit the belief yourself.
There are lots of good reasons not to lie to your kids, especially about something so trivial. I mean, really, the default should always be honesty unless there's a particularly good reason to lie. And this is what gets me about the Santa thing: no one ever gives a good reason for doing it. "Magic," they say, as if the very absurdity of the story justifies it. The thing is, it's only magical to grown-ups, because we're the ones who live in a world where Santa cannot exist. It's not particularly magical to children, because so many explanations are beyond their comprehension, and so much of their understanding is about taking our word for stuff. Is it so much more magical to think that a fat dude in a red suit delivers presents down the chimney than that a burly dude in a brown uniform brings them from grandparents in Wisconsin to your front door in Schenectady? To us, sure, but to a little kid? So is it really about making more magic in their lives, or is it about reliving the magic of our own childhoods?
As a kid who grew up knowing presents came from mom and dad, I can assure you that there's no lack of magic on Christmas morning for kids like me. You can even indulge in some of the Santa stuff -- I certainly got presents "from Santa" and left out cookies, knowing full well that Mom and I were playing pretend (Dad not so much a participant in the Santa thing), and enjoying it no less, and maybe more, for the knowledge. At the age when most kids are learning The Truth about Santa, I could throw myself wholeheartedly into the fantasy because it was never a matter of True or Not True; it had always been a myth.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The other day, we were listening to the weather report on the radio, and the weather guy was talking about storms in the midwest, and Andy asked Ben what the dude on the radio was talking about, and Ben said, "Vat dude talk 'bout soda." Yep -- Minnesota.
It's pretty fascinating, seeing through the eyes of a two-and-half-year-old. Also infuriating. It truly boggles the mind how many times one person can be told NOT TO GRAB THE DOG'S EARS and yet still, about once an hour if not more, grab the god-damned dog's ears. How is that so tough to grasp when other things are absorbed and incorporated into his worldview so fast I can't even work backwards to figure out where he learned them? He started praising dinner recently by calling it a "(s)pecial meal." This is not something Andy or I say, or have ever said probably, and so it took us some time to figure out where it came from. A book about Thanksgiving, we finally figured out, which talks about people traveling to each other's homes for a special meal.
One of the things that continues to fascinate me is how fascinating Ben is compared to other children, who are all -- apologies to their parents, some of whom are my dear friends -- awfully dull. This is part of why I haven't written lately: all the things it occurs to me to write about ("Vat dude talk 'bout soda") fall so distinctly into the category of It's Interesting When It's My Kid; I Don't Care When It's Yours. It makes me think about a good friend of mine who explained his lack of desire for his own children by pointing out that he didn't particularly like children. Even before I had a kid, I had a pretty good idea that that was some bogus reasoning. I don't like children, either, as a rule. They're ignorant and selfish and dishonest and rude and make extremely tedious conversation.
My own kid, though? Total gem.
Monday, November 8, 2010
What's happened since I last posted is a lot of ups and downs in terms of how I've been feeling. Finally in September I had a full-blown panic attack over absolutely nothing, and that sent me back to my doctors willing to try the SSRI I'd pooh-poohed earlier in the summer. And wow, let me just say again how very glad I am to be living now rather than, say, in the mid-nineteenth century. Zoloft is much, much better than a few weeks in the country for an attack of the nerves. So I was on it for a couple of months, and now I'm weaning off it (with doctor's supervision) because I want to get pregnant and my GP and I agree that there was something of a perfect storm this summer that created this anxiety, and I'm unlikely to need medication forever -- so this seems a good time to try getting off it. And just the notion that I can go back to it later if I want to is a great comfort.
It's still shocking to me how many purely physical symptoms could be chalked up to the anxiety. When I went on the Zoloft, I was experiencing spikes of anxiety (often unrelated to any events or trains of thought -- just out of the blue), but also periods of extreme nausea and dizziness. I expected the Zoloft to take care of the anxiety and allow me to analyse the other symptoms without freaking out over them. Instead, they all went away. Though, to be fair, my GP discovered I had a B-12 deficiency and I started taking B-12 at the same time, so it's not altogether clear which issues were solved by the SSRI and which by the vitamin.
Anyway, even on the Zoloft -- and I was on what could be considered a half dose, just 25 mg -- I still had occasional spikes of anxiety, which I was able to treat effectively with Valium. And as time went on, I was able to wait longer and longer before taking the Valium to see if the anxiety went away, since I knew from experience that I'd be able to zap it if I needed to. And what I found was that mostly I could breathe through it, do a few yoga poses, or distract myself, and it would go away rather than building. Which makes me feel more confident about coming off the Zoloft and getting pregnant, when I won't have the safety net of the Valium. And can I just say how cruel and awful it is that there's nothing perfectly safe to take for anxiety during pregnancy? What kind of nasty trick is that?
So. Back to parenting, I hope, and not so much about my health in this here blog. And thanks again to all of you who reached out while I was feeling wretched or told me that you missed the blog -- you're peaches, every one of you.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The long version:
I was feeling better after that week or so of drama, and then a few weeks later, I went to the OB for a follow-up, expecting to talk about whether or not it was wise to start trying to conceive again, given this weird possibly-migrainey stuff that was going on. Instead I found out that the ovarian cyst I wasn't worried about hadn't gone away on its own as was hoped, and might in fact need surgery. If I didn't want to get pregnant, said the OB, he'd want to leave it alone and keep an eye on it, but he didn't want me getting pregnant and then having the cyst do something wacky and need removing while I was pregnant, making the surgery risky to the fetus. Here's the fun part: if I have the surgery, it's likely I'll lose the ovary, reducing my fertility by about a third. Great. We agreed to give it eight weeks to resolve on its own, still a distinct possibility, and re-assess after another ultrasound.
I found this extremely dispiriting.
Then I had another week of weirdness, this time bouts of extreme nausea with anxiety and what I would call general low mood. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure this was a dire case of PMS, but at the time, it felt like more strange and very unpleasant symptoms of something that none of my doctors could identify let alone fix.
I canceled a road trip I was supposed to take with Ben because I was afraid of getting dizzy or heaven-knows-what-else while on the road a hundred miles from home, alone in the car with my toddler. As it turned out, I felt fine that week, but I was happy with my decision: much better, I thought, to be thwarted by feeling fine at home than by feeling like hell far away from home.
I saw my GP again, and she thought the whole thing at this point might just be anxiety born of so much medical drama. She told me to stop taking notes on all my symptoms, and advised I start an SSRI. I didn't like the SSRI plan, so we met in the middle with a low dose of Valium. I also thought the anxiety diagnosis was wrong and more than a tidge dismissive, but at that point I was open to trying almost anything, so I took the Valium and put away my notes and hoped for the best.
I felt better once my period started. Which supported my growing notion that everything had to do with hormones. I took C.'s advice and went to an acupuncturist. I took my own advice and started yoga, thinking that every step I could take to make myself all-around more healthy would help whatever this nonsense was, too. I stopped taking the Valium after a day or two: I wasn't feeling so anxious, and the Valium just made me tired and depressed.
I went to another OB for a second opinion. He agreed with me that apart from the crazy brain stuff at first, the second round of weirdness sounded very much like extreme PMS, and that that was not abnormal for the few cycles after a pregnancy, even a short-term one. He was also much more optimistic about keeping my ovary if we had to operate on the cyst, and more optimistic about the cyst generally. (I liked him a lot, and his practice is also about twenty-five minutes nearer to me than my current OB's -- and he shares his practice with three midwives, which I like, too. So I'm thinking I'm going to change practices.)
