Posts by Ashley:
- 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are dissatisfied with their bodies.
- By age 17, that number increases to 78 percent.
- About two-thirds of women and girls have an eating disorder.
I’m a little late on this one, but I have a new post up at Teaching Tolerance about how to encourage girls to stay in STEM fields:
This might seem like a no-brainer, but one of the most important things we can help our girls realize is that being smart is nothing to be ashamed of. Dr. Carolyn Phillips, assistant computational scientist in the math and computer science division of Argonne, told the girls, “You want to be around smart people because smart people make you smarter.” In her keynote address, she cited studies that state that women are more likely to feel frustrated when they fail than men are. Men are much more likely to subscribe to Thomas Edison’s statement: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Phillips encouraged the girls to persevere with the hard problems, saying, “You know you’re working on something good if you can’t solve it right way.” Science is all about failing; some of the best inventions and solutions to the most difficult problems have come from experimentation and subsequent failures.
Read the rest here!
I’m on The Broad Side today, talking about what Hillary Clinton can do to win teachers’ votes:
On a more personal level, since the Common Core has been implemented, I have seen an incredible uptick in students diagnosed with and hospitalized by severe anxiety disorders. What a teacher should do in the case of a panicked student vomiting during testing is, in fact, now written in the test instructions, which gives you a sense as to how common this is. On top of that, where I used to stand in front of the classroom, ask a question, and receive 20 different analytical answers, I now ask the questions and am often met with blank stares from my students. Sometimes students even ask me, because of what they’re expected to know for the standardized tests, to just tell them what I want them to know and move on. How’s that for a lack of creativity in the classroom?
The reasons for wanting education reform might not match up across the political aisle, but one thing is for sure: Hillary Clinton, as the presumptive Democratic nominee, is going to have to be very careful when she talks about education policy on the campaign trail.
Read the whole article here!
It is my first Mother’s Day as a mother. Incidentally, I’ve also now been a mother for two days shy of six months.
I feel that six months is a pretty significant milestone. Half a year. A half-birthday. It’s also when things start getting significantly easier. Fewer feedings and more smiles. Less crying and more sleep. Reaching out for things she wants, and sometimes she wants me. And that alone is pretty great.
They say that you can tell a lot about what your baby’s adult personality will be very early on. If that’s true, I can already tell that baby girl’s personality and mine will be very similar.
She watches and watches and watches. She’s curious and wants to know how things work.
She can’t stop moving. She doesn’t do well sitting down for long periods of time.
She laughs easily and often.
She’s not mad a lot of the time, but when she is, she’s really mad.
She does things her own way, even if there might be an easier way to do them.
She wants to do everything by herself, even if she can’t quite do it yet.
My hope for her is that she continues to be all these things and more. I hope she grows to be a better version of me; I hope she grows to be the version of herself that she designs.
If you follow me on the interwebs, you know I love knitting. And, I like to think, I’m pretty good at it, too. A bunch of people told me I should open up an Etsy shop to sell some of it, so I did just that. Right now, it’s just baby stuff, and most of it is made-to-order (because I like that people can choose their own colors!) but I hope to get some scarves and hats up there in time for cooler weather.
Check it out, and maybe even buy something!
Here’s a little levity for your Wednesday evening.
My students started today by taking notes on symbolism. I’m sure they all already knew what symbolism is, but repetition is always good.
Me: Can anyone give me a real-life example of symbolism?
Student 1: Emjois?
Me: Yes! That is the perfect example of something standing in for something else.
S1: What is your favorite emoji, Miss?
Me: The smiling poop.
S2: She didn’t even miss a beat. You didn’t even have to think about that.
Me: Well, I live with a baby, two dogs, and a husband. I find the smiling poop very useful.
S1: It is a versatile emoji.
Me: It really is. What’s the baby doing? Smiling poop. How are the dogs? Smiling poop. My entire family is coming over for dinner; I hope you want to cook tonight. Smiling poop. How was your day? Smiling poop.
S2: Do you have bad days that often?
Me: Not really. But the smiling poop could stand for a bad day, but remember it is also smiling, so it could symbolize a day that isn’t going as I had planned but I’m still smiling about it. In that case, it symbolizes persistence, perseverance, a positive attitude…
S1: Who knew emojis were so deep?
One of my students asked me today how I feel about the riots going on in Baltimore right now. Nothing like being put on the spot at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning.
But, if you know me at all, you know that I’m not one to shy away from these questions. And this is an excellent question, for how does one feel about the rioting in Baltimore? How does one see, day in and day out, the systemic violence and hatred toward a group of people, or the death of countless Black individuals who should never have died, or the resulting protests that start peacefully but inevitably end up embodying the anger and resentment and, most of all, fear that people in these communities feel and then express thoughts and feelings about these incidents in coherent phrases? How is one supposed to do that?
It makes me sad. I hate it when my students say that. I ask, “How did this passage make you feel?” or, “What is the tone the author is using here?” They say: sad. I hate it because it’s too easy, but also because it’s too distant. Sad is something other people feel, something a child points to and notices. It might be sad, but it is also outrageous, devastating, heart-breaking, unthinkable, untenable. But I want to maintain a bit of distance from this, for now at least, and especially with my students. I’m not sure why, but that feels right at this point. So, for now, it makes me sad.
It makes me sad that we live in a culture of systemic violence and racism. It makes me sad that people think that because we elected a Black President that we now live in a post-racial society. It makes me sad that my students – many of them young, Black men themselves – are not surprised when they hear of other young, Black men being killed.
But it also makes me sad when people point to rioters and say, “See? They’re hoodlums. They don’t know how to act. No wonder police shoot at them. Be peaceful. Can’t you see that you need to be peaceful to exist in this society?”
I cannot be surprised about riots following some act of violent injustice, nor can I condemn them. Violence begets violence; we’ve seen it time and time again. Kids bullied on the playground become bullies themselves. A little boy who watches his father beat his mother might grow up to follow in his father’s footsteps. We don’t call it the “cycle of abuse” for no reason. So why are we surprised when the violence of a young person murdered unjustly begets the violence of riots when justice is not served?
Now, don’t get me wrong: I do not condone the destruction of property and the injury of people. How can I? But how can I say that their anger is unjustified or that this physical embodiment of their outrage is surprising? It’s not.
In March of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.” I’m sad that his words are still relevant. I’m sad that we tend to teach racism as something that happened long ago and has long since been fixed. I’m sad that we have to continue to watch the loss of lives, and I’m sad that our justice system is broken.
So, how do I feel about the riots going on in Baltimore right now? I feel sad.
I don’t deal well with messes. I take a good portion of every day just to get myself organized. It’s kind of ridiculous, actually, but I can’t do any work until things are clean, and if I don’t sit down to organize papers and write my to do list first thing in the morning, I’ll feel like I’m forgetting something all day. When I go home at night, I need to prepare everything for the next day for the same reasons. I like things in their rightful place, organized, and preferably at right angles.
There are very few right angles in my life now. Even my body reflects this; where there used to be flat lines and pointy edges there are now soft curves and extra skin. My body is quite literally a physical manifestation of the ways my life has changed: there is just more, and it’s not as clean-cut as it used to be.
I haven’t dealt well with the changes in my body, if we’re being completely honest. The only thing in the world I’ve wanted since giving birth is to wear my old clothes again. And, since my physical being is an allegory of sorts for my mental one, you would think I would be mourning my old life like I’m mourning my old jeans.
But I’m not.
At least, I don’t feel like I am.
