Baby story, part 2: Pregnancy
Kellwin and I married in March 2001. She had just graduated college, I had half a semester left. We wanted children, but not immediately. So we practiced safely. After a few years, we were in a better position to start a family, so we changed from practicing to trying. After a couple years of trying unsuccessfully and not caring, we started trying with a purpose. More trying, medical consultations, and diligence resulted in a 10-year anniversary present to ourselves.
Eleanor is a lucky girl. She’s the first grandchild for both sets of grandparents; yay for doting. I am an only child, so my parents dote on her with full intensity. They also bore down on me to provide grandchildren, but that’s beside the point. Now that I think of it, she’s the first born of the first born of the first born of the first born: my dad’s mom is the first and only, my dad is the first of three, I’m a first and only, and she’s my first. Oh, and my mom is a first born, too. Kellwin is the youngest of two; her older brother does not have kids yet, but he and his wife are working on them.
How we found out
My wife bought a GroupOn for a therapuetic massage in March. However, she decided to pass on it and gave it to me. The Thursday prior, Kellwin texts me that this round of trying was unsuccessful; “Negative. It didn’t go in. Just impacted on the surface.”
So on the Tuesday in question, I arrive at the therapeutic massage spa place thingy about 15 minutes early. I wait in the car, listening to music, when my phone rings. It’s my wife.
Kellwin: (Panicked) Oh my God, Lyr!
Lyraat: (Thinking to himself) Fuck. What’s wrong? Car accident? Dog died? Family member in the hospital? Time to nut up. (To wife) What’s wrong?
Kell: We’re pregnant!
Kell: Say something!
Kell: (Excited, starting to get annoyed with husband)
Lyr: …Wait, um.
Kell: We’re going to have a baby!
Lyr: But…I thought…
Lyr: Good thing you checked before our bi-weekly boozefest with a side of trivia.
We decided to beg out of trivia (“Bro-in-law, we’re skipping trivia tonight.” “Aww. Something wrong?” “Er, everything’s fine, situation normal!”), but, because the GroupOn massage was prepaid and the spa would not reschedule a GroupOn, I would get my rub down. Still in shock and attempting to process this life-changing info, I walked into the spa and tried to enjoy the massage. The very attractive masseuse was very skilled, yet although the massage was excellent, I could not relax. “I’m going to be a dad…I’m going to be a dad?…I’m going to be a dad!…Dad, daddy, father, which one suits me best?…” Such questions preoccupied my mind, preventing me from fully succumbing to the gloriousness that is a great massage.
At the end of the massage, I’m physically a giant blob of freshly-rubbed jelly, but mentally I’m still trying to adjust to the life-altering news I received an hour ago. Happy, confused, relaxed, tense, restful, restless, I felt myself contradicting myself. I rarely feel vulnerable; this was one of those times. The very attractive masseuse picked this exact moment to lean over my limp body and whisper, “Do you know what the secret of this place is…?”
What I thought: Holy shit woman! First, I’m married, very happily so. If I was single, this conversation would be different. But I distinctly remember saying “my wife” multiple times, and “my wife bought this massage for me” at least once. Oh, and the ring on my finger is not just for looks. I’m a good husband. Second, I just—JUST—found out that I am going to be a father. I’m still processing that not insubstantial bit of LIFE-CHANGING info. Screwing with my mind is not wanted right now. Maybe at another massage session I will be more open to mind games, but not right now. Third, I thought this was a therapeutic massage spa, not a sleazy “therapeutic” massage parlor. Fourth, could you move away from my midsection? Hovering over the one clothed area of my body after asking that question makes me nervous. Fifth…Tempt me not, skilled and attractive masseuse. I LOVE MY WIFE!
What I said: “Uh…”
What she said: “The doorknobs. They don’t work. You just push the doors open. Go ahead and get dressed. I’ll wait outside.”
