21 weeks is just over the halfway point, and what's more, Craig and I are approaching a whole new stage as we are hoping to find out the baby's sex this week (Valentine's Day, to be exact). That will mean referring to the baby with gender-specific pronouns, calling it by name*, and starting to feel more and more like this is an actual person, soon to be in our lives, rather than just a misty idea that happens to cause nausea.
And speaking of nausea ...
I found out I was pregnant at four weeks, and up until six weeks, I was fit as a fiddle -- super-hungry, peeing a little more than usual, excited for all that was to come. The only negative "symptom" I experienced was an occasional frantic fear that I was having a miscarriage, and though those moments were scary, they were brief. But right at that very beginning part, I didn't feel sick in the least, and as I observed (from afar) my sister-in-law's terrible bout of hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme nausea whilst pregnant), I was feeling pretty lucky.
On the eve of my week 6 mark, I spent some time with new friends in Seattle. One of my Mormon feminist heroines, Joanna Brooks, was in town for a speaking engagement, so a group of us like-minded sisters had a big lunch get-together, followed by random wanderings around town, dinner, and the speech in the evening. I observed that my stomach was feeling a little off-kilter, but it was nothing crazy. The next day was the beginning of everything unraveling.
For that first week, I had round-the-clock nausea, no appetite, and unbelievable exhaustion. When I say "unbelievable exhaustion," what I mean is that I spent hours and hours on the couch sleeping, waking only occasionally to force-feed myself grapes and water. I remember waking up in bed one morning, talking to my best friend Chelsea on the phone, and then bidding her farewell with the intention that I would walk into the kitchen and make myself oatmeal. YOU GUYS, I HAD TO LAY DOWN AND REST ON THE WAY TO THE KITCHEN. And I do not live in a mansion; the kitchen is not far from the bedroom. I bet it's, like, 25-30 steps, but a little over halfway there, I had to lay down on the floor and re-summon my strength. I don't think I ever made the oatmeal.
To sum up the morning sickness phase:
Week 6-7: no vomiting; constant nausea and exhaustion
Weeks 7-13ish: vomiting and dry heaving (a lot or a little, depending on the day); constant nausea and exhaustion
Weeks 13-16: less vomiting and dry heaving, though it would sneak up on me; a little more energy; nausea first thing in the morning
Weeks 17-18: morning nausea; dissipation of symptoms
throughout: frequent frustration, 1-2 emotional breakdowns per week, loneliness (with only the cat for company during the day), diet made up of oatmeal, toast, oranges, grapes, cucumbers, tootsie pops, water, and the occasional actual meal that I would usually throw up
And weeks 18-21 have been comparative bliss, except for the worst cold of my life (which lasted for a bout a week). Everyone told me it would end and that I would somehow forget the terribleness, and they were right (which I'm still surprised about). A few nights ago, Craig and I went to a church event where the Cub Scouts were racing their Pinewood Derby cars, and there were all these cute little boys in their scout uniforms, plus dozens of younger siblings playing nearby. I turned to Craig and said, "I am so stupid. It was just a few weeks ago that I was glued to the couch and had to have a puke bucket in arm's reach at all times. I was totally miserable, but here I am, and these kids are so sweet and wonderful, and I just want to have a thousand babies!" Now, a thousand is an overstatement. But really. The memories are fading. I can imagine having more than one child again (whereas in the midst of being sick, I thought such a thing would be impossible).
So how did all this affect my job? That first day of sickness was a Saturday, and though I did go in to work, I had to leave an hour or two into my shift. I'm typically a really healthy person (something for which I am ever more grateful after these past few months), and in my many months at this job, I'd only had one sick day; I think that made my co-workers and managers pretty understanding at first. My store manager knew I was pregnant, and everyone else just figured I had the flu or something. In the week that followed, I called in sick four times and went in for my shift once, only to leave and go to the hospital after an hour-ish. Note that this was during the same phase when I couldn't walk to my kitchen without resting.