The way I have to do things now is so completely different than the way I was able to do them before becoming a mother. No longer can I sit in my office and pound out 10 articles in a day; I’m lucky if I get one done without being interrupted. I can’t do any task without getting interrupted, for that matter, and that was a difficult adjustment for someone such as myself who really, really likes to finish things. My schedule is also wildly unpredictable. Just when I get used to a nap time or feeding schedule, she decides to change things up. Just keepin’ you on your toes, Mom. And then she laughs at my so obviously tilting axis as she rotates in my orbit. She is constantly, constantly in my orbit. The planet that is my body (and sometimes it feels like a planet, indeed) will always have this baby moon surrounding it.
But the baby moon? She’s pretty amazing. She controls the tide, just as you would expect, but she also gives light in the darkness, joy where there wasn’t any before.
I’m full of metaphors today. All of this is just to say that I’m adjusting, slowly, and then re-adjusting again every few weeks. I’m learning to embrace the mess, and learning how to organize some of it (because my personality can’t entirely change). I’m learning how to take yoga off the mat, and just breathe when things get frustrating: Let it go. Drop a thought. Acknowledge that feeling, then move on. See the mess, then tackle what you can… or don’t.
I expected the mess. At least a little. What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy the excuse not to have it all cleaned up all the time.
Featured Image Credit: Liza
I’m easing back into the writing game! My latest at the Teaching Tolerance blog is just in time for the second half of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and it’s all about what educators and students can do to prevent sexual assault and help survivors:
Read the rest here!
In case you missed it, Dove released a new video recently, showing women around the world who were presented with two doors, one labeled “Beautiful” and one labeled “Average.” What they found was disappointing, but probably not surprising: Most women, no matter where in the world they lived, chose the door labeled “Average.” The video included interviews with some of the women who were filmed walking through the doors, and encouraged all women to #choosebeautiful.
I’ve heard a lot of criticism about this campaign. Maybe women chose “Average” because there wasn’t an option for “Funny” or “Intelligent” or “Strong” or whatever other descriptor might be appropriate. And let’s not forget that Dove is a company selling a product. Not just any company, either; a company which makes its money by selling beauty products. A company owned by Unilever, which also owns Axe, and we all know Axe is not famous for its body-positive advertising.
I’m a feminist. So I should have a problem with Dove’s #choosebeautiful campaign for these reasons.
The thing is… I don’t.
I mean, I do, because of course I wish that women and girls were described as other things besides “beautiful.” Of course I know that this is advertising masquerading as body positivity. Of course I wish Axe would take its disgusting advertising down a dark hole and never come out.
But the fact of the matter is, that just isn’t practical. Beautiful is still the number one thing young girls and many of their grown-up counterparts want to be. According to Miss Representation (http://therepresentationproject.org/):
Those statistics are staggering, and as a high school teacher, I see this every day. As a woman, (especially one five months postpartum whose pre-pregnancy pants don’t even button yet) I live this every day. As a mother of a daughter, I’m sure I’ll be even more well acquainted with body image issues as she grows older and more aware of how she’s “supposed” to look.
Negative self-talk is harmful. Allow me to give a personal example: When I look at myself in the mirror every morning and all I can see are my brand-new love handles spilling over pants that are two sizes bigger than they were only a year ago, I don’t tend to think that these are the product of my amazing body creating an entire human being. I don’t even tend to think that it took nine months to put it on, so it’ll take at least that long to get it off and then forgive myself for the scoop of ice cream I ate the night before.
What I think before I remind myself to love my body is that I look like crap and I have nothing to wear and I don’t even want to leave the house. And when I feel like I don’t look the way I want to, I feel awful in general. I shouldn’t. I should focus on my beautiful baby, my intelligence, my creativity, the fact that I’m a good teacher and a good person.
But I don’t. And I’m pretty sure most women don’t most of the time, either.
Should we all strive to be more than “beautiful?” Yes. Of course we should. But what is wrong with wanting to look and feel our best? The important thing, no matter if we come close to meeting society’s standard of beauty or not, is that we love ourselves enough to think highly of ourselves and not succumb to negative self-talk. We are all beautiful; we should all choose beautiful.
And until it is socially accepted that beauty isn’t something to strive for, until we are not judged for the way we look, until my students don’t ask me if I’m sick when I don’t put makeup on in the morning, until my students stop starving themselves to meet an unattainable ideal of beauty, until I don’t have to worry about which images my daughter will internalize as she grows up, then this campaign is a powerful reminder that we should love ourselves. And that is a reminder that we all need sometimes.
Ashton Kutcher is all over the internets today because he posted a complaint to his Facebook page about men’s restrooms generally lacking changing tables:
Judging by the response he got on social media (and, you know, common sense), he’s clearly on to something here. It isn’t out of the question that a father might take his young child out for a jaunt, and shouldn’t he be able to change a diaper in a restroom? Makes perfect sense to me.
This isn’t a new issue, although it has been gaining more attention now that It has a celebrity face behind it. A friend of mine emailed me years ago about this same thing; her husband took their then-baby to the mall and couldn’t find anywhere to change her diaper.
In this day and age, we not only want fathers to take on more of the burden of childcare, we also want them to be present in their children’s lives and have relationships with them. How is that going to happen if men can’t take their babies out for a little while knowing that they’ll have a place to change a dirty diaper?
Tim and I live in a newer area, so the stores around here are generally built with men’s, women’s, and unisex family restrooms. However, because it’s finally warm enough in Chicagoland that you won’t get frostbite just by walking outside and because he’s on paternity leave until mid-April, he’s starting to take the baby out more. I hope he doesn’t run into this issue. And, if he does, I hope he gets righteously angry at the establishment!
Have you or your partner ever struggled to find a place to change a baby’s diaper? If so, what did you do about it?
If you don’t want to read my daughter’s birth story, I suggest you stop now and go somewhere else on the interwebs. (Though, after that I imagine most of you will stay out of sheer curiosity!)
If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of the television show Bones. I’ve been watching it pretty much since it’s inception. Even though I’m an English nerd, I somehow inherited my dad’s scientific and purist views of the world, so I tend to identify with Dr. Brennan and her Squints. (You know that episode with the baby in the tree? Brennan pulls a purple elephant out of the diaper bag they found to entertain the baby and says, “Elephants aren’t purple. This is wrong.” That pretty much sums up about 50% of the interactions I have with my baby.)
Anyway, one of the most recent episodes [SPOILER ALERT!] has Daisy giving birth to Dr. Sweets’ son. She’s hired a natural doula to try to connect with the baby on a spiritual level and to try to have a natural, drug-free childbirth. The doula doesn’t want Daisy to have her friends around her because she doesn’t want energies mixing. Eventually, Daisy kicks the doula out because she’s fed up with her dogmatic beliefs and, well, she wants her friends around her during the birth of her child. She says something like, “I want doctors and shiny machines and medical technology!” I almost busted open my c-section incision laughing at that, because it rung so true for me.
I was absolutely set on a drug-free childbirth. My mom did it twice, and I was in incredibly good shape when I got pregnant and all though my pregnancy, so I didn’t think there would be any problem. I hated being pregnant, but I had zero complications. Everything was textbook, so I assumed I’d go into labor on my own. I passed my due date, but that was OK. Most first time moms do. So I waited.
10 days later, this girl was NOT coming out, so we scheduled an induction. But I still wasn’t worried. My mom was induced when she had me, and still was able to avoid an epidural, so I thought I’d be totally fine. This was just history repeating itself.
