Category Archives: Children

Tuesday

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I’m tired.

Everything sounds much worse when it’s being transmitted through a baby monitor. My daughter’s voice crackles, warbles, hits the limit of the transmission and blurs into static. I look at my watch. It says 7:23 am. It’s wrong, though. I never set it back an hour in November. She goes quiet. I drift back into sleep. Sometimes, I think, sometimes she fusses for thirty seconds and then nods off again. Sometimes.

I shouldn’t complain. It’s not a school day, and this is the first night she’s slept through the night in almost a week. She was doing it consistently before she came down with a fever over the weekend. Every parent fears the fever. Hell hath no fury like a sick baby at 3:00am. It’s harder, going from sleeping without interruption to swinging back into sitting up for an hour as your overtired baby throws a tantrum in your arms while you’re trying to nurse her.

She cries again. My husband rolls over. He and I have a schedule: whoever gets up with her during the night gets to sleep in while the other parent gets her out of bed, gives her breakfast, etcetera. It’s his morning, but she didn’t wake up last night, so I guilt myself into thinking that I should really get up and take care of her. I guilt myself into many things. I did it before I had a baby, and motherhood only exaggerated the problem.

He willingly offers to take care of her, and gets out of bed. I think about shutting the baby monitor off, and fall asleep before I do this. Time passes. I hear the baby crying again, and the shower running. He hasn’t figured out the trick of gating off the bathroom so she doesn’t feel shut out, and also gating the stairs so she doesn’t get ambitious and start climbing them. She starts slapping the bedroom door. She knows I’m in here. I get up and carry her back to bed with me. I try to doze while she nurses. She’s ill-tempered. She pops on and off, cries in between, bangs her hand on my collarbone. I blame it on teething. I blame it on the residual effects of being sick last week. Mostly, I wish she would lay calmly against me while I try to fit in another ten minutes of sleep, like the co-sleeping advocates talk about, except that my daughter never really liked co-sleeping, so the point is moot.

My husband comes back in to get her after his shower, apologizing. I tell him I don’t really mind. And really, I don’t. She seemed so sad and lonesome, out in the hallway, pounding on the door. He takes her out to give her breakfast, but I’m awake now. Listlessly, I scroll through Facebook, and then feel guilty again because my husband is caring for our daughter and I’m supposed to be sleeping. I get up. I start wandering aimlessly around the kitchen, taking care of randomly urgent matters and getting in my husband’s way while he makes coffee, gives the baby her breakfast, and gets his own. I feel dull and fuzzy.

He leaves for work. During yesterday’s weekly grocery trip, I forgot to buy myself some cereal for breakfast. She was fussing in the shopping cart, and I just didn’t think about breakfast until I was out of the parking lot, and there are very few things that would motivate me to find another parking spot, take her out of her carseat, carry her back in the store, buckle her into the cart, etcetera, etcetera.

“I’ll bake some sort of energy bar/muffin thing,” I promised myself.

She’s completely out of sorts today. Lots of leg clinging, arm-raising, begging to be picked up and then writhing like a madwoman once she’s in my arms. I eat cookies for breakfast, justifying it because they have peanut butter chips in them and peanut butter has protein, right? I distract her long enough for the really important part: coffee. She plays contentedly for about 6 minutes while I greedily clasp the mug in my hands and drain it down to the last gritty bits at the bottom. At least there’s that.

I go through the morning chores – making the bed, dusting the floor. She likes these chores. She watches them with rapt attention, and chases after the dust mop as I push it around the baseboards. It’s a bit late; her legs and the front of her pajamas are already coated in a black and white sprinkling of dog and cat hair. I fight a losing battle with the shedding animals and her fleece sleepers.

The floor is relatively clean. I haul her upstairs to get her dressed. My arms and shoulders are sore. I remember that I did yoga for fifteen minutes on Sunday. I should have done yoga today. I feel so much better when I exercise.

It’s fun to get her dressed. She likes it when I tickle her belly, or when I duck my face really close to hers and then pull away quickly. She likes the bird/acorn/pinecone mobile I made for her. We snuggle in the rocking chair when we’re done. She pulls at my shirt. I oblige.