Physically, the pregnancy was uneventful. Kellwin did not have morning sickness at all. A little queasiness every so often and heartburn in the third trimester (“Hmm. Heartburn again. Best cure for such a burn? Ice cream!”), but no oral donations to the porcelain goddess. She was healthy until the end (see next post.) The most frustrating problem for Kellwin was how little she showed. Even in her eighth month, people said she did not look pregnant. She looked pregnant to friends and family, who knew what she looked like prior. Strangers didn’t see the baby bump, I guess.
We did not tell anyone for six weeks, and then we only told our parents and bro- and (not yet) sis-in-law. My parents kind of guessed after I requested a Skype session with them. We talk about once a week on the phone, but we hadn’t Skyped in over 18 months. For me to request a Skype session was more than a little foreshadowing. Still, they were overjoyed to hear the news. We took our in-laws to dinner to tell them. My mother-in-law squeed and my father-in-law would periodically stop and chuckle to himself.
Funny story: The most difficult instance of keeping our most glorious secret ever was a couple weeks after we found out. We met Kellwin’s family for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. Before the pregnancy, Kellwin would indulge in a drink or two when we went out with friends; social drinking ftw. My sis- and mother-in-law had margaritas, but Kellwin abstained. “I’m not feeling up for alcohol today.” She got some curious looks, but no one suspected anything.
I missed the first ultrasound (work sucks), but saw plenty of pictures and movies (yay technology.) While the procedure is rather boring as far as medical procedures go, the results are the most exciting and anticipated of all procedures. Six weeks’ bake time and the bun is barely starting to form. Even at max magnification, she was little more than a tiny white blob. Yet she had a heartbeat and was visible on the screen. That was enough to stop our hearts.
Funny story: In early March, Kellwin signed up for a zumba class at our gym. Her trainer was also the class instructor. She attended a couple classes before conception and one more afterwards. As zumba is a very vigorous activity, doctors suggest that pregnant women avoid it. Kellwin was a bit unhappy as she enjoyed the classes, and she had paid for a full 10-week session but would only get three classes out of it. So she went to her trainer…
Kellwin: Hey, Shelly. I have some bad news: I have to drop out of the zumba classes.
Shelly: (thinking then light bulb) Oh my God! You’re pregnant! Congratulations!
Kellwin and Lyraat: (dumbfounded)
Lyraat: Are you psychic?
Shelly found out before any one else that we were having a baby, but she deduced it. How? Kellwin had told her that we were working on kids and that she was excited about the zumba class. So what would make Kellwin drop out of the class? Only something that would prevent her from taking the class, such as a baby. We were amazed.
I was surprised by all the restrictions imposed on my wife during the pregnancy. Oh sure, no alcohol and heavy lifting, but there are a lot more than that. Below is a non-comprehensive list of restricted items. There are so many, I’m sure I’m missing some. And because I don’t like being sued, these are recommendations given to us by my wife’s doctor. Consult your doctor when making medical decisions.
- Alcohol: I was the Alcohol Nazi. No booze for you! This only became frustrating when Kellwin went to her sister-in-law’s bachelorette party. She planned, funded, and organized the extravaganza, but could not partake in all the frivolities. She had fun, but would have liked to have had a drink or three with her friends.
- Raw and undercooked food: Kellwin loves her sushi. But raw food, especially raw meat, is verboten. If the food is contaminated (listeria being the major bad bug), the mother may experience mild intestinal discomfort. The fetus, however, may die. So Kellwin abstained from sushi for nine months. She even avoided it when we went to this great Asian buffet by her parents house. Undercooked food, such as medium rare steaks, are also verboten. Well done steaks make Kellwin sad, so no steaks for preggers Kellwin.
- Fish: Due to mercury, some types of fish are off the pregnancy menu. Shark, marlin, and, most notably for Americans, tuna are all way too high in mercury for expectant mothers or hardcore sushi-loving actors. Can’t even eat tuna, the only food better canned than fresh.