So here I am. I've had a few sessions of acupuncture and have been taking Chinese herbs as prescribed. I've been getting out and walking as well as doing yoga once a week. Who knows whether any of that made a difference, or whether time was the thing, but I just sailed through PMS last week with nothing worse than some lower back pain. Pain -- so uncomplicated! so easy to treat! And now that my period has started and the pain has let up considerably, I'm not even afraid that the pain is a symptom of some other dire whatnot.
The cyst is still there, of course. (Unless it's not -- I won't know until the ultrasound at the end of this month.) But now that the mystery symptoms seem to have tapered off and been proven out to my satisfaction anyway as hormonal aberrations of post-pregnancy, I feel equipped to handle the cyst, even if it means surgery. My native unflappability has returned, for the most part.
There's still the "slightly abnormal" EEG, too. I saw my GP again last week, and she and I agreed that it made sense to wait a while, until I'm more sure of feeling normal otherwise, before going back to the neuro for the follow-up he wanted, which is another EEG, only with my brain stressed by a night of not sleeping. I'm choosing not to worry about it. For one thing, he said they treat symptoms, not tests, so as long as I continue to feel fine, they consider me fine. I feel fine. But I'm not eager to learn anything more about how not-fine I might be under the surface. So I'm happy to put that testing off until after the cyst thing is resolved. One category of bad news at a time, please.
I downloaded a bunch of video from a tape onto my computer this weekend, and a couple minutes were from February. The video is of Ben, of course, but I'm in the background, wearing woolly slippers and a sweater. Just turned 37. Pregnant. Blissfully unaware of all the crazy to come.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The Very Short Version
I had some mysterious medical issues, at first very scary, now largely resolved, which for several weeks meant that if I looked at my computer, I felt sick. After extensive medical testing, everyone's best guess seems to be atypical migraines brought on by anemia.
The Long Version
On Thursday, April 29th, just before bedtime, after I'd been at my computer for several hours straight, I started experiencing a visual anomaly: basically, I had a big splotch in my field of vision that looked like the kind of bright semi-blindness you get after a camera flash. I had it in both eyes. It freaked me out, but it went away after five or ten minutes. When I got in bed and tried to read a book, I couldn't. I could read each individual word, but when I tried to string them together to make some kind of sense, I couldn't. Which really freaked me out. I felt perfectly fine otherwise, and I thought maybe I'd just given myself such a scare with the vision thing that I had, I don't know, made myself temporarily unable to concentrate. Or something. I put the book aside and went to sleep, figuring I'd deal with it in the morning if whatever it was was still happening. And it wasn't: in the morning, I was fine, and I chalked it up to eye strain and freaking myself out, and went about my business.
Nine days later, Saturday, May 8th, it happened again. This time it was around 9:00 PM, and I'd been playing a computer game for about an hour, and I got another camera-flash blob. I left the computer and went into the living room and turned on the TV. Again, the blob went away within five or ten minutes, and what followed was some kind of disorientation. I was watching Lost (on the TiVo), and though I could understand everything that happened, I couldn't follow the thread of the plot from scene to scene, and nothing seemed to have context.
I thought I was having a stroke.
We hauled the kid out of bed and went to the ER, for the second time in a month. They took my blood and pronounced me extremely anemic (from the blood loss from the miscarriage) as well as dehydrated. They did a CT Scan which showed nothing. They said it was probably atypical migraine or atypical seizure, and I should see my doctor as soon as possible.
The next few days are kind of a blur. I felt like hell, in retrospect partly because I kept looking at my computer, which it took me some time to realize was provoking a lot of the rotten feeling, but also because I was terrified. My doctor wanted me to get an MRI to rule out some very scary shit including brain cancer, and it was a couple of days before those results came back totally clear. I didn't have any more visual anomalies or periods of disorientation. What I had was a lot of nausea, dizziness, and general feeling like hammered crap. I also had a full work-up by a neurologist, including an EEG to rule out seizures, the results of which I'm still waiting for: I have the follow-up appointment this week.
Once I figured out that the computer, particularly reading anything on the computer, made me feel terrible, I turned it off and stopped looking at it entirely. Books and magazines were the same, but less intense: I could read non-electronic text for a a few minutes before it started making me feel weird, and my ability to read non-e text without adverse effect returned within a week or so. Oddly, I could read my iPhone comfortably.
By Friday, six days after the episode that sent me to the ER, I was feeling considerably more like myself. Feeling normal again made me realize just how wrong I'd been feeling all along. That wasn't the end of the episodes, but it was the end of feeling shitty all the time. From that point on, I felt mostly normal and fine, with isolated incidents of not-OK.
I went back to my GP, and she said that based on all the data she had by that point, her best guess was that I was having clusters of migraines, the first few "with aura" (that's what the camera-flash blob was), and that it probably had everything to do with my extreme anemia (which I have been beating back with massive doses of iron since my first GP visit after the ER) and the stresses on my body caused by the miscarriage and hemorrhage, and that she doubted it meant I'd become a migraineur. The neuro said basically the same thing, but wanted to rule out seizures, which I'll find out about later this week.
It's common, apparently, for women (most migraineurs are women) to begin getting migraines during some big hormonal change: pregnancy, menarche, menopause, etc. And the migraines often stop at some other hormonal event. Some women have them during pregnancy and never have them again. Many female migraineurs tend to have them at particular points in their menstrual cycle. Anyway, it makes some kind of sense that the the anemia along with the hormonal upheaval of my system resetting after the miscarriage would have provoked either a one-time cluster of migraines or the beginning of some migraine phase of my life. Of course, I'm very much hoping it's the former, but I can live with the latter. Better nauseous and disorienting migraines than the kind with blinding pain, after all (presuming, if I continue to get them, they will be like the ones I've already had) or any of the far-more-terrifying possibilities ruled out by the MRI.
Did you know they have TV in MRIs now? I couldn't actually see the Today Show because I had to take my glasses off, but the sound was pleasantly distracting. So was the Valium. The neurological evaluation was nifty, too. It was all a bunch of follow-my-finger, walk-in-a-line-heel-to-toe, tell-me-where-I'm-sticking-you-(gently)-with-this-pin type stuff, all of which made me want to grill the dude about neurology. I'd have even warmer and fuzzier feelings about all of it if all the tests and hospital visits and the fact that Andy's employer hosed us this year on medical insurance didn't mean that we had to cancel our modest September beach vacation.
Anyway. I had my last arguably migrainey spell on the 23rd after having a short night's sleep and being a bit hungover. And really, for the past few weeks, it's been tough to tell what's migrainey from what's just a bit queasy and wifty. I started back at the computer five or ten minutes at a time last week with no adverse effects, and now I'm spending upwards of an hour here (hello!) without even having little panic attacks about it. My guess about why the computer and to a lesser extent other reading provoked the spells is something to do with eye strain and maybe needing bifocals (I've been myopic since I was 8). So I'm hitting the opthalmalogist this week, too.
I talked to my pal the midwife at my OB's office a couple of weeks ago, and she said she didn't think it was a good idea to start trying to conceive until the anemia was gone. She said "a couple of months," but I can't see it taking that long. My hemoglobin had gone from around 8 to over 10 the first week after the ER visit, when I was taking three iron pills a day. That's already nearly normal, and I've been taking two a day since, so I'll be very surprised if my blood test next week doesn't show perfectly respectable levels. I've already had a normal (I suppose) period, which means I'm (probably) ovulating again, so now that I feel normal and am no longer freaked out about this whole thing, I'd just as soon get back on the horse ASAP. Especially since this entirely-without-fun roller coaster ride started when I got pregnant in February and it is now June, and I am in no way getting younger.