She seems pretty happy after that. I sneak over to the sewing table to fiddle with a few projects. She changes her mind about being happy. She crawls over and wants to be in my lap. I put her in my lap. She wants to get down. She crawls away, and repeats the whole thing in five minutes. I feel sore all over now, in the joints in my hands, in my jaw. This isn’t from yoga. I’m probably getting whatever she had. I can count on one hand the times that I was sick before I became a mother. Now, I would need to borrow other people’s hands to keep track of it. Because I don’t sleep nearly as much as I should, and sleep deprivation means you get sick more often.

I open Spotify and turn on Tallest Man on Earth. She likes him. Well, I like him. She likes anything, even the really bad elevator pop in the grocery store. Normally when I play music she bounces up and down on her knees and claps her hands. She doesn’t do this today. I pick her up again. She pulls on my shirt.

While Christian sings about a woman smelling like smoke and honey in his arms, I think of camping. I remember how nice another person can smell in the darkness, in the tent, after a good campfire, and for the briefest moment, I wish it were just Jason and me again. I feel sad that the twoness, the comradery of being mere children ourselves off on an adventure, is simply not the same. Math doesn’t work the same way with families. It’s not two plus one equals three; its two plus some strange, infinite number equals the original two being all cut and scattered amongst the new sum.

I feel guilty because I wish I could go camping alone with my husband.

She’s so crabby. I don’t feel good. I’m tired. I nurse her again. She falls asleep. She wakes up as I’m laying her in the crib, cries for ten seconds, and then consents to an early nap.

The to-do list hits me with a vengeance. I need to call the school IT department because I let my password expire, and I already missed a minor assignment because of it. I need to order another textbook. I need to register for a workshop. I need to make breakfast.

Usually, when I have lots of small things to do, one or more of them turns out to be a large thing and I get very discouraged. Today, I’m in luck. I get it all done. As the breakfast bars are in the oven, I think about showering. I wonder if showering will make me feel better. And then, it occurs to me that I could take a bath with her when she wakes up. We like doing this together. It would be something nice for me, and something nice for her at the same time, and that’s sort of rare. I go to clean the tub. It’s quite grimy. The timer on the oven goes off. She wakes up.

You know that thing that mothers say? The “it goes too fast” thing? That plays in my head all the time. That makes me feel guilty, like there’s something really, really evil about me because I’ve never thought it goes too fast. I think it goes just right, and sometimes, just right can seem really long. The span of time between the end of her nap and bedtime overwhelms me some days, and I think, “am I the only one who feels like this?” I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not. Maybe we don‘t say it, though. Maybe we fear that saying it negates how much we love our children, how integral and fierce our connections are to them. Maybe we are uncomfortable with expressing the pain of motherhood because some women want to be mothers and can’t, or some women were mothers and now they aren’t. Maybe the best we can do is write something slightly humorous, something light, and easy to read, about being tired, about cleaning up someone else’s poop, and then quickly slap the bandaid of “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” on the end.

Or maybe I am the only one who sometimes misses not being a parent, or having the ability to catch up on sleep, or being alone with my husband, or just not feeling guilty all the time. I miss having space in my brain, because I went from being a person to being a radio tower, and she is the frequency that never turns off.

And after all of this, I’m going to run a warm bath, and enjoy the time with my daughter. I’m going to give her lunch and play with her and nurse her to sleep tonight, and before I go to bed myself, I’ll very likely pick up my phone and look at photos of her, and I’ll think of how I love her so much that it almost feels sinful to say it out loud, to strap it into the constraints of words and sounds. Because that’s what being a parent is like. It’s almost like being a superhero, like having the ability to simultaneously hold your frustration and your love in the same hand. And when I think of it this way, I don’t feel guilty at all. I feel mighty, and brave. I feel like I’m saving the world.

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On Feeding the Baby

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A quick preface: Finavaire Andrea Smith was born on November 26, at 4:11am. She was a petite six pounds, fifteen ounces and measured 19.5 inches. Because, you know, people dig that stuff.

Aside from the very twilight zone-esque hospital stay that followed, life since then is divided up into tiny little blocks of time in which I actually have two free hands and a mind that is semi-present. As I type this, I am staring down the barrel of the next feeding time. My baby is swaddled and drowsy, propped up next to me in the Boppy pillow. She makes these awesome faces when she’s half-asleep; all puckered lips and gassy smiles.

I can smell her diaper. I’ll have to take care of that, too.