That first week was, overall, the worst one of the entire sickness for me; the exhaustion was crippling, and on top of that, I was dealing with the stress of trying to figure out my work situation. The more days that I called in sick, the less understanding people were. This isn't an affront to them at all; on a personal level, they cared about me and were incredibly sympathetic, but in terms of how the store works and what their needs are, me being gone was a big hassle. They felt frustrated and I felt mildly guilty.
So during that week, I talked with Craig, my managers, the company HR rep, my mom, and my brother-in-law (who's sort of a wiz-kid with all things in the professional realm) to try to figure out the best path forward. My game plan had been to keep working up until the baby was born, but I obviously wasn't prepared for how overwhelming this stage would be, and I had no idea how long it was going to last. After thinking it through, weighing everything, and praying, I felt like the best thing was to resign. I talked to my boss and formally put in my two weeks' notice; a prescription for Zofran (an anti-nausea medication for chemotherapy patients) got me through those two weeks with one additional absence, plus a few days when my managers sent me home early out of pity. The Zofran was gradually less effective during that time.
Saying goodbye to Buffalo was pretty tough. I have a lot of love for the people I worked with, and I learned a lot from my time there. If I had been in an office job where I could sit at my desk and have limited interaction with other people (with easy access to the bathroom), I think I may have been able to hang tough through the sickness, still calling in sick frequently. The nature of this job (walking around so much, being jolly and authoritative with customers, needing to be quick on your feet, etc.) added to the nature of my particular symptoms was a pretty rotten combination. I have to say, though, that as soon as I was done working, I knew it was the right choice. I'm really thankful to have been in a situation where it was even an option for me.
Before I got sick, I started looking around for midwives. I've been really interested in pregnancy/birth/parenting for a few years now, and I felt pretty sure that I wanted to (a) work with a midwife, (b) have an unmedicated delivery if possible, and (c) give birth in a birth center (as opposed to in a hospital or at home). My friend Lori happened to have her third baby a few days after I found out I was pregnant, and I learned from Facebook and her blog that she had worked with a group of three midwives at Eastside Birth Center in Bellevue. I set up a consultation appointment with them and with another group of midwives in the area, but the other group kept rescheduling my appointment. I met with Eastside and felt really good about the approach there, and since I was finding it difficult to even get in for a meeting with the other group, I figured I'd take it as a sign and just go with my gut. Aside from that first consultation, I've had two actual appointments so far, and everything looks good. Their facility has a space for checkups and two birthing suites, each featuring a jacuzzi-style tub, a shower, its own bathroom, a bed, and a couch -- very homey. I'm really looking forward to being in that environment for the birth.
The only other medical interaction I've had was to meet with a doctor during that first week I was really sick. She confirmed that I was pregnant, gave me some tips to help with the nausea and dehydration (eating or drinking anything at that time was really tough), and prescribed me the Zofran.
"Showing" and Weight
One thing I marvel at over and over again is how pregnancy can be so different from woman to woman. I mean, the same thing is going on -- the woman's body is making a baby -- and yet the symptoms and stages vary a lot. This is true for pretty much every aspect of pregnancy. Crazypants. Anyway, I bring that up because one example of such variation is the point at which a woman starts "showing" and is obviously pregnant to everyone who sees her. I'm just getting into that stage now, which is a little on the late side, but not extreme. You can probably thank my long torso for the delay; the baby has more room to hide, I guess. I also lost weight (about ten pounds) during the first trimester, so that probably played a part. I can still look decidedly un-pregnant if I dress in a certain way.
Yesterday was the first day I donned MY NEW MATERNITY PANTS. I really looked and felt like a pregnant lady. Even though there is some weirdness that goes along with these body changes (I'm suddenly a lot more particular about where it is and isn't okay for Craig to touch me, for example), I am so happy to see this visible evidence. It confirms that I'm getting healthy again, which is something I've been working really hard at, and that the baby is growing.
Soapbox time: I've had a few interactions with other women that went as follows.