I'm off to the OB for a follow-up ultrasound and sit-down with one of the full-metal OBs this afternoon, so I'm going to talk to him about it. And I'll see my GP next week after getting the EEG results and also the results of a blood draw, so I'll be talking to her about it, too. And then I'd really like not to see the inside of another medical establishment until I'm safely and successfully and without incident knocked up. Cross your fingers!
Friday, April 23, 2010
I called my OB's office and got juggled by incompetents at their answering service for a while, finally got a call back from the on-call doctor, who wasn't a member of the practice. He prescribed Methergine, a hormone, to slow the bleeding. Andy went and got it, and I took the first dose at 9:30 PM.
It was a scary night, and one of the worst things was having to make the judgment call myself. The standard is soaking through a pad an hour; more than that, and you're supposed to go the ER. But that's an extra-tough call to make when going to the ER involves waking your sleeping toddler and hauling him off with you. After the Methergine kicked in, the bleeding slowed, but I was still soaking more than a pad an hour, and I was passing some pretty horrifying clots. Tissue (normal) or clots (if large, worrisome)? How was I supposed to know? The trend was positive -- I was definitely bleeding less. So I stuck it out, and after the second dose of the hormone, around 2:00 AM, the bleeding slowed significantly, and I was able to sleep until 6:30.
In the morning, everything seemed fine. Bleeding like a normal period. I called the OB's office, and they said I should come in and get checked, which I did at 11:30. Andy took the day off work. I saw the midwife, she did a pelvic exam, and everything looked normal. In her opinion, I'd just had an all-at-once miscarriage, and though she could still see some blood and clots, she expected that I wouldn't bleed heavily again, and probably not for long. So, good! Hurray for that. Such relief.
We got home around 1:00, and the heavy bleeding started again. I called the office, and by the time the midwife called me back, I was beginning to feel light-headed. I should have mentioned it, but it didn't seem significant, especially since I'd hardly eaten all day, and I'm prone to feeling light-headed when underfed. She told me to take the Methergine again, but if I was still soaking a pad an hour after four hours to go to the ER. I took the Methergine at 2:30 and went upstairs to try to nap. I slept some, but mostly I just lay in bed and bled and worried. When I got up at around 5:00, I had to sit down at the bottom of the stairs because I felt like I was about to black out.
So we went to the ER.
The admitting doctor was a putz. He asked me how long my OB would "let me" continue bleeding. I told him what the midwife had said about four hours post-Methergine, and he started arguing with me in way I didn't entirely understand. I explained that I expected -- and I assumed my OB practice expected -- that going to the ER meant I would get a D&C at the hospital. The doctor said no, the ER would refer me back to the OB. That seemed crazy, but I wasn't about to argue with him, since I figured either another doctor would be less stupid or someone would call my OB.
They wheeled me into the inner section of the ER, and Ben became blessedly absorbed by Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. Eventually another doctor came in, who began by asking me how I knew I was pregnant, which flummoxed me completely. Uh, because I know how to pee on a stick? So he got the whole history and concluded that I needed an ultrasound before they could determine any course of treatment, which seemed entirely sensible to me. By the time they wheeled me out for the ultrasound, the bleeding had mostly stopped. That was around 7:30.
Another doctor joined in the fun. He said based on the ultrasound, which showed a small amount of tissue remaining, and the fact that the bleeding had stopped, we had two options: send me home with the caveat that if heavy bleeding started again, I was to come right back, and if not, go to the OB in the morning; or transfer me to Bellevue (the sister hospital a couple of miles away that handles all the OB/Gyn stuff for the hospital system) where they could keep a closer eye on me and possibly give me the D&C as soon as that night. They wanted to take my vital signs again and consult with someone from my OB practice before making the call. The vitals were what clinched it: they took them lying down, sitting up, and standing, and my heart rate was somewhere in the realm of crazy-cuckoo when I stood up, so no going home for me. Which was fine. The last thing in the world I wanted was to go home and start bleeding and have to haul the poor toddler out of bed and start this whole nonsense over again, but at some charming hour like 2:00 AM.
So Ben and Andy went home. And let me take a moment here to sing the praises of my mellow and largely unflappable toddler, who sat quite happily in a chair looking at books and crashing toy cars together and watching Seinfeld and eating crackers and charming nurses until nearly three hours after his bedtime. And Andy, for whom patience and calm do not come easily, who smoothly distracted Ben out of every possible turn into crabbiness and held my hand and didn't freak out even a little. At around 9:30, they went home, and I waited for the ambulance.
The next few hours were kind of hard. From the time we got to the ER, I felt enormously relieved that, whatever happened from that point, at least I wouldn't be the one making judgment calls, and if the crazy bleeding kept up or started up again, someone would know what to do. But when Andy left, I felt alone, and sad to be alone. I have lovely friends here who I'm sure would have jumped in the car if I'd called, but it didn't seem a dire enough emergency, my desire for further company and hand-holding, to get other mothers of babies and toddlers out of their beds at 10:30. I'd have called my mom if she weren't three hours away. I'd have called older friends with whom I have deeper credit, if they lived nearby. Maybe. It's hard to ask for help, even when you want it.
When the EMTs wheeled me into my room at Bellevue, I could hear a newborn crying. The room was just down the hall from where I'd stayed when Ben was born. I've never felt, throughout the loss of this pregnancy, that I was mourning a lost baby -- but ending this journey in that place was hard. The doctor on call couldn't come talk to me because he was delivering babies. I asked, when I woke up the following morning, how many babies they'd delivered that night. The nurse said five, and I'm not even sure why I asked, because of course it made me cry.
No one knew whether I'd be getting a D&C that night, or in the morning, or not at all. Which was fine, but it meant that I wasn't allowed to eat or drink, which sucked. I was substantially dehydrated from all the blood loss, and I'd been getting IV fluids since arriving at the ER, but it didn't make me less thirsty. They let me have a sip of water to take the Ambien which it was someone's excellent idea to give me around midnight, and handing that cup back demanded the kind of willpower I don't generally admit I'm capable of. I wasn't hungry until morning, and then I had to start changing channels when food ads came on.
In the morning, I had another ultrasound and another blood draw. The doctor (this time someone from my own OB practice) came in around 11:00, 12 hours since I'd been admitted and the first time I'd spoken to an actual MD, and said if I hadn't already lost so much blood, he'd be tempted to send me home to let the rest of the tissue pass normally, but he didn't want to run the risk that I'd start bleeding again, so he wanted to give me a D&C. Which, duh. I mean, I think I'd have burst into tears if he'd tried to send me home again.
They put me under for the surgery, bless them. Not on-a-ventilator under, just knocked out and with a local. So the surgery, so far as I'm concerned, was a total breeze. I came to, dozed for a while in recovery, then got wheeled back to my room. Most of my focus was on when could I eat something and might there be crackers and I have crackers in my bag if there aren't crackers here and can I eat crackers yet? The nurse brought me saltines and ginger ale, and never have such things tasted so good.
Andy and Ben had come for a visit in the morning between breakfast (theirs, of course) and nap time, and I'd requested -- for my sake and Ben's, not so much Andy's -- that they not come back until I was about ready to be released, since I preferred to rest and watch something on TV other than Dora or Dinosaur Train. After I gorged myself on crackers and further demonstrated my ability to function extra-hospitally by peeing, the nurse said it was just a matter of some paperwork (translation: maybe two hours) before I'd be free to go. That was around 3:30. I called Andy, and he and Ben came back. I was home by 5:00.
The bleeding started Tuesday night. I spent Tuesday night bleeding and freaking out, Wednesday night in two hospitals, and Thursday night sleeping soundly in my own bed. Today is Friday.