What I should be writing is an edited version of my novel. And if I wasn’t writing that, I should be writing a birth story because, whoa, I rocked a totally natural birth despite a full 24 hours of labor and four hours of exhausting pushing due to the fact that my daughter thought it would be funny to have her hand sticking up next to her head when she came out. Hello everyone. Here I am! Thanks kid.

Instead, I’m going to talk about my boobs. Specifically, my nipples.

There was a time when I was squeamish about my body. Having a baby sort of works that out of you. It probably has something to do with that moment where you realize you’re sitting on the toilet with your husband, your doula, her assistant, the nurse, and your midwife in the room with you and you just don’t care. So, if the topic of breasts as in breastfeeding makes you blush, you might want to skip the rest of this post.

It’s always awkward when people ask me if she’s feeding well. Especially if it’s a guy. The simple truth is that she is. The last time she was weighed, she was almost nine pounds. Her getting the nutrients that she needs and the ensuing weight gain have never been an issue. And I mean, I’m thankful for that. It’s one less potential source of anxiety that I have to deal with. So, if you’re a guy, and you’re wondering if she’s feeding well, she is. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is that while she is doing just fine, I’ve been wading through the proverbial soup of postpartum hormones, sleep deprivation, piles of laundry that I only sometimes can set my mind to, and painful nipples.

It started in the hospital. Remember that kick-ass natural labor? It left me so, so exhausted that despite my adamant wishes that Finn be placed on my chest right away so that she could latch on right away, she was only able to stay there for about fifteen minutes, only one or two of which she actually suckled. It was literally all I could do to hold my eyes open, much less help her get the hang of things. Plus, I was covered in sweat and it was affecting her body temperature. When they took her off of my chest and put her under the warmer, I simply didn’t have it in me to object. I was actually pretty grateful because I thought I was going to drop her.

The next day, the hospital’s head lactation consultant stopped by the room to give me a crash course. She was a very no-nonsense woman who knew her stuff. Hold her like this. Left hand here. Right arm here. The problem was that my newborn baby really cared more about sleeping than the finer concepts of a deep latch and so I was left with instructions to hand express colustum and spoon feed it to Finn in hopes that it would wet her appetite for the real thing, fresh from the source.

“Babies sleep quite a bit the first few days.” She explained. “Just do what you can.”

So I did. I did not, however, see the lactation consultant again. And I get it – this was a huge birthing center and there happened to be tons of births that week in addition to mine. When one of the midwives came to visit me and offered two tubes of lanolin, I was baffled as to why I would need it. Would nursing really be that painful? It wasn’t until the nurse on duty the day that we were released watched me feed her that it was pointed out to me how shallow Finn’s latch was. Basically, she was just gnawing on the end of my nipple.

“You’re going to get really sore if she keeps that up!” The nurse cautioned.

It didn’t hurt at the time, so I kind of shrugged it off. I mean, babies are born to breastfeed. It would come naturally.

I’m going to stop right here and recite my new “one piece of advice” that I will forever after be offering to first-time moms interested in breastfeeding: get that lactation consultant in your room and DO NOT LET HER LEAVE until she’s shown you how to really latch your baby. I don’t care if your baby is sleepy – have her give you some pointers for waking her up. In fact, if you can, have her check your baby’s tongue and mouth shape and observe how she sucks and for goodness sake, make sure they teach you the football hold because forever after, whenever you mention that you’re having problems with your latch, someone is going to ask you “have you tried the football hold?” as though tucking your infant under your armpit will solve all of your breastfeeding woes. If said lactation consultant has to stay for an hour before you’re comfortable or has to come back several times, don’t worry about it. Don’t feel stupid. Don’t feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Because the truth is you probably don’t and that’s totally acceptable. Get help and expertise right away. You don’t want to mess this up if you can avoid it early on.

We left the hospital on a Friday. Due to a stint with jaundice, Finn remained a fairly lethargic baby for the first few days at home. This meant that we had to wake her up every two hours around the clock to make sure she was getting what she needed. So we did.