Other lady (upon finding out I'm pregnant): Oh my gosh, congratulations! How far along are you?
Me: 19 weeks [or whatever].
Other lady: YOU'RE KIDDING! Wow, you are so small!
Me: Yeah, the first few months were pretty rough, so I lost some weight just from being sick.
Other lady: Well, trust me, you look great.
Me: Uhh, I don't know, I'm really trying to put on weight so that the baby and I can be healthy.
Other lady: Oh, don't be silly! Trust me, you'll be sorry you said that! You are so lucky to be still be so thin. I'm jealous!
Me: No, really, I'm underweight and it worries me.
Other lady: No, really, you're lucky. I wish I could be a skinny pregnant lady like you! Hahahahaha.
Sigh sigh sigh. I just wish that for one second, we could get over that cultural compulsion to be so very very thin. It seems like we're so tuned in to that expectation that it's somehow become the ultimate GOOD, the most important achievement for women, and in fact, the expectation is ingrained to the extent that -- in these conversations, at least -- it takes priority over health. I point-blank told these women that my weight was unhealthy for me and the baby, and they laughed it off (literally! laughed! all of them!). I just wanted to put my hands on their shoulders and say, "Being thin is not this important. Please please please see that." Because I wonder how much that "must be thin, must lose weight" mentality rules their decisions, their interactions, their self-talk.
Oh, the world we live in. These women I talked to didn't just come up with some crazy fixation on thinness on their own. I wonder if they gained a lot of weight during their pregnancies, more than they wanted, and got some harsh judgment for it. (All these women were mothers themselves, I should note.) I wonder if they gained an "acceptable" amount of weight but then had a difficult time losing it after the baby was born, making them feel less valued in a culture that attaches such honor to bodies that fit the mold. I wonder if they've just absorbed this expectation through the air on their skin and in their lungs. I'm not mad at these women; I don't even think they're dumb or rude or superficial. I just feel like this says something about our culture, something about how we have missed the forest for the trees, how we care more about a woman's dimensions than about the woman herself.
And in all fairness, I've had a lot of conversations that didn't go like this at all, where weight was the last thing on anyone's mind. People have been lovely to me and never critical of my decisions or needs (which is huge!). This is just something that's been on my mind.
Craig has been amazing. I don't know how else to say it. I just want to kiss him all over his face for how amazing he's been.
I've needed a lot over these past few months. It started with my fears about having a miscarriage; I needed someone to listen to me and soothe me. One of my freakouts came while I was taking a shower, and I had to have Craig come sit by the tub and calm me down, then literally direct me through what you do in a shower (shampoo your hair, rinse, put conditioner in your hair, etc.). I've needed him to make me food, get me water, wash out my puke bucket, and cut pills into teeny-tiny portions for me (so as to not trigger my heightened gag reflex). I've needed him to cut out of work early or not go in at all. I've needed him to reassure me through SO.MANY.CRYFESTS. And he's done it -- not just because I needed him to, but because he wanted to do anything he could to help. The most wonderful thing about being married to Craig is that I'm never the least bit surprised by his goodness or his love. I'm grateful for it, but I'm never surprised by it. I'm not surprised by the ground being under my feet or the sky being over my head, and Craig is just as constant.
My favorite moment of the pregnancy thus far was when Craig felt the baby move for the first time. We were laying in bed, waiting to fall asleep. I'd been able to feel the baby the previous few nights if I really concentrated, but I wasn't sure if the kicks were strong enough for Craig to feel. We gave it a try, with his hand over my uterus, and it actually worked. Hearing him get so excited and silly over it was maybe the sweetest and happiest moment of my entire life. He is going to be such an amazing dad -- loving, involved, goofy, completely enamored with whoever this little person turns out to be. And it won't surprise me at all.
We live in Washington, a few days' drive from any family members (the closest are in Boise, with our parents living in northern and southern Utah). Still, we've been able to have some family time. Brian (Craig's brother) happened to be visiting on the day we found out I was pregnant, and Craig's parents also came to stay with us for Christmas. Video chats and phone calls have been good options. I'm going to visit my home base in St. George later this month, and we also have a trip in the works to northern Utah.