In terms of the surgery itself, I feel absolutely fine. I had some very mild cramping last night, wholly solved with ibuprofen. No pain whatsoever today. But I'm still feeling weak from the blood loss. The doctor told me to take iron supplements, and I should have thought to buy some on the way home, but I didn't, and I don't think I should drive, so Andy's going to stop by the pharmacy on his way home from work. Not feeling 100% up to kid-wrangling this morning with Andy back at work, I called in the cavalry, and two marvelous friends turned up to take Ben to the playground and wear him out.
No sex for four weeks. No attempting to conceive until after my next period, which will probably be in four to seven weeks. If I'd had the D&C three weeks ago, of course, I'd be three weeks ahead of this schedule. I think it's the timing I find most frustrating. We would have started trying to get pregnant this past fall, but I needed several dental procedures that were best done before conceiving, and what with scheduling and waiting for pre-approval from insurance, that ran us into January. I got pregnant in February, the first cycle trying, but it turned into a bit of a catastrophe, and now we can't even start trying again until the end of May at the latest, and probably more like the middle of June. I'm 37. The clock is ticking.
In the short term, right now, I'm feeling kind of traumatized. My bathrooms freak me out. Having always enjoyed rude good health, having my only experience of pregnancy before this an entirely by-the-book gestation and delivery, I'm finding myself pretty shaken, especially given my age, by the idea of the next pregnancy and all the things that can go wrong. A miscarriage, even one that goes as badly as this one, is really the least of my worries. It's like, once the possibility of this bad outcome was made manifest, the floodgates opened, and now all the bad outcomes seem far more plausible, far more threatening, far more real.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Like I said in my first post about the miscarriage, the fact that this pregnancy never made an embryo was significant to me, and has really meant that I haven't mourned the loss the way I would have had a proto-person ever developed. And I certainly don't mean to minimize the grief experienced by other women in the same situation. I feel pretty strongly that you don't get to choose how you feel about something, and there's a big range of valid reactions to any experience, and it's just the luck of the draw that I don't happen to have been made very sad by this one.
It has been a bit of a roller-coaster, though. When I still wasn't bleeding after a week, the NP became concerned that my hCG levels weren't dropping the way she'd expect, so I had to go for more bloodwork and schedule another ultrasound. It was possible that I was still pregnant, but my dates were way off, or I might have had an ectopic pregnancy. The former possibility seemed so remote to me that I honestly didn't really even consider it. My cycles have never been irregular. I tested positive the day before my period was due, and then again about a week later, and the likelihood of two false positives is so close to zero that it might as well be zero. The latter possibility, though, was pretty terrifying. I drew some comfort from the fact that it seemed implausible that I'd have gotten to nine weeks with an ectopic pregnancy without feeling any pain. In any case, when the results of the second blood draw showed that my hormone levels had dropped significantly, I was relieved -- way, way, way more relieved than disappointed. I canceled the ultrasound and turned down another shot at a D&C.
Another week passed, still no bleeding. I had the next weekly blood draw yesterday morning and checked in with the NP in the afternoon. My hCG levels are now below half of what they were at the first test. She wasn't concerned yet about the possibility of necrotic tissue causing an infection and was totally on board with my continuing to wait for things to work out on their own. Which is still and will remain, until it seems like any kind of threat to my health, my preference.
And it kind of blows to be two weeks out and still with no end in sight, unable to move on, wearing pads when I leave the house because who knows when the bleeding will start.
Too graphic, too intimate? I'm erring on the side of over-sharing because it seems to me that we're all a little too delicate about stuff like this, and the result is that every woman who has a miscarriage has to learn it all herself, rather than benefitting from other people's experiences well before the event. It's too common an experience to be so shrouded in mystery.
Friday, April 9, 2010
So. Here are some of Ben's and Andy's and my favorite picture books:
Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti
adapted and illustrated by Gerald McDermott
Caldecott Honor, 1973
The illustrations in this book will cause you physical discomfort if you have astigmatism. Seriously. But that shouldn't stop you, bcause it is a goofy, goofy tale told in a voice that's inordinate fun to read aloud. Ben liked it immediately, and it's remained among his top most-requested. It took Andy and me a longer time to warm up to it, but it's earned a firm place in the household canon.
All the World
by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee
Caldecott Honor, 2010
I'd be lying if I said the latte-liberal fantasy element of this book didn't make me a little queasy, though I'm about as latte liberal as it gets. The farmers' market! The happy plump lesbians on their tandem bike! The baby in an Ergo! All the World indeed -- if all the world were only such a quiet and carbon-neutral resort town! Also, there's something facile about the lists of things with no active verbs -- they make for nice rhymes, but they don't go anywhere or do anything. Still. I can't actually read more than three pages without choking up, and the illustrations are so beautiful and intricate, the little town with its geography and genealogy fully imagined, each page referring to all the others. My head thinks this book is very, very silly, but my heart loves it very, very much. Ben likes all the dogs and trucks.
by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
Caldecott Winner, 1980
If I had to pick a single favorite book, I think it might be this one. The illustrations are reminiscent of Grandma-Moses-y folk art, and they suit the story perfectly. The story follows one of my favorite themes for children's books: the work and produce of the seasons. It also speaks to my Yankee roots with its New Hampshire setting (rolling hills, little hamlets with tidy white churches) and message of hard work and thrift. Andy likes the woodworking, and I like the fiber craft. In fact, I don't think there's anything about this book I don't like. Ben likes pointing out the cheese in the shop and the lights in the window of the farm when the Ox-Cart Man returns home.
Let's Make Rabbits
by Leo Lionni
I love a little postmodern meta: so sue me. This is a sweet little tale about rabbits. It's also a bit of a meditation on the construction of reality. The hardcover version we have (a gift from C. -- thanks, C.!), which I hope is the same one I've linked you to, is a tactile pleasure in itself, a small volume perfect for little hands and a novelty for adult ones. It's also very pretty. I'm not sure what Ben likes about this one, but he demands it regularly.
At the Top of My Voice
by Felice Holman, illustrated by Edward Gorey
This one's out of print, I'm afraid, but it's not hard to get a decent used copy from, oh, let's say Amazon. I grew up with this book, and it's in my blood the way lines of liturgy run in the veins of someone raised to church. On tiptoe I'm taller, and taller I'm older. And I'm not Nan, I'm a dancer. And City asleep, city asleep, a carnival on the garbage heap. The poems are great, and the illustrations are great, and little kids should grow up with good poetry so they learn to love it before they can learn to fear it. Ben likes the squirrel, the birds, and the lion.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
So, allow me to beat this dead horse.
I don't think opposition to routine circumcision is wrong -- generally I find it reasonable and justified, and though I chose to circumcise my son, I consider myself an opponent of routine circumcision. But this petition obliterates any respect I might ever have had for the sense of anyone involved with it because it A) seeks to shut down debate rather than encourage it, and B) shows no respect whatsoever for science or expertise.
If you have taken a position based on a reasonable interpretation of factual evidence, you should never be afraid to hear new evidence that tests your position. If you're correct, new evidence will bear you out. If you're incorrect, why would you want to maintain your position? Similarly, you shouldn't be afraid to argue the point, especially with an expert in the field. Opposition to routine circumcision isn't an irrational position and has considerable foundation in medical science, so of all the responses available to a potential challenge, why on earth choose the one that boils down to SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP LALALALALA WE CAN'T HEAR YOU?