It’s one thing to read that a newborn feeds 8-12 times a day. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? That’s reasonable. They have small tummies after all. However, it’s impossible to truly understand how grueling that is, especially when your alarm goes off at two in the morning, the house is cold, your husband is confused, you’re confused, your baby has no interest in waking up and even if she did, she sometimes plays clueless when it comes to feeding and lays there with big, innocent eyes while you try to make yourself as uncomfortable as possible so that you stay awake long enough to feed her. Nevertheless, I persevered. It wasn’t until the couple of days leading up to her three-week pediatric appointment that I relaxed a little and allowed her to go for more than 2.5 hours without feeding, day and night.

By Saturday afternoon, I was starting to feel uncomfortable. By Sunday evening, I was dizzy with pain every time she latched on.

“It gets better.” Everyone told me. “It always hurts at first. Your body will adjust. You’ll toughen up. Give it a few days. Use lanolin. Rub extra breastmilk in. Try the football hold. It gets better.”

One week after my daughter was born, I was revisiting my deep-breathing techniques that I had learned for use in labor. Jason was also using his supportive partner techniques for almost every single feeding. I vividly remember him rubbing my back and telling me, “It’s alright, it’s alright” at three in the morning while I fed our tiny baby by the light of a thrift store lamp.

Friends were bringing us meals during this time. While discussing my woes with one of the ladies as she dropped off the food, she mentioned that a friend of hers had visited a lactation consultant and that it had helped tremendously. This roused some curiosity in my pain-riddled brain. A lactation consultant. Who would have thought.

The next day, I texted a fellow mother who, with three kids under her roof, has been the wise old sage that I’ve needed to get through this insanity. She and I had already had numerous conversations about the irony of breastfeeding. How unfair it is. How you work your ass off to bring this baby into the world without drugs and just when you think you deserve a break and some nice, cuddly baby time, you get the fiery inferno every time you feed. Which is all the time. Thanks.

“Did you ever get bloody cracks in your nipples?” I asked.

She hadn’t.

I called the lactation consultant. It was the same lady I had seen during our postpartum stay. Thankfully, she could get me in that afternoon. Within five minutes of being in her office she saw that Finn had a minor tongue tie. I won’t go into the specifics of it, but the gist of it was that Finn’s mouth was physically unable to latch and suck properly. The nice lady sent me on my way with a prescription for an anti-everything cream (the knockoff version of this) and a referral to an ENT to get Finn’s tongue tie corrected.

We couldn’t get in before the weekend. In fact, it was almost a full week before we could get in and even then, the ENT said that he wanted to evaluate the severity of her tongue tie before agreeing to clip it. Aside from going out of my mind from the pain, I came down with a high fever due to what I think was mastitis. Because when you have open wounds on your body, they can get infected. Yeah. I kept telling myself that I just had to make it until Wednesday. Finn’s two week birthday. The day of the sacred ENT appointment. It would all get better then. She would latch on like a pro and I would heal up and we would have that blissful breastfeeding experience that everyone talks about.

The tongue tie was snipped with little fuss. The ENT doctor was a kindly, gangly man who gave me a private room to nurse her in after the procedure. My sister came along because I was worried it would be traumatic and Jason had to work that day. After I nursed her, the doctor asked if I noticed a difference in the latch.

“It’s alright if you don’t.” He reassured me. “You might need to heal before you do.”

I didn’t notice a difference.

I gave it time. Some of the cracks grew until they were more like chunks. The ointment didn’t help. Lanolin didn’t help. Saltwater soaks didn’t help. The football hold didn’t help. Nothing helped. Well, I suppose the maximum doses of ibuprofen that I was taking around the clock helped. Until they wore off, that is.

On Sunday, I called the hospital’s lactation office again. The weekend nurse told me to pump for a few days and give Finn the expressed milk in a bottle so that I could heal. Friends, this is where the craziness of motherhood comes in. I sobbed the first time I skipped a “real” feeding and gave my baby a bottle. It didn’t matter how much pain I was in. It didn’t matter that she was still getting all of the nutrients of breastmilk. It didn’t matter that now Jason could actually help with feedings or that I could feed her in public easily or that my milk supply was so crazy that I only had to pump three or four times a day instead of the recommended eight. It wasn’t the real thing. It wasn’t the close, quiet cocoon of warm skin and the soft swallows and her big eyes sliding up to look at me. I had failed.

Plus, bottle feeding is super messy and tedious.

I gave myself two full days. On the third day, I tried latching her back on just before heading out the door to meet someone. She clamped right back on the end of my sort-of-healed nipple, popped off, clamped on, popped off, cried in between…

I set her in the car seat, sobbed, and threw the Boppy pillow across the room.