- Processed, preserved meats: Two issues here. First, listeria. If improperly handled, processed meat may become contaminated. Any food can become contaminated, yes, but bacteria love meat. Second, nitrates. Most cured meat products contain nitrates, a preservative which kills botulism. For the fetus and newborn, however, nitrates can cause developmental problems and “blue baby syndrome”. So off the pregnancy menu came bacon, lunch meat, sausage, ham, hot dogs, prosciutto, smoked turkey legs, lox. Kellwin craves Von Hanson’s old fashioned, skin-on hot dogs during the summer. Her doctor said she could have her hot dogs provided that she eat them with an acidic beverage (orange juice, e.g.) because the acid in the beverage counteracts the nitrates. Can’t have it everyday, but once in while isn’t terrible. Still, this was the most troublesome restriction. She ordered salads that had bacon bits on them, sandwiches were out, the state fair foods almost made her cry (thankfully cheese curds were not restricted.) Not fun. We did find nitrate-free bacon, which was surprisingly tasty and only a couple bucks more than the cheap stuff.
- Caffeine: Some studies say caffeine is okay, others say it’s not; we erred on the side of caution. Since Kellwin doesn’t drink coffee or soda, and only rarely has tea, we avoided the issue and caffeine.
- Artificial sweeteners: Again, the medical literature is conflicting, and again we sided with caution. However, unlike caffeine, Kellwin ingests a decent amount of artificial sweeteners: we like diet drinks. Luckily, there are alternatives, namely real sugar. Shocking that the natural stuff is better for soon-to-be-mom than the unnatural stuff.
- Unpasteurized milk and cheese: Listeria again. Not a huge deal as we don’t unpasteurized milk or cheese made from unpasteurized milk. It came up once, we dealt with it and moved on with life.
- Baths: Bathing in water above body temperature is bad. Hot baths may relax the mom, but the reduction in blood flow to the fetus means the baby gets stressed. Another tough renunciation for Kellwin, who lists “reading in the tub” as one of her favorite activities. She took a couple tepid baths, but tepid baths are not as much fun as hot baths.
- Exercise: Heavy lifting is fairly obvious, but any vigorous activity is discouraged. Expectant mothers can and should exercise, they have to do so without racing the heart. Walking, good; running marathons, not so much. This became frustrating later in the pregnancy as Kellwin wanted to exercise, but her expanding abdomen reminded her she shouldn’t.
- Smoking: Not an issue for us as no one in the family smokes.
- Cats: There’s a nasty bug that cats can carry if they eat feces and dirt. Contact with kitty litter is strictly forbidden. We have dogs, but Kellwin’s brother has 1, 2, 3 cats (he and his wife had one cat at the start of the pregnancy, and added two more before the end.) Contact with their cats was unavoidable. We shrugged and avoided the litter boxes.
- Bike riding: Casual, relaxed bike riding is fine…except when you tell your husband that you had a couple accidents last summer. Yeah, no more biking for you, soon-to-be-mom.
- Travel: Specifically travel in the third trimester. Just not a good idea. Annalla and Kailee were kind enough to suffer our three dogs so Kellwin did not have to board a plane.
Remembering all these restrictions was perhaps the most difficult aspect of them. Many a tasty-sounding recipe was nixed because it required a forbidden ingredient. We understand that the risk to the baby are extremely low in most cases, but the problem with risk is that there’s always a chance: one in a thousand means one person in a thousand gets (un)lucky. We did not want to be that one.
Many of these restrictions are new (at least were implemented years after our parents had us), and the effects of the restricted items are not readily apparent. My wife and I, being inexperienced in these matters, accepted them. They seemed logical and many we could easily excise from our lives for a few months. Our parents, being experienced, did not fully accept them. The nitrate issue, in particular, was difficult for our parents to accept: “We ate lunch meat and bacon while carrying you, and you turned out just fine!” These restrictions seemed reasonable to us, and what we gave up temporarily was worth an increased chance of a healthy child. Not to say we’re risk averse (“Pogo licked the pacifier.” “Don’t care. She’s screaming. Give it to her.”), we take risks in which the benefit outweighs the risk. No alcohol or sushi for nine months to improve our child’s chances in life? Done.