I can't fathom what motive the authors and supporters of the petition ascribe to the CDC for doing something so unethical and counter to its mission as ignoring -- not insufficiently weighing, but ignoring -- the risks of a procedure it is considering recommending. The CDC is not some crazy bunch of penis-mutilating yahoos. It is a body of public health experts. Being human, of course, they are fallible and certainly have biases of their own. It is foolish to take their word as gospel, but it is equally foolish not to accord them the respect their expertise deserves. If we could all conduct research and draw appropriate conclusions, we wouldn't need scientists, but the fact is that we're all a little busy doing other things, and many of us plumb ain't smart enough, and few of us have the talent or training, honed over a lifetime, to conduct or interpret the kind of medical research that the CDC is reviewing before making its recommendations. Skepticism is fine -- it's admirable even -- but when it crosses the line into anti-intellectualism, into opposition to science itself, it deserves a smackdown.
Though I chose to circumcise my son, I do not support routine circumcision. But if the CDC is considering recommending it, I'm certainly interested to hear why. What research, what interpretation of the research, could support such a radical position? I look forward to the opportunity to re-evaluate my own position in light of new evidence or new argument. I look forward to hearing the opposition's response -- if it's rational, if it's based, as the CDC's certainly will be, on evidence and informed interpretation.
I definitely look forward to any chance to improve public health. If it turns out that the research demonstrates that routine circumcision actually does provide a significant protection against deadly STDs, against cancer, wouldn't that be good news?
*I'm so sorry. I'm 12, and I can't write two whole blog posts about penises without a single bad pun.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Circumcision is not a big issue for me, though of course I'm aware that it's one of those parenting third rails, like breastfeeding and vaccination. I did a lot of reading about it before Ben was born, and the most I could muster was a mild bias against, based on a general principle of avoiding all non-crucial surgery. At the time, there was some not-extraordinarily-significant research supporting circumcision as plausibly prophylactic against certain STDs, and the combination of that, Andy's more-than-mild-but-not-very-strong bias for, and the extreme discomfort and embarrassment of a family friend who had to be circumcised for medical reasons in his 70s added up to a Yes. There's also in there somewhere, in a way I can't possibly justify, a weird little family-cultural / atheist-but-CYA adherence to the covenant. Or comfort in the tradition. Or notion of tribal belonging. Or something.
Anyway, like I said, it's not something I can work up a lot of strong feelings for or against, and it's one of those things, like whether you use a baby carrier or stroller, that I have a hard time understanding why some people are excited enough about to advocate publicly rather than simply decide for themselves. But I do feel strongly about this petition, strongly enough to have broken my own very sensible rule about not picking fights on Facebook.
Here's some of what Mothering says:
Based on flawed studies that ignore the risks and ethical concerns of infant circumcision, the CDC may recommend this unnecessary surgery for our baby boys. We know that safe sexual practices and abstinence – not circumcision – prevent sexually transmitted diseases. And we know that there is NO link between infant circumcision and better health.Mothering doesn't specify which studies it considers flawed and what those flaws might be. Unlike the CDC, it doesn't cite references. The CDC's fact sheet on male circumcision contains a useful paragraph, helpfully titled "Risks Associated with Male Circumcision," which includes no fewer than eight cites to studies that explicitly did not ignore the risks of the procedure. Mothering doesn't state its ethical objections, but I'm guessing they have something to do with the fact that an infant can't consent. And that's not something to dismiss out of hand, but we make decisions for our children every day, and that kind of ethical hairsplitting simply can't weigh heavily against substantive evidence (should there prove to be any) that performing the procedure would be a significant benefit to public health.
We will be delivering our petitions to CDC headquarters in April with the hopes of convincing them to make the right decision.
Mothering knows some stuff. Again, they don't cite references for how they know circumcision doesn't prevent transmission of STDs or how they know "there is NO link between infant circumcision and better health." And this kind of arrogant ignorance professing knowledge just honks me off. Take the claim that there's NO link between infant circumcision and "better" (as if that's even a meaningful or specific term) health: the American Medical Association says in this report, "there is little doubt that the uncircumcised infant is at higher risk for urinary tract infection." Smaller risk of UTIs = "better health"! But that's hardly the point, is it? The question isn't whether circumcision has any health benefits whatsoever (the most cursory review of current research makes it clear that it does); the question is whether the benefits are significant, whether they outweigh the risks and justify the costs. The ability to make that kind of essential distinction is only one of the reasons we trust the CDC before Mothering magazine to advise us about public health issues.
Mothering claims to want to convince the CDC to make the right decision. But to convince someone of something, you need to present an argument -- ideally with some evidence to back it up. A petition is not an argument. It's political pressure. It's a more or less polite way of ganging up. And I think we should all think very carefully about whether applying political pressure to the CDC is something we'd want to put our names to, or something we seriously think a group like the CDC should allow itself to be persuaded by.
It would be one thing if the petition advocated further specific study, if it made specific criticisms of the evidence, if it provided, in other words, an evidence-based argument to which it could then legitimately claim the CDC wasn't giving enough credence. But that's not what the petition advocates. Here's the text of the introduction:
No medical society in the world recommends male circumcision – yet newborn male circumcision is the most common surgical procedure in the U.S. This painful and risky procedure deprives more than a million boys each year of healthy, functional tissue – without their consent – while increasing medical costs by an average of $678 per baby.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is developing public health recommendations for the U.S. on male circumcision that could ignore the serious risks of this non-therapeutic surgery. As the foremost expert on public health in our country, the CDC has a responsibility to share the truth about infant circumcision.
We need just a few more signatures to help us reach our 25,000 goal before the end of March. Sign our petition to the CDC below and demand a truthful statement on the risks and harms of newborn male circumcision.
So, if the CDC's recommendations don't ignore the risks of the procedure and do present a truthful assessment of said risks, but conclude that the benefits outweigh the risks, Intact America will support the recommendations?
Here's the text of the petition itself:
As the foremost expert on public health in our country, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a responsibility to share the truth about public health issues that can affect millions of Americans.
Newborn male circumcision is the most common surgical procedure in the U.S. - yet this painful and unnecessary surgery carries serious risks, including hemorrhage, infection, surgical mishap, and death.
The role of circumcision in preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other health claims has been investigated by public health researchers and remains highly debatable. Only safe sexual practices, such as the use of condoms and abstinence, can prevent STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Circumcision cannot be responsibly recommended as a way of preventing disease.
If the CDC chooses to promote newborn male circumcision, it is supporting a procedure called "non-therapeutic" by the American Medical Association - in favor of inconclusive and highly debatable research.Though Intact America makes no wild claims about what they know about circumcision, they throw the word "debatable" around as if it means "worthless." But they fail to mention what standard of proof they would find conclusive, and indeed fail to cite a single reference, most notably for their claims of the associated risks. They demand that the CDC admit the truth, implying of course that the CDC has failed to do so or is likely to fail to do so, but there is no evidence presented that suggests any kind of obfuscation or dishonesty.
I ask that the CDC not recommend circumcision as a means of preventing HIV/AIDS and formally recognize the risks and harms of the procedure and the right of every child to bodily integrity.
What I can't understand is, if they accept that the CDC is the foremost expert on public health in the US, that the CDC has a duty to present the truth to the American people, and that there is debatable evidence about whether routine circumcision is beneficial to the public health, why on earth they can't just get the hell out of the way and let the CDC examine the evidence and make its conclusions?
The evidence is debatable, so for pity's sake, let's debate it! Let's hear it, all of it, including what the CDC -- the acknowledged experts -- think we should do. Let's open our minds to the possibility that while there might not have been significant evidence to support recommending routine circumcision five years ago, or last year, perhaps there is now. And if there isn't this year, perhaps there will be five years from now. Let's keep asking the questions whose answers might save or improve lives, and let's listen to the people who can speak about those questions with informed intelligence before we start arguing with them. Let's not dig so deep into the trenches we make of our personal decisions that we can't occasionally climb out and take a look at what a new day's sun might have revealed.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Yesterday I went for the dating ultrasound and discovered I had what's called a blighted ovum, which means the fetal pole (thus the embryo itself) never developed: I had a fetal sac and a yolk, but no fetus.