That particular attempt at feeding stands out as a very low point for me. Nothing could be worse than that.We tried later and it was alright. It wasn’t great. But it was better than before. Slowly, I went back to straight breastfeeding. I kept in contact with the lactation consultants. Someone from the midwife clinic I birthed with called me and said that she had heard I was having some problems and she wanted to see me. Hope sprang anew. She would help. She would guide me. She would make the ridiculous agony stop.

“It gets better.” Everyone kept saying. What I didn’t feel like explaining was that I wasn’t just sore. I was cratered. It was to the point that the midwife was a little taken aback when I showed her the damage. She gave me a prescription for antibiotics and said that I could probably try a nipple shield.

“So, I just go to Target and get one?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s fine.” She said.

I was so exhausted and depressed that I walked out of the appointment without realizing that she hadn’t even asked to observe me feed Finn. Which, I mean, being that her latch was the likely culprit, wouldn’t that have made sense? She even told me to bring her hungry and then I didn’t end up feeding her so that when I went to Target, she was hungry and upset while I stood in the breast pump section wondering what size I was supposed to get in nipple shields. I guessed and thankfully I think I got it right.

Finally, it didn’t hurt. There was a definite “gadgety” feel to the whole thing, but it wasn’t a bottle and I was able to feed my baby from my breast again without the stabbing sensation. I even got bold at times and took the shield off after a few minutes so that Finn wouldn’t forget how to “really” suck. It was messy and I had to wash the damn thing off all the time but it helped us limp along for another few days until I noticed that something was different. Finn didn’t seem to be getting enough. She would feed for a long time but was extremely gassy and fussy and appeared to be constantly hungry. Her poop (I mean, hey we’re talking about boobs already. What’s a little poopy talk at this point?) changed from the healthy, hearty mustard custard to runny green.

I should mention that all during this time I was stuck in this vicious cycle of feeding, burping, and googling. Feed the baby. Burp her. And then Google. It was always the same problem but with a whole variety of search terms. Nipple pain. Painful latch. Tongue Tie. How to heal giant wounds on nipples. Why does it still hurt to feed my baby. You know, all that. Aside from driving myself crazy, I did discover that part of my problem was that I was actually producing too much milk. Who knew that could be a problem? Well, it is. It makes babies clamp down when they feed because they’re gagging. It makes your already sore chest unbearable overnight when your body produces most of your milk. It means messes everywhere and the stink of old breastmilk and lots of laundry. It also means that your baby is likely not getting enough hindmilk and so they end up with radioactive green poops and horrible gas. Fortunately, it can be easily solved by feeding on one side only until things even out.

I still feel a profound sense of accomplishment for having solved that one myself. And yes, it did even out and some of the problems I was having are now non-issues.

The pain marched on. I fed without the shield until I couldn’t stand it and then I fed with the shield until my gassy, hungry baby couldn’t stand it.

“I want to quit.” I moaned to Jason one night. I had gone into the other room to feed Finn and between being hungry and me being in pain we were both crying. He woke up and came into see what was going on. “Why is this so hard?”

I placed another call to the lactation office I had been working with on December 23, almost four weeks after Finn’s birth. I also reached out to Finn’s pediatrician and asked if they had a lactation specialist that they recommended. They did. If I could have found a third route, I would have tried that, too. I was desperate and willing to head straight to whichever office could get me in first. It happened to be the ped’s recommendation and so I loaded my hungry baby into the car again and sped off to another medical facility.

This lady was actually the best I’ve seen so far. She was empathetic, she was knowledgeable, she was incredibly kind, and best of all, she actually helped me work on the latch. Which I kept mentioning all along was the problem. Duh.

That was a week and a half ago. Since then, I’ve had some good feedings and I’ve had some terrible feedings. I’ve had days where I feel like I’m getting this and it’s truly getting better and then I’ve had days where I feel like I’m the one useless mom who can’t figure out how to feed her baby properly.

At this point, there is nothing left to Google. I have every deep latch technique memorized. I know all of the different remedies one might use to heal their sore nipples and I’ve tried about half of them. I’ve dropped a fair amount of money in the bottle/pump aisles of my local Walmart and Target. I’ve jostled poor Finn around from position to position in an attempt to find one that doesn’t hurt.