We got to the hospital and started the induction on the morning of November 11. The contractions were bad, but manageable. I was able to relax and breathe through them. Then, at night, they checked my dilation. I was thinking I was almost there and, by midnight, I’d have my baby in my arms. Nope – 3 centimeters dilated.
The doctor insisted on breaking my water to speed things up. Having labored for about 15 hours and knowing I was at 3 cm, I agreed. Medical intervention #2.
And guess what happened? Nothing.
I called my mom into the delivery room. I wanted the epidural. It had been 20 hours at this point, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to push if I didn’t get some sleep. We talked about it for a long time, and we waited. Tim, ever the coach, told me I could do this and I was strong, but also knew that I was pretty close to my breaking point.
At about 4:00 AM, a team of nurses came rushing in, flipped me on my side and put an oxygen mask over my mouth. The baby’s heart rate had dropped to 60 beats per minute. I was absolutely terrified. She recovered in minutes, but I didn’t. Relaxing through contractions when you’re super afraid your baby is going to die inside of you? Not gonna happen.
If her heart rate dropped again, I was going to have to have an emergency c-section. Without an epidural, they would have to knock me out to do the surgery. I wanted to be present for my daughter’s birth, even if I was numb from the waist down for it, so I got the epidural. Medical intervention #3.
The process of getting the epidural was about as awful as I thought it was going to be. The reason I wanted a drug-free childbirth in the first place was because I was terrified of the epidural. It took the anesthesiologist three tries to get it in my spine because he insisted on trying to put it in before the local anesthetic took effect. The first two times I felt the whole thing, and kept jumping away in pain – not a super good thing when you’re putting something in your spine.
So I got the epidural and I was completely numb from the waist down. I could not feel one thing, nor could I move my legs. I hated the feeling more than anything, but I was finally able to get some sleep.
The doctor came in at around 9:00 the next morning to check my progress. 5 cm. Not great progress, but progress. She anticipated I’d have a baby by noon.
Noon rolled around. 6 cm. The doctor felt my belly and determined she was turned with her spine to my left side and couldn’t properly get into the birth canal. They flipped me on my right side and told me to stay there, hoping gravity would do its work and she’d flip and come down.
5:00 PM came and went. 7 cm and bloody show.
7:00 PM came and went. Still 7 cm. The doctor started talking to me about the possibility of a c-section. I opted to wait another hour to see what happened.
8:00 PM and 8 cm. The doctor told me I could wait as long as I wanted and push all day if it would make me feel better, but it was her professional opinion that this baby was not coming out without some help. I talked to Tim and my mom. I was exhausted. I didn’t think I could push even if I wanted to. I opted for the c-section. This was the fourth and final medical intervention, and the only one I was hoping to avoid.
At 9:42 PM, my daughter was pulled from my uterus and entered this world screaming. It was the most beautiful scream I had ever heard. Tim was in awe of her, and of me. He held her up for me to see her, and I was in love with her chubby face. Later, in the recovery room, my mother-in-law, with tears in her eyes, told me how proud of me she was and how brave she thought I was for going through so much labor. Tim was beaming the entire time.
Several people have since told me that they’re sorry I had to have a c-section. They mean well, and they are saying it because they know I wanted to avoid having a c-section at all costs. But, the fact is, I’m not sorry. My doctor made a recommendation, but it was my decision. I decided to have the surgery, and I’m glad I did. In another time and place, my daughter would have died before she came out, and I would have died with her. There is a stigma surrounding c-sections currently. Our society tends to see them as the product of lazy doctors who want to schedule operations in order to make their tee-time at the golf course and selfish mothers who want to pick their child’s birthday. And, while this might have been the case – and still might be in some cases – it wasn’t for me. In my case, it was a necessary evil for both my daughter and me to come out of this thing alive, and I’m grateful for that.
I’m also grateful that I was surrounded with so much love through the entire process. From going through so much labor unmedicated, to making the rational decisions to have an epidural in case of a c-section and then having the c-section itself, to braving major abdominal surgery while still awake and aware, Tim was so impressed with me. My mom and dad and in-laws were, as well. Tim and I were able to work as a team, make tough decisions together, and hold each other’s hands through it all. Our marriage came out a million times stronger than it was before; in fact, I don’t think I knew just how much I loved him until I saw him in those surgical scrubs, trying to show me he was not concerned, and then beaming over our daughter and laughing when I said strange things (like, “she’s really a girl?!”) in the haze of the operating room.
I won’t lie: Recovery has been a b*%@#. I’m just now, 8 weeks later, starting to feel like I can do most of the things I used to do, like flex my ab muscles and walk without pain. But it was not only necessary, it was my decision, and one I didn’t make lightly. And, even though I tend towards the natural way of doing things, I’m glad for the doctors and medical technology and shiny instruments that made it possible for my daughter to come into this world, and for me to be here to see her grow up.
Photo credit: isafmedia
As long as we’re on the topic of body image, let’s talk about the things I’ve learned about my own body image at 8 weeks postpartum:
1. Leggings are good.
2. Spanx are bad.
3. It was not, in fact, all water weight I was gaining at the end.
4. When people say you’ll bounce back quickly, they don’t mean in two months. They mean in, like, a year.
5. My personal goal is to be able to wear my pants, buttoned, by April. I’m hoping this is reasonable.
6. I’m fairly certain God invented wine specifically for new moms.
6a. I’m also fairly certain that the consumption of wine after 10 months of teetotaling is the #1 reason why I am hanging on to more extra pounds than I’d like.
6b. After 10 months of teetotaling, I will not give up my nightly glass of wine in favor of quicker weight loss.
7. After a full-term pregnancy, I will never, ever call myself fat again.
7a. This is also probably a good practice to get into around my daughter.
8. I get really irritated when people tell me to love my body because it has made a beautiful human being. I can love what my body has done, love my daughter, and still want to fit in my old jeans. These things are not mutually exclusive.
All valuable life lessons, if I do say so myself.
Well, loyal readers – if there are any of you left after my lengthy silence – I’m back on the blogging bandwagon as much as I can be with a baby in my lap. I took a break at the end of my pregnancy because I was working full time plus doing a copywriting job for some extra cash, and I just didn’t have the energy or focus to keep this up. Now, as a new parent, I find I have so many things to say about my experience parenting so far that I might as well come back here and talk about it. I realized that I tried to dispel many rumors about the “happily ever after” of marriage when Tim and I tied the knot four years ago, and that was fun, so why not do the same with parenting? I hope you’ll all stay along for the ride.
Already, I have posts planned about natural childbirth (I didn’t have one), breastfeeding (I’m not doing it), co-sleeping (I’m not doing that, either), everyone else’s parenting advice (that I’m not taking), working parenthood (I go back on February 2), and a whole host of posts about being a feminist and raising a girl. I’m sure that last bit will provide endless fodder for this blog for at least the next 20 years. This might seem like a teaser, but I’m mostly writing these things here to hold myself accountable.
Oh! And I want to tell you about how and why we came up with her name. It’s a beautiful story, and I have to wait until I stop crying every time I talk about it to type it out. It might be a while.
Today’s post is about raising a girl and body image. It starts early if you leave it up to the rest of the world, apparently.
But first, an introduction. As you can see from the picture above, I have the sweetest, most beautiful baby girl in the world. I’m not biased; this is objectively true. I mean, just look at her! She arrived 10 days late; after 38 hours of induced labor, she was wrenched from my insides via a c-section. I may be speaking too soon, but we pretty much hit the baby jackpot here. She’s totally chill and cuddly and she seems happy, though that might be impossible to tell at this point since she only JUST started smiling and I’m not entirely sure the smiling is associated with any kind of emotion just yet.