It's too soon to know exactly how I feel about this. I mean: I feel what I feel now, but who knows what I'll feel about it next week or next month or next year. Mostly, at this point, I'm surprised by how not surprised I am. On some level, I knew it. I had a bad feeling about this pregnancy, and some part of me is relieved to know for sure that it went wrong, to be able to move on rather than continue to worry about it. Of course, if the ultrasound had showed a squirmy little proto-human with a solid heartbeat, I probably would have shaken off the bad feeling and chalked it up to second-time-around jitters. You don't tend to know a lot about what can go wrong your first time. But then the second time, you know more mothers, and you've heard more stories.
I find myself comforted by the fact that an embryo never developed. There's something less tragic about a lost possibility than a heart that stopped beating.
It drives me crazy that there's no way to phrase it that doesn't lay the blame, at least grammatically, on me. I miscarried, or I had a miscarriage, or I lost the pregnancy. There's no the pregnancy failed, or the embryo lost itself. Even the word "miscarriage" tells you it was the carrier who fucked it up. English language FAIL.
I find myself dwelling on some really stupid details. Like: hey, now I can clean out the room where the cat boxes are so Andy doesn't have to do it. (Andy hates the cats, and I forgot to set him up with a minimally gross set-up to take over catbox tending while I was pregnant -- pregnant women aren't supposed to mess with kitty litter because of the risk of toxoplasmosis.) Like: crap, now if I get pregnant again ASAP, I'll end up delivering and racking up hospital bills on next year's deductible instead of this year's.
B., my nurse practitioner, said in terms of my health and well-being and future ability to conceive, it's about six of one, half dozen the other between letting nature take its course and having a D&C. In both cases, the risk of infection is around 7-9%. Which surprised me: that's a pretty high risk for a thing that happens so frequently. And this kind of infection can be extremely dangerous. The temptation to do the surgery is to have it all over with sooner and to skip the worst of the gore, though even with a D&C, you still have some bleeding and cramping. For now, though, I'm planning to let things just happen, with an option, of course, to go for the surgery if it's not happening fast enough or if it's too unpleasant. There's a considerable gross-out factor to the mechanics of miscarriage. B. said that because there's no fetus, for me it's likely to be more like a very heavy period. Let's hope so.
People who mean to be sympathetic and kind tend to say things about how nature gets rid of its mistakes or something, how miscarriage happens because the fetus wasn't good enough. I understand this impulse, and I certainly appreciate that it's kindly meant. But it's pretty stupid, and I wish people would think it through. Would you say that to someone mourning a person who died from a genetic disease? That it's somehow less sad because the person obviously wasn't made very well? Yes, it's true that many miscarriages are caused by genetic abnormalities. But that's not particularly comforting, especially because with current technology, some would-be mothers may actually know for a fact that that's not what caused their loss. They may have very strong, very complicated feelings about what did cause their loss, whether it's genetic abnormalities or something else. Plus, honestly, what seems comforting to one person may seem like minimizing to someone else, like: you shouldn't be so upset, because here's this information. In my opinion, the thing to say is the same thing you'd say to someone mourning any other loss: "I'm so sorry. Is there anything I can do?"
I cried on the table at the ultrasound. I cried in B.'s office. I cried in the car. I've cried a little here and there since. But mostly, so far, I'm ok. I know that I have physical discomfort and unsettling gore to look forward to, plus the hormone crash at the end. But for me, mostly, this feels like a very annoying roadblock between us and the next wonderful member of our family.
(One quick request: I'm going to link this post at Facebook, but I'd really prefer that people not comment about my miscarriage on my Facebook page. Comments here are fine, or feel free to contact me some other way.)
Friday, March 5, 2010
If we hadn't happened to buy a crib that converted to a toddler bed, I would have no truck with toddler beds, and would have put him right into a single bed, or possibly just put his crib mattress on the floor. But lo, the wonder of Ikea.
Ikea let us down. When we took the bars panels out and went to take the top panels off the headboards, it became immediately clear that there would be no detaching and reattaching the decorative cap pieces. They didn't have a flush, flat-to-flat join; they had some kind of grooved thing that was on no account A) going to come apart without solvents or B) going to attach to the bottom panels of the headboard without sawing and sanding. Naturally, we began this process about forty minutes before the kid's bedtime, so power tools were not in the cards. We left the bed with no decorative caps, which means it has a sad, unfinished edge with weird holes. Meh.
I had intended to get a pair of those bed baffle things to keep him from falling out, but I forgot, so instead we put a big dog bed right beside. The bed's only about six inches off the ground, anyway. I wondered if he might not end up preferring the dog bed, and if so, whether it was my duty to discourage that.
I had searched for toddler bed linens online, and found two mutually exclusive categories: the ugly and the ruinous. One advantage of moving your kid out of the crib while he's still this little is that he has not yet developed an attachment to any licensed characters, so there was no tempation to yield to the ugly in the form of Elmo or Thomas or Spiderman in their poly-blend luridness. Nor was I quite willing to shell out fifty bucks for Dwell Studios' precious hipster 100% cottons. Besides, I didn't think the kid was going to be able to manage the top sheet + comforter; it seemed like a recipe for tangled child. But that was the only formula available from Target, which I quickly realized was my best bet for spending under rather way, way over fifty bucks.
So, Ikea. Which sells toddler pillows and duvets, and then sets of duvet covers and pillowcases (because for pete's sake, if you already have the crib, you already have fitted sheets!). But which doesn't ship its kid bed linens. I did actually consider the idea of tossing the kid in the car and driving three hours to New Haven. I'd have arranged to meet my mother, so it wouldn't have been thoroughly crazy, but still. She offered to go instead, and that was a much saner plan.
So. It only remained to see whether Ben would accept this transition or raise holy hell. Would he pop right out of bed and bang on the door, screaming? Would he rampage through his bureau or pull all the books out of his bookcase? We took the space heater out because he has a desperate fondness for buttons, so at least he probably wouldn't burn the house down. He's a pretty mild-mannered toddler, so odds were in our favor, but then he's always been an iron-jawed sleep resister, so there's that.
There was some initial yelling, but he didn't pop out or fall out of bed. And he settled down pretty quickly. We've now put him down for three bedtimes and two naps, and there's still a little outrage, but it's short-lived and appears to be on the way out. There have been some wake-ups, but no more than in the crib. And we're not out of the woods, I'm sure -- he could decide to rampage at any moment, after all -- but I think it's not premature to call the experiment a success.
But I would never jinx us like that.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
I say this to illustrate that I understand the unshakable impulse where babies are concerned. But here's one I don't have, don't understand, and am perpetually perplexed and kind of grossed-out by: the match-making. Sometimes it's someone you know, and sometimes it's some total stranger in the grocery line, but if you have a baby or small child, you will hear, more frequently than you might think, this person's opinion about a sexual partner for your little one.
I find the career assignments weird and off-putting, too. I heard a lot about how Ben was going to be a linebacker. "That's fine," I'd say, "so long as he takes calculus." People who actually know him tend to observe his interest in cars and things mechanical and dub him Engineer (big stretch, given that's what his father is). I'm not sure why it bugs me. There's something inanely reductive about it, I guess, even though clearly it's meant kindly. But why the urge in the first place? Why narrow the field based on pretty much nothing at all? Isn't it more wonderful, isn't it part of what's so marvelous about tiny people to begin with, the opportunity to embrace the nearly limitless possibilities of their future selves?