But, for whatever reason, it still does. Not as bad as it did in the beginning before her tongue tie was corrected. Oh, but it’s still bad. I still sit with silent, gritted teeth for the first minute or so of every feeding. I still have times where I simply can’t stand it and I have to break the latch and start over. I still look at her intently before I attempt to feed her and ask, “Please, Finn? Please help me out this time?”

And I know. I know. Breast is best. Someday it won’t hurt. And then I won’t even remember what all of this felt like. And you’re all probably right. I’m sure lanolin and breastmilk are usually quite effective too. No, really. I mean that. I’m sorry for my sarcasm. It’s just hard. Because I want this relationship. I want to keep entering into the little world that her and I build whenever I feed her. I want to give her the best possible source of nutrition. I want to say that I got through this, just like I got through labor without any drugs or interventions.

I also want to not feel my motivation seep out with every painful feeding. I want to not feel like all I can really do is sit in the rocking chair while she sleeps and try yet another search term in Google. I want to not feel resentful towards her, Jason, God, and all of those mothers out there who sheepishly say, “Well, I loved breastfeeding.” I want showers to be enjoyable again and bath towels to feel like bath towels instead of sandpaper.

I had a follow up appointment at the midwives clinic today. Currently, I’ve been put on an anti-fungal medication on the very possible chance that I contracted thrush from taking those stupid useless antibiotics and having open wounds exposed to moisture all the time. I’m also loading up on probiotics . I even bought some infant ones for Finn that I keep forgetting to give her. Besides, no harm can come from taking probiotics. And I do like kefir.

I’ve concluded that the whole thing might be a combination of Finn’s mouth shape inhibiting her from latching properly and my naiveté inhibiting me from teaching her how to latch properly from the get go. I do notice that she’s started to open her mouth wider here and there. She’s starting to “get it.” She pulls herself off towards the end less often.

To be honest, I don’t know how I’ve made it this long. I can look at my exhausting labor and remember all of the water therapy and counter-pressure and position changes that got me through it but this has started to feel a little insane. It’s not even about it being painful anymore. That I’ve somehow learned to deal with. It’s just that I find myself worrying that I’ve done some sort of permanent damage both physically and emotionally. Like, am I going to have post-trauma issues from breastfeeding? Am I going to get a really terrible infection and have to quit regardless because I need to have a mastectomy? Is my baby going to be plagued by very early memories of mother frantically breaking the suction and starting over again and again, only to end up in tears regardless?

Alright, that was dramatic.

I will leave you with something hopeful. Because despite everything, I do have hope. I may have used up the reserves of my stubbornness to birth my child but now it’s comeback in small rations and I’m determined to stick this out until the bitter end. That may be when I go back to school in three weeks and have to somehow be able to offer her a bottle without panicking that it will mess up her improving latch, and it may be in eight or nine months when we start offering her solids. Or it may be in a year or two when we’ve made to the breastfeeding nirvana that everyone talks about. The shiny prize that made all of the pain totally worth it. I’m skeptical, but who knows.

Jason, who has been nothing but supportive, asked me the other day what my intuition tells me about the situation. He says that he’s come to appreciate the motherly intuition, having seen it in full on action during pregnancy and birth. I told him that, as vague and lame as this sounds, my intuition says that everything will turn out alright regardless. It will be alright if I choose to keep trying for another month or so, and it will be alright if I decide that, for my own sanity, we need to do something different. It will be alright if I am never one of those confident moms who can magically pull her shirt up and get the baby latched in the blink of an eye in a restaurant booth and instead end up swirling formula around in a bottle for my daughter. I can at least say that I tried everything that could be tried. Nipple shields and football holds and APNO. Coconut oil and probiotics and lanolin. Suck training and biological nurturing and plain old grim determination. Antibiotics and anti fungals and jaw massages and finally, time. I can say what worked and what was a waste. I can say that I persevered through some of the hardest weeks of my life, that I survived the holiday family visits and sleep deprivation and still managed to feed my baby throughout all of it. That is something. That gives me the certainty that I need to be able to look back and tell myself that somehow, it does get better.

I’m going to go feed my kid now. Right after I rid her of the curdling soup in her diaper.