She may be perfect, but that’s not to say that the beginnings of motherhood weren’t incredibly trying. From the start, she has been a bad eater. As in, she doesn’t eat much. She also didn’t cry when she was hungry for the first few weeks of her life. This, among other feeding issues left us with a situation where she wasn’t gaining nearly enough weight. She was tiny and remaining that way. After a lot of work and a few changes, she started eating and gaining weight like a pro. We were so happy.
Over the holidays, we saw some people who hadn’t seen her since the first week or two of her life. At six weeks old, she was significantly bigger than she was at two weeks old (which, you might imagine, is completely NORMAL for a baby, and is a fact we were incredibly happy about considering the previous issues we were having). One of these people – I won’t mention names or specific relationships – told me we’d have to get her on Jenny Craig formula if her weight gain kept going the way it did.
Um. No. Just… No. I don’t care if she can’t understand what you’re saying right now. I don’t care if you’re only joking. I don’t care if you hold archaic beliefs about how women should look and act in regards to food. I. Do. Not. Care. You don’t get to joke about my daughter’s weight. Ever. She’s going to have enough trouble navigating her body image in this world without hearing it from the people in her life, too.
And can we just say that, if she were a boy, this particular person would have most definitely been talking about how much of a “bruiser” he was and how big and strong he was becoming? I am 100% positive this is true.
I told him this was a completely inappropriate thing to say and asked him to leave the room – he had come in while I was changing her diaper in private just to tell me this. I’m already thinking of better retorts for next time.
This is when she was six weeks old. SIX. WEEKS. OLD.
Clearly, I have my work cut out for me.
I do a lot of complaining about pregnancy. I like to think that it’s not complaining so much as brutal honesty, but, at the heart of it, I’m whining about it a little bit.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, per se. Between all of the unsolicited advice, unwelcome touching, judgmental looks, doctor’s appointments, general physical and mental discomforts, and hormones, pregnancy really sucks sometimes. I’ve heard of these mythical women who absolutely loved every minute of their pregnancies, but I’ve never actually met one of them, so I’m not sure if they really, truly exist.
However, it is the Myth of the Woman Who Loves Pregnancy that has prompted me to ask why they love pregnancy. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been able to come up with a few reasons that also hold true to myself. If you’re looking for a silver lining to the pregnancy horror stories the media (which, admittedly, includes me) feeds you, look no further.
1. I eat whatever I want.
OK, so that’s not entirely true. I do not go overboard. I am not “eating for two” in the sense that I am eating double what I ate before. I do feel like I am eating constantly, but that’s due, in part, to the fact that this baby’s legs are firmly implanted in my stomach, making it much, much smaller. And the fact that I need 500 extra calories per day just to, like, survive and grow a human. This means that I never turn down dessert if it’s offered (and sometimes if it’s not) because, suddenly, I have a serious sweet tooth where I never had one before. It also means that I’m far more likely to indulge in a burger where, before, I might have opted for a salad. And, let me tell you, burgers are amazing.
I’m also 100% a proponent of the idea that cravings come from a place of need. If I’m craving something, my body must need something in that food. Sometimes, if I’m craving ice cream, I can get by with cereal because what my body wants is the calcium, but I think sometimes I need the sugar. If I’m craving a burger, I probably need red meat for the iron and the protein. My body is amazing and efficient, and it’s going to do what it needs to do to ensure that it and this baby survive, so who am I not to listen?
After 8 years as a vegetarian, one year Paleo, and a calorie-counter for as long as I can remember, it’s freeing not to restrict myself. Don’t get me wrong, I make sure I intake all of the proper nutrients each day, and we still eat mostly organic, whole foods. I just don’t worry about what I’m eating and what I’m not so much. Considering I’m well within a normal weight range and I feel pretty good (and I truly have surprisingly few cravings, which must mean I’m getting what I need most of the time), I’m starting to realize that I can trust my body to signal me when it’s hungry, what it’s hungry for, and when it’s full. Then, it will do what it needs to do with the fuel I give it. I won’t blow up like a balloon; I won’t feel horrible for days; I won’t break out. This freedom has given me the ability to trust my body and know that, even after pregnancy, food will be far less of an issue for me – I hope!
2. I am completely self-indulgent.
As I was looking at a pair of super cute, leopard print, bejeweled flats, my best friend told me just to buy them. She pointed out that, with the inability to buy new clothes (because, seriously, how many maternity clothes do you really need?), new shoes can dress up an outfit and be a fun accessory you’ll keep well after the baby is born. I hesitated, and she said, “Pregnancy is an excuse to do whatever you want. Buy the shoes.” To which I responded: “Funny. I usually use pregnancy as an excuse not to do whatever I don’t want.” She laughed and said, “Well, it’s that, too.”
You know how I said above that cravings are your body’s way of telling you you need something that you’re not getting? Well, I also believe that your body gives you pretty clear signals when you’re pushing it too hard and need to take care of yourself. Most of the time, we ignore those signals, but the signals get a definite boost when you’re pregnant. You’re not just tired, you’re bone-crushingly exhausted. You’re not just sore, you’re sore in places you didn’t even know had muscles. You’re not just out of it, you’re mentally drained and left with no more words.
I’m really selling it here, aren’t I?
Here’s the thing, though: You have to listen to those signals. I’m not a huge fan of the idea that pregnant women have to take it easy and can’t do much of anything because OMG NO STRESS FOR THE BABY. Stress is a normal, important part of life and it is unavoidable. However, rest is also important. I’m someone who is go, go, go all of the time, so I had to cut back. Here is an abridged list of the things I no longer do (though some of these I stopped doing a long time ago because Tim is just better at them and doesn’t mind them as much as I do): vacuum, clean bathrooms, garden, cook elaborate meals, read books I have no affinity for, follow certain feminist websites, dress and do my makeup even if I know I’m not leaving the house, lots of the dog care responsibilities, join committees at work, do extra after-school activities that I do not enjoy. Tim has jumped in a great deal to keep this house looking presentable. I’d say the split now is about 40-60 (with him doing most of the work). While I’m still making a good deal of extra money with copywriting from home and growing a human, this seems like a pretty good split.
By getting rid of the things I feel like I “should” be doing but don’t actually have to do, I have a lot of free time. I use that time to knit while listening to audiobooks, watch copious amounts of television, or to sleep. I’ll tell you what: I could get used to this.
3. Those “holy $%)#” moments are pretty awesome.
A brief and incomplete list of moments that have been entirely surreal, both in a totally weird way and a completely amazing way:
-That first faint line on the pregnancy test
-That “PREGNANT” on the digital pregnancy test because I don’t believe faint lines
-Hearing a HEARTBEAT in an 8-week-old fetus that barely even looks like a blob on the ultrasound. Seriously. A HEARTBEAT. What?!
-Seeing the fetus go from a blob at 8 weeks to having a profile and fingers and toes at 12 weeks
-Starting to show at around 14 weeks
-Finding out it was a girl and crying like a baby in the middle of the ultrasound place because I was so happy
-Feeling like she finally had a solid identity in our minds because she had a name
-The first movements and then, as time passed, watching my belly roll around with her in there – totally alien, and totally cool
-Enjoying food again after months of non stop sickness; I couldn’t stop eating and everything tasted SO GOOD
-Connecting with a community of mothers, and being completely welcomed by them and their excitement for me
And that’s just a few.