Something I'm super happy about: I have two sisters-in-law (sister-in-laws ... ?) who are also pregnant right now, one on each side of the fam. Natalie (married to Brian, Craig's brother) is due to deliver a daughter THIS MONTH! This is her third baby (she already has one boy and one girl), so she is pretty much pro. On the Staheli side of the equation, Abbie (married to my little brother, Britt) is having a boy in May. We are both first-timers. I love that our baby will have cousins who are close in age, and it's also wonderful to have all these "sisters" (four in all) who are in various stages of young motherhood. I'll be able to learn a lot from them and trade war stories, etc.
(In whatever order they come to mind.)
I love watching stylized birth videos SO MUCH. Reading birth stories is great as well, and there are several that have been incredibly touching, but the added visual dimension does a lot for me. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, these videos from Ceci Jane are wonderful examples. There are only a few birth videographers/photographers in the Seattle area, and the general commonality is that their services are crazy expensive (probably reasonably-priced in terms of the work they put in, but too much for this little budget). There's one woman, though, that I really hope to work with to get some pictures during the birth, so fingers crossed that that will work out.
Since I've been feeling better, the nesting instinct has set in a little bit. I keep wanting to clean and organize and decorate. The timing on this is great, because leaving my previous job earlier than intended means it's time to transition into a new job: homemaker. I feel like that word (and lots of words related to motherhood - stay-at-home-mom, working mom, etc.) comes with a lot of baggage. There's a connotation to it that I'm not quite comfortable with. Still, the idea of being someone who makes a home is really fulfilling to me. I want that job, and I've wanted it for a while. Making a home requires emotional work, physical work, creativity, openness, and a variety of domestic skills that I have yet to acquire. Consider this my on-the-job training.
We joined Costco. That happened. It has brought an inordinate amount of Cinnamon Toast Crunch into our home.
I got a buzz-cut just before getting pregnant, and my hair has grown out to a length of about two inches. At this rate, it'll be roughly four inches long when the baby's born. I'm just letting it grow so that I can have the most possible hair to work with come summertime, at which point I'll probably want to cut it into something that has an actual shape.
I didn't go to church for six weeks (when? oh, when I was sick). That was a first. But now, church-related stuff is my main social outlet, so I am THERE.
Bonding with the Baby
In my experience, there's a huge difference between feeling like you're pregnant and feeling like you're going to have a baby. I've been feeling pregnant since day one, whereas there are still days when I don't feel like I'm having a baby. Around 16 weeks, I started getting increasingly nervous that I wasn't feeling very connected to the baby. I was into my second trimester, which meant that the possibility of miscarriage was pretty diminished, but I was still really scared. Maybe as the sickness was ebbing, I had time to get stressed about something else ... Anyway, that was a tough time. The worry fed on itself in a sick cycle -- I was worried about miscarrying, which made it harder to connect with the baby, and not feeling connected with the baby made me worry that I had miscarried.
There was one day when the fear was at its height, and I ended up having two phone conversations -- one with my best friend Chelsea, and one with my mom. I confided in both of them that I was really worried that I hadn't felt any sort of bond with the baby, that I was worried this meant that there wasn't any baby to bond with and that I had already or would soon miscarry. Both Chel and my mom are so perceptive and really know me intimately, and they both understood what I hadn't seen: that this pregnancy is really high-stakes for me, and I was subconsciously trying to protect myself from pain by not bonding with the baby. They both realized this! Independent of each other! And it was something I hadn't even considered. You know, I walk around thinking I'm a smart and sensitive and self-aware person, and then they go and show me how blind I can really be. =) But they were right. I had a lot of fear of disappointment going on. My mom had three miscarriages when I was between the ages of 11-14, and they were all quite traumatic, and I remember all of them very well. That's a formative time in life, and I'm sure I absorbed some fear from those experiences. Craig and I also had to go through a lot of effort and struggle to conceive this baby in the first place. In short, there are a lot of emotions and expectations and hopes wrapped up in this pregnancy (there always are), and on some level, I think I was trying to wrap myself in a little cocoon and block out anything that was going to make the potential pain worse, including a connection with the baby.