But the sexual partner thing is just flat-out creepy. We fret over how early our kids become sexualized, but we're already pairing them off before they can walk, let alone before they have secondary sex characteristics. Of all the random small talk to make, why this? Wouldn't it be inappropriate and kind of bizarre if you said the same stuff about actual adults who are sexually active? Hey, your daughter's 25 and my son's 26 -- they'd be perfect for each other!
I don't know, maybe it's just me.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
A Typical Day
6:00 Andy wakes up, goes downstairs, starts coffee. Sometimes Ben is up already and yelling about a car that's slipped through the crib bars.
6:30 It's unusual for Ben not to be up by now.
7:00 Andy wakes me up by yelling up the stairs. I come down, and Andy goes to work. I give Ben his breakfast of a sliced banana and dreary-ohs.
7:15 I read email and check in with the Interwebs. Ben does baby work.
The rest of the morning will include some or all of the following: reading to Ben, looking at photos or videos online with Ben on my lap, watching TV (me, not him -- he generally pays attention for five minutes and then goes back to baby-work), taking a shower, doing laundry, tidying, vacuuming, other assorted domestic chores. If we have errands to run, this is usually when they happen, so that we can be home with plenty of margin before naptime because if the kid so much as closes his eyes in the car, he will fight a nap like a mean cat.
10:30-ish Ben and I eat second breakfast, which is usually my first breakfast, and consists of half a PB&J for him and a whole one for me.
11:45 Ben picks a Nap-Time Car, and we go upstairs. He usually gets a diaper change and potty time and then a book on my lap, then goes down for his nap. I generally watch toddler-inappropriate TV and knit while he's napping. I also eat lunch.
1:30-ish Ben wakes up. He usually sleeps about an hour and a half, but it can be as little as an hour and as much as three hours. He gets a snack of some kind. Often I accede to his demands for a cracker (he points to the cabinet where the crackers are and yells).
Rest of the afternoon: We resume our work and play.
4:00 I go into the kitchen and empty and load the dishwasher and tidy and wipe down the kitchen. I start dinner. Depending on the timing required, I either start the whole deal or just do whatever prep can be done ahead of time. The aim is to eat soon after Andy arrives. I expect him between 5:15 and 5:30. On burger night and occasionally otherwise, I feed Ben, and then Andy and I eat after he's in bed. (Burger night usually happens when I've been out and busy in the afternoon, and we do it once a week. One of us does Ben's night-time ritual while the other goes to Five Guys for take-out, which we eat in front of the TV.)
5:15-ish Andy comes home, changes clothes, feeds Hugo.
5:30-ish We sit down to dinner.
After dinner Andy sits on the sofa and reads politcal blogs on his toy phone or plays the banjo while Ben runs around or rides his wheelie-bee or does puzzles or bashes cars around. I clean up dinner. Sometimes I join them and read or knit. Sometimes I play on the computer. This isn't a big block of time, as Ben's bedtime ritual begins at
6:45 Ben picks a Bedtime Car, and Andy takes him upstairs, brushes his teeth, puts him in jammies, and reads the first book. I come up after five or 10 minutes and read the second book. Then Ben turns off the light and gives us each a kiss on both cheeks, and he goes into his crib.
7:00 Andy and I come downstairs. I feed the cats and scoop their litter and close them up in the kitchen and basement so that Andy doesn't have to see or hear them. We watch TV. I knit.
9:30 We pack it in. Hugo goes out. There's some final tidying in the kitchen, or else there's not, and it gets left for the morning.
10:15 Andy's usually asleep by now, and I'm knitting and watching TV in bed.
11:00-ish I go to sleep.
Friday, January 29, 2010
For one thing, loving my child is simply not like any other love I've felt before. It's not just a different flavor; it's a totally different food. Sure, it has things in common with loving a spouse, loving a parent, loving a pet -- it's still love. But it's profoundly different. Nobody else's suffering or delight could come close to affecting me the way his does. He belongs to me and I belong to him in a way that's nothing like the connection I feel to other people I love. (And that's not to disparage my other relationships. I have good, close connections to the important people in my life.)
I'm also responsible for him in a way that's unlike any other relationship. It's a responsibility that's hardwired, that I actually feel physically. The sound of him crying out in genuine anguish (as opposed to frustration, discomfort, boredom, or any of the other smaller unhappinesses that are immediately distinguishable from real trouble) isn't just a sound; it's like a klaxon in my spinal cord. But it's not just that. It's always being aware of him, even if we're not in the same town, even if I'm not actively thinking about him. It's like I have radar in the back of my mind, and the little blip that's Ben is always there, blinking.
Being a parent also connects me to the world in a new way, and more profoundly. Partly it's just having a bigger stake, I think, though you'd have thought being alive was a pretty big stake to start with. But it's really not -- not compared to being responsible for a small and completely precious person. For one thing, I don't think it would even have occurred to me to consider what my stake in the world was before I had a kid. So it's that, and it's sharing a deeply meaningful experience with the majority of humanity. In a very real way, I have something in common with parents in Khartoum, in Osaka, in Helsinki. For that matter, I have something in common with leopard mothers and chickadee mothers and coyote mothers. And I'm not talking about some goofball intellectual exercise; this is something I feel pretty deeply, something that's changed the way I exist in the world. And there's something else, harder to define: when it comes to passage-of-life stuff, there's a sweet in the sad and a sad in the sweet that I never felt before. German probably has a word for this mournful joy, but I don't. It's a bit like stepping back so far to see the forest that suddenly you see that joy and mourning are part of the same thing, a connectedness, an investment in the world, an expression of love.
It's tough to talk about any of this without sounding pretty colossally cornball. But I find that I don't care all that much about whether I sound cornball. And I really have no idea whether other parents feel the same way. I imagine there are as many different ways to experience parenthood as there are ways to experience romantic love, if not more. But we all hear about romantic love all the time. It's in every song, in every book, in every movie. People talk about falling in love and falling out of love, and we all have lots of words to describe the stages and problems and joys and minutiae of romantic love. And yes, we talk about parenting, one parent to another, and there are books of advice and instruction, and God knows there are blogs. But it's not the same.
My friend C., the domestic theologian, was looking for examples of literature about motherhood. Can you think of any? It's difficult to think of examples of mother characters, let alone examples where the mother is the protagonist and motherhood is a dominant theme. Kristin Lavransdatter was pretty much the only real example anyone could come up with. For a profound human experience, that's a pretty big gap in the market. I think talking about the big-picture, major-theme stuff of parenthood feels corny because it's been more or less exclusively the province of greeting cards and inspirational wall-hangings. Which I just so fundamentally don't understand. I look to literature to help explain my world, and it's like I just fell in love for the first time, and no one had ever written a book or made a movie about romantic love. And worse than that: that the very idea of taking romantic love seriously as a literary theme was kind of laughable and embarrassing.
So, a couple of things. First, everybody should immediately read Kristin Lavransdatter, which is a great (and I mean Great in the sense of Major Work of World Literature, as well as great in the sense of really wonderful) book, apart from being the only book I've ever read in which the protagonist's breast-feeding matters to the story. Second, and I mean this seriously: What the fuck? Why isn't there a canon of literature on the theme of parenthood to match the theme of romantic love? Is it as simple and stupid as the lack of female authors? And the fact that until pretty recently, women who wrote books tended to be women who didn't have children? I can sort of accept that explanation, except that fatherhood is pretty profound, too, so where are the themes of fatherhood in our glorious literature of the patriarchy?