In Which Pregnancy Makes You a Spectacle

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The proverbial cat is out of the bag. Obviously, everyone remotely connected to Jason or I through Facebook land was aware. Most of our neighbors knew (they do see me walking my dog every day). All of our Milwaukee friends knew. All of my co-workers knew.

And then this started happening:

And became this:

And now everyone knows, whether I want them to or not.

Which, I mean, its fine. I’m not ashamed of my pregnancy. We wanted this. And while I’m normally a very open person, especially when it comes to social media, the awkward conundrum of being pregnant is that everyone expects you to be very open about a subject that I feel is none of their business: my body. Oh yes, I know. I know I’m a vessel for the miraculous and it’s so exciting and aren’t I just amazed because I’m going to be a mommy. And while all of this is true…I am still me. Me, who really has no desire to have extended conversations about the size of my stomach. Again, not that I’m ashamed of the fact that I am bigger and I have gained weight but pardon me if I’m not thrilled about the ridiculous amount of scrutiny my midsection has gotten.

Thankfully, there have only been two attempted belly touches. One was from a well-meaning older lady that I see on a regular basis. Customarily, we hug before we part ways, and even before I was showing she would start leaning in to cradle my stomach. This was easily deflected by changing my hug to a one-armer and putting the other arm across my belly. It was a quiet way of being protective and saying “No, I am not for touching”. The other attempt was similar; this woman was of another ethnicity whose culture tends to be much more open and touchy-feely than mine. At first, trying to be sensitive, I let her hug and rub away. After a few weeks of being completely weirded out by this, I shortened our hugs and started keeping my arm in front of me. Again, that seemed to do the trick.

However, if anyone has any pointers about politely deflecting unwanted conversations about my stomach, I’m totally open to them. At this point, I’m ready to start pointing out random features on the commenter’s body to change the subject.

Because, seriously? Would you feel it’s appropriate to discuss as length about how big or how small a woman is if she isn’t pregnant? And since when does pregnancy make her a free-for-all for public scrutiny and commentary? I am still a human being, deserving of respect and privacy. I have not become a heifer simply because I’m carrying a baby.

I’m carrying small, which my midwife tells me is normal given that it’s my first and that I was petite before pregnancy. Depending on what I’m wearing, I can either look really bloated or I can actually appear to be 27 weeks along. To my horror, I overheard someone at a recent gathering talking to someone else (like, I’m not even a part of this conversation) about how when they saw me three weeks ago, I wasn’t showing at all.

“But now,” he went on to say, “Well now she is!”

A client came into the office where I work as a secretary and jokingly asked me if I was gaining weight. Half-laughing along, I confirmed that yes, I was expecting a baby. When I told him my due date, he went on to make repeated comments about how small I still was and to ask if I meant November of this year. This is not someone I’m related to, see on a regular basis, or even consider a friend. I stood there trying to remain professional and feeling incredibly uncomfortable as he kept looking me over and talking about my undersized belly.

There is a difference between a general compliment and an unwanted comment. My sister telling me that she thinks my baby bump is cute is acceptable. And it’s not like there aren’t exceptions. Kids, for example, who are naturally curious and exciting. My husband; you know, the father of the baby. My midwife, who’s concerned with my size because it’s her job to be. And…let me think…

The bottom line is that I don’t care how damn exciting it is for you: making unsolicited comments about another person’s body, no matter what phase of life they’re in is never appropriate. It’s rude. It’s embarrassing. Even if you’re trying to make a joke (“You’re gonna need a wheelbarrow to haul that around by the end!”) I am not laughing. I’m wanting to get as far away from you and your prying eyes as I possibly can.

So friends, especially male friends, if you want to say something to a pregnant lady about her body that is more than a straightforward, “You’re looking great!” don’t. Just don’t. Not unless you feel comfortable with them pointing to your butt, chest, pimples, nose, or any other body part and starting a conversation about it. If you do actually feel comfortable with that, by all means, be my guest. We can chat about your double chin all you want.

And for some comic relief, I will recount a conversation between Jason and I that took place while camping with friends last weekend:

Jason: You’re looking awful bloated.

Me: (After some liberal use of profanity) I could be really nasty right now.

Jason: Go ahead! I can handle it.

Me: Well, at least my belly is full of a baby and not chocolate chip cookies. I have an excuse.

Because that’s how we roll.