Recognition is the first step, and once I was tuned in to what was happening, I was able to turn things around a bit. I had an appointment with my midwife a few days later, and when she finally found the baby's heartbeat after searching around for a long while, it was a beautiful moment. That turning point combined with feeling the baby move in the last few weeks has helped me feel like this little one is here to stay.
Related to the whole bonding situation is my decision to find out the baby's sex. I had originally been sure that I wanted to wait and find out when the baby was born, and there's still something about that approach that I really love, but I changed my mind because I want to be able to think of the baby in a more realistic way. I think knowing the sex and the name will help this all feel more real than imaginary. Craig has wanted to know the baby's sex from the beginning. He was willing to go along with not finding out, but he's pretty happy I've changed my tune. He thinks we're having a girl, I think we're having a boy, and we'll both be pleasantly surprised if we're wrong.
Reading about birth and pregnancy has been a special hobby of mine for years, so I've actually had to dial it back a bit and have a "moderation in all things" mindset since getting pregnant. It's easy to get overwhelmed by information and techniques and happy stories and scary stories and parenting controversies.
My two mainstays:
- The book "Birthing from Within." It's pretty hippy-dippy, but then again, so am I, so I was into it. =) It advocates doing a lot of emotional work to face any fears/anxiety surrounding birth, and it's also big into making art and practicing pain-coping techniques. The thing that really rang true for me was the book's overall attitude that instead of approaching birth as a medical event, it can be approached as a profound rite of passage. I loved that. I'll be reading it again in the remaining months.
- Every time I officially complete another week of the pregnancy, I go to babycenter.com and update myself on how the baby's progressing. The latest update tells me that my baby is the length of a carrot ... but I feel like that's not helpful, because carrots come in so many lengths.
The most sensible worry in my deck o' worries is about all things postpartum. Adjusting to life with a baby will be ... umm, big. And we have to be grown-ups. Our living situation is up in the air right now; we'll either stay in Washington or move back to Utah. The stress of moving and finding a new place to live and getting Craig a job would be a lot to deal with, but we'd be doing it near family and friends. On the other hand, we can stay in Washington and settle into life without so many disruptions, but we'd be pretty much on our own. Thank goodness for Craig's paternity leave, which we'll be able to enjoy either way.
My most visceral worry is that, during the birth, I will ... tear ... or require an episiotomy. I need to face this anxiety, because it is awful. But let's not talk about it right now.
And then the other thing on the radar is our cat. He is so needy! And so wonderful and cute and lovable, but sooooo needy. He may very well go cat-crazy when we bring a crying baby into the mix. But whatever, he'll deal with it.
These days, I'm trying to get into a productive pattern at home, evaluating my wardrobe for what can double as maternity clothing, and writing more. And taking care of my needy needy cat.
As I said, we've got an ultrasound this week, which will probably result in some celebratory baby clothes shopping. I'll celebrate my 26th birthday this month, then head to St. George a few days later for a week with my family (including a birth blessing/shower that my mom and I are putting together). Craig and I will both drive to northern Utah for a visit in either March or April, and after that, it's all about getting ourselves ready for the new roommate, so we'll either focus on getting everything rearranged in our current place or preparing for a move.
All things considered, these past few months have made me feel both really weak and really strong. That combination of humility and confidence is probably a miniature version of how I'll feel as a mom for the next 20 or 50 years, soooooo yay? Really, though, I'm happy and loving life. This is a beautiful time, and I'm trying to just appreciate each moment for whatever it is.
*As far as calling the baby by name, that will be a lot easier if we find out we're having a girl. Craig and I have been settled on a girl's name since before we got married. The boy names are a little tougher for us; we've currently got it narrowed down to five.