4. A rediscovered love of root beer and fizzy, fruity drinks.
I’ve chosen not to drink during this pregnancy, which, as you know, has been a huge sacrifice for me. I’m not a binge-drinker, but I truly enjoy a cold, craft beer on a hot summer’s day. I also live for monthly wine tastings and various wineries in the area. Tim and I have a favorite local wine and cheese restaurant where we go to order a bottle of wine and the cheese and meat plate and we sit and talk for hours. Seriously some of the best date nights we’ve had have been at that place. I mean, we went to Napa on our honeymoon and stayed at a local winery the night after our wedding, for crying out loud. We like our wine! Plus, my mom and I have connected over many a wine tasting, as well. I’ve done none of that this pregnancy, and that has been a little sad for me, if I’m being completely honest.
Truly, what I miss is the camaraderie and social aspect of classy imbibing. I also miss that it was a part of my identity that I had to cut out. And we all know how I feel about losing my identity. I mean, I kept my last name when I got married if that gives you any indication.
So, in order not to give up the social aspect I crave, I’ve had to get creative. Instead of a cold bottle of beer, I’ll have a cold bottle of root beer. Instead of wine in my wine glass, I’ll pour a carbonated fruit juice in it instead. Not only does this make me feel like I’m not being left out at gatherings with friends and family, but it has reminded me how freaking awesome root beer and sparkling fruit juice are. They are SO GOOD! I mean, why don’t I drink these things more often? Yummmm!
5. The empowerment that comes with knowledge and good medical care.
Tim and I have attended a 12-week Bradley Method birth class and that, in conjunction with doctors who are absolutely on board with my desire for a natural, drug-free childbirth have truly given us a sense of empowerment. Back when I was yelling from the rooftops that I didn’t want kids, I was very honest with myself and with Tim about why: I didn’t want to be pregnant. It wasn’t about my body or about the weird symptoms. Honestly, what it came down to was that I didn’t want to give birth because A) I was sure I was going to die in childbirth; and B) I didn’t want a needle in my spine.
To address the first fear was easy. I have an incredible team of doctors, and I fully trust that they are not going to let me die. Plus, even though the maternal mortality rate is abysmal in the US, it is only abysmal considering that this is the most developed nation in the world, and the rate should be zero or close to it. Plus, it is not abysmal for women who have competent medical teams at their disposal. I am INCREDIBLY FORTUNATE to have some of the best medical care around, and incredibly fortunate to have been able to select that medical care from the plethora of wonderful options around me. It is absolutely unfair that not everyone has that option, and I will fight as an activist until everyone does. However, for now, I’m going to take advantage of this and rest easy knowing that my medical team will take care of me and this baby.
Addressing the second issue – the one about the needle in the spine – wasn’t that easy. I’d read stories about how women gave birth naturally and I couldn’t believe it. Even Kate Middleton did it! What?! No, I thought. There’s no way. Some women are just lucky not to have any pain, but they are in the very small minority. For the rest of us, an epidural isn’t an option.
While some doctors and patients believe that women need epidurals to get through labor and delivery, there is actually a huge faction of people out there who believe it’s something women can have if they want, but they don’t need it.
As it turns out, I have options on this front. I don’t, in fact, HAVE to have an epidural. Considering this was the part of pregnancy and childbirth that I was most scared (read: TERRIFIED) of, this was a relief to me. When I heard about the Bradley Method, I jumped on it. I didn’t even think about it. I knew this was the option for me. The Bradley Method focuses on natural childbirth and takes 12 weeks to actually train you in how to do it. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean you don’t need training, and this training has made me 99.9% sure I can do this. (I mean, I’m not totally ruling out the possibility of needing an epidural. I don’t know what childbirth is like, and I don’t know how my body will handle it. But I’m 100% sure I’ll try, and I’m also 100% sure I’m still terrified of a needle in my spine, and that makes me pretty confident I’ll succeed.)
Now, as with anything natural, the pendulum swings pretty far the other way. Bradley courses tend to teach drug-free EVERYTHING along with drug-free childbirth. No Tylenol, no Pitocin to induce labor, no or limited vaccines, etc. I’m someone who doesn’t generally take drugs for anything unless I absolutely need to, just because I prefer not to, but I’m also not opposed to taking things I need for my health. Vaccines, antibiotics for an infection, etc. are all perfectly OK in my book. I like to minimize that as much as possible, because I like to go at it naturally first. This means I will not be refusing any medical interventions deemed necessary by my doctor, and my child will receive all of her shots and ointments and what have you, because those are incredibly important.
However, the thing about childbirth and parenting is that, very rarely do you have to make split-second, life or death situation decisions. There are only a few situations during childbirth that you don’t have a minute or two to think about before you decide what to do. They want to break your water to speed up labor? You can think about that for a second. They want to give you an epidural to help you relax? You can talk that over for a minute. The pressure is there and is very real when you are talking about the health and well-being of yourself and your baby, but you can take your time to think about it and weigh the risks and benefits for you before you decide.
This class has empowered me. It has empowered me in ways beyond just pregnancy and childbirth. It has given me the tools to take control of my medical care in the sense that is has given me the right questions to ask and the knowledge of the risks and benefits of many situations. It might not make sense, but after this class, I trust my doctors even more in what they are doing, mostly because I know why they are doing it. Even the best doctors sometimes don’t explain everything to their patients and, unless you know the right questions to ask, you’ll never know the answers you need. I know doctors and nurses get upset when patients refuse medical advice, but I also believe that a mistrust of the medical profession is due, in part, to a lack of information. I mean, some people are just jerks or idiots who refuse to take care of themselves, but some of us just want to make educated decisions about our health. I’m doing that, and I feel really, really good about it. As it so happens, I’m doing pretty much all of what my doctor recommends, but I know WHY I’m doing it, and that’s much more important to me. I have the feeling now that I’m working with my medical team rather than them working on me, which is so, so powerful. Plus, I don’t have to have a needle in my spine. So there’s that.
Photo Credit: Emiliano Horcada
I have always loved yoga, but it wasn’t until I found a yoga studio last year that I truly started to reap its benefits. Before, I had always done yoga at the gym as a way to stretch and do what I considered to be a relaxing workout. Once I found the studio, though, yoga became so much more. For one, it was much more difficult. Taking yoga with a trained, professional teacher who isn’t just a fitness instructor certified to teach it is a much different experience.
Furthermore, because it was a studio and because the teachers were trained, the focus was on fitness, yes, but a fitness of your total being – mind, spirit, and body. Poses were performed not only to tone our muscles but to release toxins and emotions stored there. At first, I was skeptical of these new-agey techniques, but after a while, I started to see that what they said was true. You do get emotional when you find stillness in a pose, and being able to experience those emotions and let them pass is a technique for yoga, but an even more important one for life.
My yoga instructors were the first people outside of my mom and Tim who knew I was pregnant. They have championed me and encouraged me every step of the way. They have reminded me, on several occasions, that I should not be focused on what my body can’t do, but what it can.
Our Bradley childbirth classes have given us so much knowledge and empowerment when it comes to the options we have in the hospital while giving birth, but before turning to yoga, I never would have actually believed that I could give birth without drugs. Now, after spending so much time on my mat, I know – without a doubt – the strength my body has. I know what it can do, and, when I leave the studio, I’m proud of it.
Sometimes, I falter. I look at myself in the mirror and feel the overwhelming weight of pregnancy and motherhood. I feel depressed. I feel like I just want a day off. I feel like I want to crawl back into bed and not get out. I call it “relaxing,” but really, it’s more of a way to deal with (or not deal with, as the case may be) the crushing terror that apparently comes with being a parent.