Kellwin had heard about The Business of Being Born, a documentary on natural birth at home (produced by Ricki Lake.) We were curious, so we hit up Netflix and watched it. It was a documentary in the style of Michael Moore; that is, it was propaganda in the guise of a documentary. But whereas Moore uses facts and hard evidence (albeit skewed in his favor), this “documentary” eschewed such trivialities and went with scare tactics and personal stories. The basic thrust of the show is that the medical profession treats child birth as something to be controlled, managed, and exploited. For thousands of years, the mother had control over the process. But in modern times, women cede control of the birth process to doctors, who want to manage the process to their benefit. Not the mother’s or the baby’s benefit, but the doctor’s. The show offered alternatives to today’s standard procedure, namely natural childbirth aided by a midwife and/or doula. We watched a woman deliver a baby at home with the assistance of a midwife. We also saw Ricki Lake give birth to a child at home in a bathtub. The director interviewed various home birth advocates, and showed the differences between a home birth and hospital birth.
I’m not a fan of home births. Several years ago, a friend of mine had his first kid in a kiddie pool in his living room. The idea of a pool of bodily fluids diluted in 50 gallons of water spilling in my house…Or running a hose to the curb and draining said pool…Yeah, I’ll pass, thanks. The other portion of the program—“Yay for midwives!”: I think midwives are great, but, like any tool or resource, they need to be used properly. In low-risk childbirths, like the births we saw in the video, midwives and home births are an excellent, low-cost alternative to hospitals. But they cannot handle every situation. Like my wife’s ob/gyn’s boss said to us in the hospital, “When things go wrong, midwives turn to us [doctors].” Midwives know when problems go beyond their pay grade, yet traveling between home and hospital in the middle of a medical emergency can have devastating consequences. As my wife and I found out, seconds count. Home births work for some, but not for us.
I tried to keep an open mind during the film, but the filmmakers tried to slant the facts too far in their direction. Of course, I’ve never seen a documentary or propaganda piece so completely negate its own message as this one did. The director becomes pregnant a couple months into the project. She happily signs on with the midwife she’s been following, plans out her home birth, squees with Ricki Lake over the home birth process. Then, at 28 weeks, something happens. We’re never told what went wrong, only that the midwife rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section. “Every mother should have a home birth with a midwife at her side…except when she can’t.”
The movie’s postscript reminded me why philosophical stances can be ruinous. The director was interviewed at her house several months later, her happy, healthy baby boy merrily playing with his toys. She seemed depressed that her birth wasn’t how she had dreamed it would be. Fair enough. But she was so distraught over her non-ideal birth that seemed to not love her child. You don’t love your child just because your birth was what you hoped for? Do you realize that your child would be dead had you not gone to the hospital when you did? Do you realize that you might be dead had you not gone to the hospital when you did? My child’s birth was decidedly non-ideal, but we still love her with all our hearts. Stop being a short-sighted idealist and start being a loving mother.
With my bro-in-law’s wedding on October 1st, my wife and I went proactive and got our major baby preparations done early. We bought the baby furniture, had several family work days, and dealt with as many baby-related issues as we could over the summer. Stressful, to be sure (“I am NOT painting the room again! Twice is enough!”), but our preparations paid dividends later. Still, we felt a little odd shopping for baby stuff when Kellwin was barely showing. We got some great deals and quizzically suspicious looks. By mid-August, Eleanor’s room was 90% complete; all that remained were small things that would have to wait until the baby shower in October.
We’re very proud of Eleanor’s room. We think it’s very fun and age-appropriate. And it gives us a reason to showcase all our stuffed animals (other than the obvious “because we can!”). Adults can have stuffies. I’m no less of a man because I curl up in bed with Patwrick the Pup every night. I like cute things, I’m not ashamed. We were surprised at the wall decals’ ease of installation. Peel and stick. The hardest part was not tearing them when peeling them from the paper.