It's a head-scratcher.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
2. Newborn. Suddenly a shower was the holy grail, especially once Andy went back to work after two weeks. He would come home from work and I would head up for a shower, and it was untold bliss. It wasn't just that the shower itself was pleasant. It wasn't just that it was time alone. It was that if the baby was crying, not only was it not my problem, but I couldn't even hear it. Bliss! I still remember the sensation of turning the water off and listening for crying, and the relief when there was silence.
Some babies like being in the room while you're showering. They like the white noise and, apparently, the steam. Not Ben. I tried it once or twice, putting him in his laundry-basket bassinet or his bouncy seat, and he shrieked his baby head off. Oooooooh-kay, then.
3. Settled Baby. Now that the kid was napping reliably, I could put him down and then take the monitor with me into the bathroom. The trouble was, his nap time was my only freedom, and I hated to waste it on showering when I could be watching mediocre television or reading the Intertubes. Once he was crawling, I tried bringing him into the bathroom again, this time unrestrained, with all hatches battened of course, and an armload of toys. No dice. He'd be fine for a little while and then he'd get upset. I think it was the steam that bugged him. Mean mommy that I am, I still did it to him about half the time, alternating with naptime showers.
4. Toddler. When Ben was around 12 months and her son was around 18 months, I asked my friend S how she handled showering. She said she left him running around free while she showered. That had not occurred to me. I don't think I moved to free-range showering for a while -- certainly not until he was a well established walker -- but that was where we ended up and where we've stayed. He has access to the bathroom, his bedroom, and the upstairs hallway that connects them. If he wants me, he can come get me, and he can't get far enough away that I can't hear him if he's yelling.
At first he found that upsetting, too. He'd come stand by the tub and scream and cry for a minute or two, then get distracted by some mischief and disappear. It took maybe half a dozen iterations before he was totally fine with the routine. One time I heard his door slam and so had to leap out sopping wet and rescue him from his room. After that, I learned to block all doors. He went through a (mercifully brief) phase of bringing books and toys and trying to chuck them into the shower with me. He went through a (long, but now sadly over) phase of running down the hall as soon as the he heard the water stop to come stand in the doorway and applaud.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
This probably isn't in his top five anymore, but it's notable because I can't get over how evergreen it has been. His Grandma Kath sent it to him about a year ago if I'm not mistaken, and it has been among his favorite toys since the day it arrived. I'd say his interest in it peaked around 15 months. I would never have pegged it as an engine of inventive play, or a toy that would have unfolded over the months with different ways of interacting with it. It looks so one-dimensional!
You push the button, and music plays while the center cog turns, which turns the other cogs. The center one is attached to the toy; the others are removable (and stackable, though that doesn't seem to add anything to his enjoyment).
When he was tiny, he just liked taking all the cogs off and chewing on them. I would push the button for him occasionally, and he liked that well enough that he learned to do it himself. (And the music isn't bad, for a mass-market kid toy -- it might be the least annoying music-making toy in the house.) He then went through stages of mastery of manipulating the cogs in various ways: putting them back onto their nubs, sticking his fingers in the way so they can't move (it makes a different noise when the cogs are blocked), etc. Lately his interest is in putting things on the main cog so that they spin around or fall off. He's been experimenting with that for a while now.
It's like he woke up one morning about a month ago and suddenly had peg puzzle mastery. He'd had a couple of the really big chunky ones for a few months, which mostly got handled and chewed and their pieces misplaced, but he never showed much interest in "solving" them. Then one day I got out of the shower and found him poring over one of the 8-9 piece puzzles (also presents from his Grandma Kath) that had been sitting on a bookshelf in his bedroom for month unnoticed. That was that. I found the others -- I'd put them away months ago -- and suddenly he was solving them in a flash and yelling for more.
Melissa and Doug, who made the four we had at first, seem annoyingly to be have added sounds or music to their classic 9-piece puzzles (like the one above), when one of the best things about puzzles as far as I'm concerned is that they're quiet! So we hit Target and found an armload of Circo puzzles instead.
Cars, Trucks, and Buses
Since his colossal interest in all things vehicular first manifested a few months ago, he's built up quite a collection in various materials and scales, from Matchbox cars to a wooden dump truck that was mine as a toddler and probably weighs ten pounds. He has the fabulous little Plan buses with smooth-running rubber wheels at left, and he has a seriously irritating Fisher Price schoolbus that makes a dozen different noises that all make you want to kill yourself. (And, wow, did Little People ever get super-lame.)
It's hard to say which among these are his favorites. He has affairs with certain ones for a few days and then casts them aside for others. He does in fact take them to bed -- the smaller ones, anyway. At bedtime and naptime, he picks one or two to take upstairs. He doesn't cuddle them, but they do appear to be essential to the going-to-sleep process somehow.
My favorites, of course, are the ones that don't make noise and don't have pieces that come off and need to be incessantly replaced.
Friday, January 15, 2010
I've been giving him portions of what we eat for dinner fairly regularly, sometimes supplemented by a cup of steamed broccoli or peas if a green vegetable isn't on the menu for the adults. I'm constantly surprised by the things he decides he loves. Like chili. I make fairly spicy chili, and it might be his favorite food. Generally he's not a big fan of meat, but if it comes in the form of chili, stand the hell back. He will yell for more so long as we're still at the table.
Mostly I'm happy with how he eats. He's open to new things, he has a lot of favorites that include mom-favorites like broccoli and veggie burgers, and he's thoroughly engaged by food, so he's pretty easy-going at restaurants. His pediatrician approves, so I'm not concerned that he's overeating. A worry pings me now and then, though, that he doesn't have an off switch. If he likes something he's eating, he wants to go on eating it well past when he must be full. He will go on clamoring for chili until physically removed from the table -- though, at that point, he is perfectly content to give up his demands and move on to the next thing.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
I'm not philosophically opposed to co-sleeping, but it wasn't an option for me for a couple of reasons. One, I love pillows and blankets, and the recommendation for safety when co-sleeping with a newborn is not to have either. It seemed to me that the comfort offered by co-sleeping would be significantly reduced by stripping our bed. I didn't relish kicking out the dogs, either. Also, I like very much to read or watch TV in bed. At some point, I assumed, this child would be going to sleep before 9:00, and what was I going to do, headphones and booklights? This is my time to unwind, and the furtiveness would have bugged me. Possibly the biggest con for me, though, was the stories I'd heard of people trying to get toddlers or big kids into their own beds and having a hard time with it. Discipline and making big, uncomfortable, "for-your-own-good" transitions are so very much not my bag. It seemed easier, even during the hell of a sleep-resistant infancy, to buck up and Ferberize rather than buckle and co-sleep.
I had friends at the time who were co-sleeping, and whose babies (and therefore whole families) slept great. I envied them their rest. Now, though, while Ben reliably sleeps through and requires at most a brief redirect (usually a cuddle in the rocking chair), most of those kids are having a tough time with the transition to their own rooms, which in a few cases corresponded unfortunately with the arrival of a new sibling. I also know former co-sleepers whose transitions were seamless, though it seems less common, just like I know families who transitioned to a crib and sleeping through without incident. (I should say I'm more or less conflating co-sleeping with other forms of not sleep training. If you, say, lie down with your toddler in his room for an hour so that he can fall asleep, I'm lumping you in with the co-sleepers.)
So it seems to me that it's a trade-off. At some point, presuming you eventually want the child in her own room, she will need to learn to put herself to sleep there, and put herself back to sleep when she wakes up there. No matter when it happens, whether in infancy or later, it is a tough lesson to learn, and it's tough on the whole household. I think you should do what works for your family, but it seems to me that there's a positive benefit to getting this unhappy stage over with sooner rather than later, especially if another baby is going to enter the scene.