If I can drag myself to yoga, though, when those thoughts strike, I spend an hour thinking about pregnancy in an entirely different way. It’s not a string of symptoms I’d rather not be experiencing all lined up to torture me unfairly. It’s a biological response to growing a life. There is a life in me now that isn’t my own, and it is my job to nurture that life. This life is both a part of me and doesn’t belong to me at the same time. Sometimes, that feels a bit alien. Sometimes, that feels like the heartbreaking and heartwarming act of letting your child define herself rather than offering a definition for her.
Pregnancy is a scary thing. I’d definitely never tell anyone that it wasn’t, especially if they weren’t sure they wanted to go through it. It’s downright terrifying. Your body seems like it is not your own anymore, not only in the sense that it is being used as an incubator for another life, but also in the sense that it seems to be everyone else’s business all of the time. Appropriately, then, you spend a great deal of time worrying about what is happening to your body – Is your blood pressure too high? Are you gaining too much weight? Should you be eating that sandwich? What are all these fluids? Is it normal that my pants don’t fit this early on? – but you also spend an even greater deal of time just worrying about whether or not your little one is comfy and alive in there, and if there’s anything you can do to make her stay a little better.
On top of that, you feel like you have to know all of the things lest you be pulled unwittingly down the rabbit holes called Google and Unsolicited Advice. You want to know everything so when someone says something meant to scare you (and they will), you can shoot them down with a smarty-pants response. Sometimes, that’s necessary for your mental health. Sometimes, though, it pulls you in even further, requiring that you become an expert in pregnancy and parenting, which can be more damaging than the advice itself.
Beyond its physical benefits, yoga has given me the strength to know that I cannot know everything, but it has also given me the strength to admit that I don’t need to. Just like I cannot know what poses the instructor will call out and in what order, I can trust that, in the capable hands of my instructor, those poses are exactly what I need at exactly that time in order to relax, focus, and release the negativity I’m holding on to. Similarly, I cannot know how childbirth will go and if I will need surgery or drugs, but I can trust that what needs to happen will happen, and I’m in capable hands. I don’t need to know all of the terrifying moments of everyone’s birth story; it will not prepare me for my own, just like knowing all of the frightening moments of new motherhood will not prepare me for my own journey. Knowing I’m capable and I have a competent and capable support system in place is enough.
Just like in yoga, I will fall. (And I’ve been doing a lot more of that recently as my center of balance is completely off, just as I believe new motherhood throws your center of balance off for a while.) But, just like in yoga, I will pick myself up and try again. And, soon, we will move on to a new pose and a new challenge and a hundred different new ways to fall. Maybe I will fall, and maybe I’ll find my drishti – my unwavering focal point that hones my concentration and balance – and I’ll perform it perfectly. And then, I’ll congratulate myself and move on to the next.
But the fact remains: I know nothing. I don’t know where I’m going or what will happen when I get there. But I know I will succeed: Just coming to your mat in the first place is a success. In the same way, for me, just the decision to come to parenthood in the first place was a success (though I know that isn’t the case for everyone).
Listening to a friend with a newborn the other day talk about her pride in herself for doing her pregnancy the way she wanted to do it, I had to look at my own and wonder if I could say the same. At first, I was upset because I didn’t think I could. I wanted to be relaxed and enjoy the ride, but instead I have been sick all the time and consequently pretty miserable and whiny about it.
But then, I took a step back and looked at the big picture. Having pregnancy the way you want it isn’t about each individual moment; it’s about the entire journey all together. And, while my journey isn’t over yet, I can say that, overall, I’ve done pretty well. Sure, I’ve fallen at a few hurdles and descended into a But, I’ve done what I’ve needed to do to get the information necessary to continue on. I’ve prepared myself in every way I can for a natural childbirth, and I’ve encountered most ridiculous situations with humor and a healthy eye roll (and some crying, but find me a mother who says she didn’t cry about anything her entire pregnancy, and I’ll show you a liar). I had a gender reveal party surrounded by those who love us to show how excited we are to have a baby girl. I’ve had fun designing a nursery and crafting the heck out of some pretty cool projects. Overall, I’ve done pretty well. And I, too, am proud of that.
For a type A, know-it-all person like me, knowing that I don’t know much is scary, but it’s also been the most exciting part of this journey so far. And, it’s oddly liberating to be able to say, “Eh, I don’t need to worry about that right now.” But, knowing that I don’t need to know right now… that is empowering. It’s given me the ability to ignore unsolicited advice, to accept what I cannot control, and to fall and try again.
It’s hard to believe that yoga has done all of this for me, but it’s true. Without yoga, I’m not sure how I would have made it through this pregnancy. The fact that I came to this studio by accident with a Groupon last summer just goes to show you that, sometimes, the universe knows what you need better than you do; you just have to have the courage to come to your mat not knowing what your practice might bring.
Can we talk about maternity photos for a second?
For a while, I was completely on the fence about having maternity photos done. A huge part of me (mostly, the part of me that’s huge) has not felt attractive or glowing through this entire pregnancy, and this isn’t really something I want to immortalize on film. There’s also a huge part of me that doesn’t want to spend any amount of money on pictures that will be important until November, when this baby comes. Furthermore, we have taken a belly picture every single week since I was 6 weeks pregnant to track the growth of this alien life form, so how many more belly pictures does someone actually need?
This isn’t to knock my friends who have done them; my friends have very good taste, and I’ve seen the fun, funky photos they’ve taken that really showcase their style. Tim and I, though? We don’t really have a photography style, at least not one that fits the mold of most of the occasions that would require professional photograhy. Allow me to give you an example from our wedding. Most maternity photos I’ve seen on Pinterest and the like are serious, pensive, and romantic. Here’s a picture from our wedding that was supposed to be romantic. I think the direction from the photographer was, “Look at each other and be in love.”
I guess that’s what love looks like? I mean, Tim is pretty good at it, but I can’t hide the fact that I think what we’re doing is ridiculous. I’ve never been very good at separating my feelings from my facial expression. So, something that’s very beautiful, calm, and centered like this photo? Yea, I couldn’t pull that off.
I especially couldn’t pull off something like this:
On top of that, I’ve been really irritated recently with people who treat me like a disembodied bump. If you’ve ever been pregnant, you know what I’m talking about: The unsolicited belly touch. The once-over as you pass a stranger on the street. The questions about what you’re eating or drinking and whether or not you should be eating or drinking it. The absolute inability of anyone anywhere to talk to you about anything other than being pregnant. The CONSTANT COMMENTS ABOUT YOUR SIZE – “Are you having twins?” “Oh, you’re starting to show!” “You’re so big!” “You’re such a tiny pregnant woman!” “You’re all baby!”
I’m an autonomous human being. I have a life growing in my uterus, which is pretty cool, and yes, I’m pretty excited about it. But the bump comments (and penetrating stares) get old. Fast. Especially the ones about your size. After this experience, I firmly believe there is no comment that is appropriate to say to a pregnant woman except, “You look absolutely beautiful.”
And this problem, I think, is only perpetuated by the maternity photo industry. Just look for maternity photos on Pinterest and see how many of them actually show the woman’s face. So, so many of them are disembodied bump photos. They could really be anyone. Need a few examples? I’m happy to oblige:
OK, I have to admit, I think this one is really cute, especially since we’re probably going to take lots of bump pictures with pumpkins in October. It is, after all, our favorite month, and will be our fourth wedding anniversary. But, seriously, the photographer couldn’t pan back a little bit and include their faces?