Our friends Annalla and Kailee arrived for our second annual get-together over Labor Day weekend. Friday the 2nd, Kellwin’s aunt Jeanne was rushed to the hospital. She had been ill since May 2010, but had been improving for a few months. Hearing that she was in intensive care was kind of a mood killer for our get-together, but she was alert and doing okay. The family told us to enjoy our friends, Jeanne would pull through. So we did. We had our fun (State Fair virgins, woo!), making the most of what Kellwin and I considered our last vacation as kids/non-parents. Labor Day brought us back to reality when the family said Jeanne would not pull through. We saw Kailee to the airport then rushed back to the hospital (Annalla graciously babysat the dogs.) That was not a fun day. The following days were spent with family as we began the grieving process. She passed away on the 8th. That weekend, we spent sorting her affairs and estate: bills, bank accounts, credit cards, medical records, taxes, life insurance, retirement accounts. Ugh. Making matters worse was that my bro-in-law was named the executor of the estate. His wedding was on October 1st, so the many last-minute arrangements that needed to be finalized (such as hiring an officiant, making reception table centerpieces, finalizing headcounts, ordering the cake…did I mention my Damon and Kelly procrastinated?) were delayed in order to handle Jeanne’s affairs. Instead of weekend wedding work days, we had weekend and weekday wedding work days and evenings. More than a few times, I called Kellwin asking to which location I should drive from work, Jeanne’s, Damon’s, or our house. And did I mention that Kellwin was seven months pregnant and she was the maid of honor and we were still raiding two nights a week and working and [I know I’m missing something else here, oh well]? Can’t forget all that. The 17th was Kelly’s wedding shower, and the 24th was the bachelorette party. Translation: the 17th was the stuffy, tea-and-crumpets family affair; the 24th was the drinking-and-dancing free-for-all for the ladies. Guess which one my very-pregnant wife organized? Yup, the boozefest. Kelly did promise a boozefest in the spring for my wife. The week preceding the wedding was all wedding, all the time. Kellwin took Thursday afternoon and all of Friday off to prepare for the matrimonial onslaught. I wanted to help more, but time with first born baby trumped wedding prep time. Our hard work paid off as the wedding was an awesome, fantastic blast, exhaustion and horrible rental tux shoes be damned.
We don’t speak about September. I don’t think either of us ever experienced as stressful a month. School had its moments, work is cyclical, but the personal nature of these stressors kept them in our minds the whole month. Felt unrelenting, draining.
After the wedding comes the baby. With the wedding in our rearview, Kellwin and I went into full baby mode.
Because people like celebrating births with gifts, we headed to Babies ‘R’ Us to register. As mentioned above, we had already bought the big furniture items, but we still had a lot to buy. We are cautious buyers. We research our purchases and mull our decisions. The larger the investment, the more weighty the decision, the longer the mulling. We came prepared: we knew what we needed, brought a couple “what to buy for baby” books, and had even done a reconnaissance trip in early July. Babies ‘R’ Us even gave us a list and 10-minute registration consultation.
But still [Insert audio clip of Illidan’s famous saying here.]
With scanner in hand, we headed towards the shelves. First stop: car seats. And then the panic set in. We expected a few options. We got dozens. What features are useful? Extraneous? Will this fit into both cars (one of which we had, the other we had yet to buy; see below)? How easy is it to install? Remove? What’s the safety rating? Durability rating? How adjustable is it; that is, will it fit both a small baby and a big child? Does it feel sturdy? Are the fabrics soft and comforting? Is the design attractive? Will the pattern hide the inevitable stains? Just a sample of the questions we asked on car seats, which was the first item on our list of several dozen.
To be honest, we had no idea what we wanted/needed. We never used these products before. We had no basis for our preferences other than what we think we would like, what we reasoned would be best. Having no experience with babies meant having nothing on which to base our decisions. We didn’t know what we would need. All the baby gear lists were recommendations: we might use the stuff regularly, occasionally, once, or not at all, we had no idea. But we’re not the kind of people to give up and decide on products at random. We have a process and we’re going to stick to it, damnit! We’ve got nothing better to do today, this needs to be done, let’s do this!