So, the more I think about it, the more I have come to realize that this just isn’t for me. And I’m writing about it not to make anyone feel bad who adores their maternity photos. I adore your maternity photos, too. I just don’t want them, and I want people to know that it’s OK if you don’t want them, either. If they’re not your thing, you probably won’t regret not having them. The baby industry is so similar to the wedding industry in the way that it is built on regret for not having and documenting every second of a fleeting moment exactly as you had envisioned it. “They grow up so fast,” after all, and that starts with your quickly expanding waistline.
Who knows. I might eat my words in a few months and really regret not doing maternity photos. But I’m guessing that regret will be overshadowed by the plethora of super cute newborn photos I want to show off. To be fair, my mom just bought a really stellar camera and has been learning how to use it all summer, so she is going to come over and snap some pictures of us and the dogs this October, so I will have some record of the fact that I am, in fact, pregnant. I think that’s a nice, happy, middle ground, especially since she knows exactly how I feel about maternity photos of myself. We’ll goof around, snap a few pictures, and maybe put one on the mantle until we replace it with a bajillion pictures of Emily. And I’m perfectly fine with that.
If you need a good belly laugh – PUN INTENDED! – (or if you need any more proof as to how ridiculous some of these maternity poses truly are), check out this guy who did his wife’s maternity shots in her place because she didn’t want to do them. I think we need to get Tim on this, stat.
Most of these images were found on Pinterest without proper photo credits.
So, I’m sitting around yesterday, basking in the glow of an amazing facial and relaxing after some great yoga while doing a little copywriting to make some extra money, munching on a peach, when this pops up on my Facebook feed:
Because, you know, my garden-variety anxiety isn’t enough.
So, since I’ve talked about anxiety and the ways I’m dealing with it and working through it, was I able to keep my cool? Continue on with a level head and call my doctor calmly and rationally to find out if this was worth working myself up into an all-out frenzy over?
No. I did not. I spit out the peach I was eating – which was, by the way, purchased from Trader Joe’s, as is almost all of our produce – and completely lost my mind.
I called Tim into the room, already shaky and crying. He carefully reviewed the news report that was linked and we determined that, yes, we had purchased those particular plums, peaches, and nectarines from Trader Joe’s almost every week this summer and, yes, I had eaten at least one of those fruits (if not more, because fruit is a serious craving of mine; who would have thought that I should have just stuck to ice cream and pickles?) every day for the last two months.
Clearly, that didn’t help.
Since I was not at all rational, I made Tim call the doctor. In fact, I made Tim call the doctor three times. Apparently, we were around the 25th caller about this issue that hour. Unfortunately, there was no prize.
After those three tearful (my tears, not Tim’s) and panicked (my panic, not Tim’s) calls to my doctor, I learned a great deal about listeria, if anyone is interested. My doctors did not seem worried, even though listeria can, like, KILL YOU AND YOUR UNBORN CHILD, and said if I experience flu-like symptoms to come in immediately but, otherwise, not to spend time panicked about it. (Yea. Right.)
The good news, according to my medical professionals and the very kind people at Trader Joe’s, whom we (Tim) also called in a panic (rational, calm manner):
1) This is a precautionary recall after testing, not because anyone has been infected.
2) We’re now well outside the window they cast for the packing dates (which was likely larger than necessary in the interest of safety), so I’d very likely know by now if I was infected.
3) Listeria is very treatable if you don’t let it go too long thinking it’s the flu and, if it is treated, your baby will probably not be affected.
4) Symptoms of listeria include flu-like symptoms, especially diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues, and can progress to a headache, stiff neck, dizziness, and confusion if left go too long. This is not to be confused with the killer headache I had Monday evening. That was probably due to not drinking enough water in this heat, which is an entirely different – yet still dangerous – issue.
5) Despite what the internet says (because the internet is a pack of LIES), you’ll know it if you have it. People who “didn’t know” they were infected, thought they had the flu. So if you think you have the flu but ate some of this produce, go to the doctor. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
6) Wash your produce with running tap water and dry it with a clean paper towel before you eat it. This is what the CDC recommends for pregnant women (and everyone, really, but especially for pregnant women).
For me, now that I can breathe again, the moral of the story is that, truly, nothing is safe. To anyone who asks, I talk a lot of talk about not worrying about hot dogs and deli meat and a sip of wine here and there, but I’m all talk. In reality, you will most often find me firmly placed in the better-safe-than-sorry camp. I obsess over my nutrition (which, incidentally, isn’t a pregnancy thing; I was like this before I got knocked up), and I make the healthiest choices for me which, it should surprise no one, often includes eating fresh produce.
Even though it is unnecessary (says my doctor) to avoid things like deli meat and domestic soft cheeses, I do. Because what if? Even though I’ve been CRAVING a turkey bacon sandwich from Panera for two weeks and can think of nothing else, I refused to eat it. Because what if? So, instead, I eat a variety of fruits to give my growing fetus and me the nutrients we need even if, as I’m gnawing on the fruit, I’m dreaming about the salty goodness of turkey and bacon on carby bread. Apparently, the joke’s on me.
However, it is a little liberating to know that nothing is truly safe, which sounds weird but stick with me. Pregnant women are encouraged to live in terror of the entire world for the entirety of the gestational period: Don’t do this. Don’t eat that. Don’t sit there. Don’t reach your arms over your head. Don’t lift more than a grocery bag at a time. DON’T DO ANYTHING BUT LAY DOWN AND EAT OVER-PROCESSED FOODS THAT ARE COOKED TO OBLIVION.
Has that really ever worked for anyone? No. It has not. Because that isn’t healthy either. We need to be active and use our muscles and eat a variety of foods to ensure that we – and our unborn children – are healthy.
While some things are more dangerous than others, there is nothing without risks. Even doing as one of my friends suggested (in jest… I hope) and peeling every single produce item I eat (can you imagine peeling a plum?) has risks of some kind of contamination (plus, all the good nutrients are in the skins!). Risk is unavoidable. The best we can do is be healthy and be aware. Now I know what to look out for should listeriosis strike, and I know what to do if it does. And I know that, since I’m a conscientious adult with a lot of knowledge and good medical care, the odds are most definitely in my (and my baby’s) favor.
Just don’t hold me to this the next time one of my favorite foods is recalled and I am pregnant.
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Here’s an interesting factoid: Women who find out the sex of their baby actually describe fetal movement differently depending on if it’s a boy or a girl.
For boys, they generally use sports metaphors: a soccer or football player kicking, of a boxer punching, for example. For girls, they generally use more graceful metaphors: the fluttering of a butterfly, the moves of a dancer or swimmer.
I can’t find the link to the actual study (anyone have it?), but I heard it referenced in a talk by one of Sheryl Sandberg’s lead researchers on Lean In, and this About.com article about reasons not to find out the sex of your baby references it, too (so it must be true, right?).
Anecdotally, I haven’t noticed this in my friends who have been pregnant, but the discomforts of pregnancy usually take precedence over the wonders of fetal movement in conversations. Also, I know a surprisingly few amount of people who found out the sex of their child before “D-Day,” as my birth classmates are fond of calling the day the child is delivered.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was true, though. In her TED Talk, Deborah Siegel discusses that, even as her boy/girl twins were in her womb, her husband noted that the boy’s bump looked like mountains while the girl’s looked like rolling hills. It happens to even the most gender conscious among us!
Each fetus is different, just like each baby is different and each person is different. Having a graceful, powerful, lethargic, or active fetus is no different than having a graceful, powerful, lethargic, or active person. But guess what? These movements have nothing to do with the fetus’ gender. How could it? Fetuses don’t know anything about how a boy is supposed to act versus how a girl is supposed to act. They just move. They probably don’t even know if they are moving in an active or lethargic, powerful or graceful way. They just do it.