Five hours later…
And we’re spent. So much baby stuff, my eyes bled pastel for a week. We thought registration would be fun—“We get to pick out cute baby stuff for people to buy for us! Yay!”—but instead it was an ordeal. Overwhelming and exhausting.
We learned that there are five types of shoppers at Babies ‘R’ Us:
- Expectant browsers: Expectant parents (usually late first/early second trimester) who wander the store and squeeing at all the cute baby stuff. Time in store: 30 minutes to an hour.
- Registrants: Weary soon-to-be parents (late second/early third trimester) burning a weekend afternoon scanning stuff. Time in store: 3-6 hours.
- Experienced parents: Focused parents, with or without kids dangling off them, zipping in, buying the one thing they need, and zipping out. Time in store: under five minutes.
- Gift-givers: Friends of expectant parents who plod through the store, gift registry in hand, trying to find the one, perfect gift. Time in store: 10-30 minutes depending on how patient they are.
- Grandparents: Two classes of grandparents. One class strolls the aisles, grabbing all the cute clothes. The other harries their children, chiding them for failing at raising their grandchildren while practicing poor child-rearing skills themselves. Time in store: all day for the first, until the new parent(s) collapse for the second.
Epilogue: What percentage of the stuff we registered for and received or bought have we used? 75-80%. On a regular basis? 33-40%. Some items were scanned with the understanding we wouldn’t use them until spring or summer. Many items got a few uses then put away. Only a few items were once-and-done or even none-and-done, so we feel good about having registered effectively.
As our combined baby-raising experience totaled zero, we enrolled in a “how to birth and raise a human” class. We had read several books on the subject, but there’s a difference between reading and practicing. Also, we can’t ask a book to clarify or explain further, and there are lots of details in the process. We opted for the two-day class instead of the seven weekday evenings. The class was at our hospital and had about 12 couples. Well, 11 couples and one single mother.
(We felt bad for her as all 11 couples were married. No engagements, boy/girlfriend, or any other situation that might have made her feel more comfortable, given her someone to talk to. My wife and I don’t care what type of relationship the parents have so long as both are caring and devoted parents. Single parents have it rough already. Watching a bunch of married couples learn to become parents while you learn with your older, married friend? Yeah, not the most pleasant of experiences for her.)
We were on the later side of the due dates. The class was in mid-October and most couples were due in 3-6 weeks; the range was 10 weeks out to one week past the due date. We were about 6 weeks before B-Day.
The class was quite informative. Part Lamaze, part anatomy and physiology, part developmental psychology, all very interesting. The instructor did an excellent job keeping us entertained while teaching us what we needed to know, a good mix of facts and anecdotes. We learned what the hospital experience would be like, what the birth process entailed, we watched a couple birthing videos (36 hours of labor and then a C-section? Poor woman), toured the hospital’s birthing and recovery floors, practiced some birthing positions and breathing techniques, discussed C-sections and possible birthing problems, spoke with a pediatrician about common baby issues (Who knew pediatricians were present at the birth? Makes sense, just something not mentioned in any of the books we read), and had a quick overview of how to care for our newborn. A little overwhelming—Kellwin gets mad props for forcing the baby books on me otherwise I’d have drowned in the class—but we felt so much more prepared after having taking the class.
What surprised me the most was how little people knew of the birthing process. The instructor asked questions and no one answered. She showed pictures and diagrams and the class stared blankly or, in the case of the birth video, stared with saucer eyes and horrified looks. I don’t know whether this is an indictment of public schools’ sex education, people being unfamiliar with childbearing, people not studying for the event of their lives, students afraid of answering incorrectly, or adults grasping the reality of their soon-to-be situation.
Funny story: We were late on Sunday and we noticed there were two fewer chairs than the previous day. The instructor explained that a mom went into labor that night, three weeks earlier than expected. We did the math: they were six weeks ahead of us, three weeks earlier than expected, which would be like us having our baby in three weeks. [Insert audio clip of Illidan’s famous saying here.]
This brings us to the end of October, due date about one month away. There’s a couple things yet to come before the birth, but since they are more birth-related, they’ll be in the next post.