It is, instead, our descriptions of the movement that change depending on the sex of the fetus. These are our gendered notions, not the baby’s. We impose them on our children from the womb, and often unconsciously.
I was once asked if our baby girl was “dancing around in there.” I laughed and replied, “Dancing? No. Punching me? Yes.” I didn’t say this because I’m a crazy feminist or because I’m in tune with my gendered language (though maybe, unconsciously, I am); I said this because it’s true. Baby Samberts continually uses my uterus as her own personal punching bag. Seriously, it’s like Million Dollar Baby going on inside my uterus. Sometimes it actually hurts, even, and it definitely keeps me awake at night. (Feeling this, I’m not sure how anyone could describe fetal movement as graceful in any way, but, like I said, every baby is different.)
We all have hopes and dreams for our children. We all want our children to be well-rounded, well-adjusted, happy, and successful. We want them rule the world, regardless of gender. But the gendering starts early, folks, and we may not even be aware of it as we’re doing it.
Image Credit: Isabel
Let’s talk about anxiety.
It’s not a topic that many of us talk about often. I’m not sure why this is; usually it’s depression that gets most of the media coverage (especially when it comes to postpartum issues), which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering nearly half of people who are diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety, and anxiety disorders are the most common of all the mental illnesses in the United States, with 40 million adults ages 18 and over diagnosed – which doesn’t even count the teenagers.
So why don’t we talk about anxiety, especially as it relates to pregnancy and parenthood? Is it embarrassing? Uncomfortable? A private matter? Is it because the anxiety we typically link with parenthood and pregnancy is deemed “normal” – as in, “Of course you are anxious about creating a human/giving birth/raising a kid! It’s a daunting task!”? Is it because, in the age of Google, any little anxiety can be addressed and dispelled (or compounded) immediately? Is it because, once that anxiety is addressed, we go about our lives as if we were never anxious, until the next anxiety provokes us and the cycle begins again?
I’m sure if I searched around on the internet, I’d find quite a few women talking about anxiety and pregnancy/parenthood, but I know my close circle of friends doesn’t discuss it nearly as often as I’m sure it takes hold of their lives and, if they do discuss it, it’s after the fact. So, I’ve decided to spend a little time today talking about my personal experience with anxiety.
I started experiencing some form of anxiety in my sophomore year of college. At that time, it was probably triggered by a lot of things, including my imminent future life outside of the hallowed halls of my alma matter and my parents’ impending divorce, but the biggest trigger was a guy I dated for an incredibly short time, but with whom I became very close. He had a host of mental health issues, and I felt like I could save him. I couldn’t, by the way (which should surprise no one) and, even though he is now (as far as I know; we haven’t talked in a long while) living a perfectly happy and healthy life in New York, I am sure I had little to do with that. But that didn’t stop me from being concerned about his every move, no matter where he went. There were times when I couldn’t get ahold of him and I’d feel a gripping panic like I was absolutely sure something was going to happen to him or already had. I think the experts call that a “feeling of impending doom.” All I know is that I was so nervous, I could barely function. The only way I knew how to deal with this feeling was to find out if he was OK (and he always was), which I did by calling him an embarrassing number of times and, usually, crying. Eventually, I had to cut off contact with him because it was the healthiest thing for both of us, and my anxiety regarding him disappeared.
During that time, I did speak with a doctor about my anxiety because I wanted a referral to a therapist. Nothing was diagnosed, and no referral was given, but he did give me a sample pack of anti-depressants. Perhaps understandably, this was the beginning of my mistrust in the medical profession.
At some point, though, my anxiety transferred itself to other things, and stopped manifesting itself in a nervous panic, which made it harder to identify. It became more of an obsession over things I could control but couldn’t convince myself I was in control of, if that makes any sense. Usually during points of great stress in my life (trying to find a new job, getting married, after a kid brought a gun to school), I became intensely preoccupied with making sure my house/apartment was safe when I left it. I would check the locks a million times, check about 10 times to be sure all the lights were off, everything that was heated up (iron, curling iron, coffee pot, etc.) was unplugged, the oven was turned off. As you can imagine, it became pretty difficult to leave the house in the morning. I always did, and I was never late, which is probably why I never actually sought help for the issue. I was able to recognize it as anxiety, recognize why I was anxious, and trust that I’d just work through it eventually. Eventually has taken a while; I have been dealing with this off and on since 2008.
Incidentally, I also attribute my skin issues last year to this anxiety. The stress I was experiencing at school was just too much. Couple that with a Type A need to be perfect all of the time, and it becomes a bit of a dangerous mix.
This all sounds horrible, but the truth is, I was able to live a completely normal life. I made it to work on time, excelled at my job, built a successful relationship, bought and decorated a beautiful home, and eventually got pregnant. I went out with friends and family and, overall, enjoyed my life. In fact, if you saw me and I hadn’t told you I was experiencing anxiety, you probably would never know. There were just certain moments of every day that were difficult to manage, and I knew when those moments would be and could do nothing to prevent them.
For many women, pregnancy is a time of deep anxiety, especially if they’ve been prone to anxiety before. It should surprise no one, then, that my anxiety turned from the safety of my home to the safety of my fetus. I obsessed over lists of things not to do and not to eat. I slept very little at night, when the worries were at their worst, and Googled obsessively, becoming convinced I would have a miscarriage. It wasn’t until I started feeling downright sick that I knew everything was fine and, in a final acknowledgement that this was only hurting me (and the fetus), I gave up Google, gave up trying to avoid things not to do or eat (the list is actually surprisingly small, despite what Google and a few of the fear-mongering public would have you believe), and started asking my doctor all of my questions.
At this point, I mostly feel pretty good. I’m not panicked; I’m not checking my house a million times before I have to leave. My anxiety still exists, though it is centered around seeing people who I know will say something ignorant to me about my pregnancy and what I will say to respond to them. When I know I will have to see those people, I don’t panic, but I tend to get emotional and extremely nauseous – which can be a sign of anxiety in pregnancy, by the way – and want desperately to avoid the situation, even while I recognize that I can’t. I did speak with my new doctor about this, because it does put me at a greater risk for postpartum anxiety and it’s something to watch out for in case it gets worse. I’m hoping it doesn’t, but I guess you never know.
The bottom line, I think, is that more people should be talking about anxiety as they experience it. So many of my friends have shut out the world postpartum and only talked about their anxiety later, after it has dissipated, if it ever does. Not all anxiety can be treated the way I have dealt with it – in fact, I don’t recommend it. Talk to your doctor if you are feeling anxiety. If he or she gives you a packet of pills and that’s not what you want to try as a first option of treatment, find a new doctor. This was a mistake I wish I didn’t make all those years ago; I knew therapy would have helped immensely, but thought all doctors would have been pill-happy like the one I saw. As it turns out, my current doctor was very receptive and able to talk to me about ways of managing anxiety without medication, and warning signs for both me and Tim to look out for in case it gets much worse.
Anxiety is nothing to mess around with, and it isn’t always related to a situation, even though a certain situation might bring it on. This, of course, makes it incredibly difficult to identify. Find a healthcare professional you trust, and some friends you can talk to, if you are worried about your anxiety, even if you think it’s manageable or mild. There are things that will help.
I’ll try to update more about this off and on, though I am hoping that it doesn’t get worse and I won’t have to. I just think it’s important to get this out there and talk about it as much as we can.