Friday, June 02, 2017

Reflections On My Time As An Incubator

When I told my coworkers I was pregnant, a charming Ukrainian colleague of mine approached me in the break room and asked, "Do you have this word in English, incubator?".  I laughed because, obviously, we do have this word, and because I knew exactly where she was going.  Being pregnant with a wholly wanted and loved fetus was at times a wholly dehumanizing process, and more often than not I felt like an incubator that existed only to sate the appetite of the unseen squid-parasite sucking all of my nutrients and energy from me.  And I had a pretty chill pregnancy.

Seriously.  I wanted to be pregnant, and I have wanted a baby all of my life.  Yes, I have always valued my independence and envisioned a life without children that would have been happy enough, but since I was a little girl, begging to babysit and care for children I have wanted to raise kids of my own, so getting pregnant was a joyfully, tear-eliciting event.  And I had an easy pregnancy; I suffered from no morning sickness, none of the hypertension or gestational diabetes that plague so many modern women.  I managed to sleep pretty well, had an incredibly patient and supportive partner, friend group, and family around me the whole time, and had access to regular prenatal care.  I didn't have to give up any life saving or life affirming medications, and aside from occasional pregnancy headaches and carpel tunnel, had no problems while pregnant.  I didn't even have a problem giving up my cherished all day caffeine consumption or nightly half-bottle of wine habit.

But it still sucked.  The whole time I was marveling at how my body was capable of this massive change, this insane undertaking of creating a human from to bags of cells, I was also watching the body I'd known for almost 35 years become unrecognizable.  I used to challenge people to try to name one part of my body that hadn't been affected by pregnancy.  Lose joints and tendons, displaced organs, bleeding gums, stronger hair and nails (that later fall out and become brittle, respectively, not matter how many post-natal vitamins I take...), swollen feet and sore hands.  Even my skin changed color and my sweat smelled different.  Nothing stayed the same, and five months later, my body still feels foreign.  My hips are still not fully secured, my breasts are still too big for tops without an 'X' in front of the L, and as I fight to regain lost muscle mass I watch my linea nigra slowly refuse to fade. 

Which is fine, because I wanted a baby, and my child is a nonstop tornado of magic and insanity that I cried for when I was afraid it wouldn't happen. 

But imagine if I didn't want a baby, or didn't want a baby yet.  Or didn't have support in place, or a partner with whom I shared mutual love and respect.  Imagine if I had to go through more than twelve months (most doctors concede that it takes between 6 and 18 months to recover from pregnancy and delivery) of physical changes that would make Jeff Goldbloom think The Fly was a boring ass documentary.  Who else would say that was an acceptable price to pay for sex and/or failed birth control.  The fact that no (biological) man ever has to worry about this reality, yet many speak openly, vocally, legislatively, about womens' responsibility, is horrifying to me. 

Let me put it more simply.  Imagine every time you had sex you had a one in ten chance of having to give up alcohol, caffeine, deli meats, and raw meat and fish, and gain 30 - 50 pounds for nine months.  And then lost the ability to poop or control your bladder for a few weeks, and then could go back to normal until the next time.  That would suck, right?  And that's just a fraction of the reality a woman without full fertility/birth control options faces.  These choices should be personal, private, and freely available to women capable of sex, pregnancy, or being assaulted.  No matter what.  Because the individual sovereignty of a woman should not be nullified by a cluster of cells, or a fetus, or even a baby. 

If a baby was dying, and only my liver would save it, would the law force me to donate a lobe of my liver?  I could be reasonably expected to survive the surgery, and could go on to recover and lead a normal life, but we would never compel people to give up their biological sovereignty in that way.  Even without a nine-month lead up to the surgery that required me to adopt a special diet, miss work for regular appointments, and intense physical trauma of surgery and recovery.  Until mandatory non-lethal donations are legislated, we can't talk about eliminated birth control or abortion without recognizing the inherent bias against people with vaginas and uteruses. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

On Pregnancy, From the Rearview Mirror

Just over a year ago, I managed to get a couple of eggs fertilized by my main squeeze, which means I am now mommy to a joyful little 15-week old boy.  It also means that I have spent the last 12 months being taken apart piece by piece and rebuilt into new iterations of myself that I did not entirely recognize.  Pregnant me was about four different people, and mom me is someone I have never met.  Physically and psychologically everything has changed.  Seriously, challenge me on that.  Try to name something (other than my name) that has not changed in the process of the last year.  I have it on good authority that my skin changed the way it smelled at least three times during pregnancy.

On thing that has changed in a delightfully unexpected way is my newfound confidence in my old feminist ideals.  I've finally experienced a few things I'd only even talked about before, and finally have some authority to discuss them.  So, in no particular order, here's some shit I learned or have become certain of in the last 12 months:

1. No one should ever have to be pregnant against their will.  Ever.  I had a relatively easy pregnancy, in that my symptoms were limited to swollen breasts, sore breasts, mood swings, exhaustion, anxiety, gas, constipation, drooling, heart burn, carpel tunnel syndrome, swollen feet, swollen ankles, fluid retention, sore joints, reduced vision, indigestion, insomnia, varicose veins, diarrhea, back pain, forgetfulness, and an insatiable hunger.  I also developed a sweet tooth, but I think that is because I had to give up alcohol, caffeine, raw food, partially cooked food, lunch meat, sushi, seafood in large or exotic quantities, and most OTC medications.  So cookies started to seem like my only option.  Other pregnant women experience nausea, vomiting, acne, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, stretch marks, changes in blood sugar, bloody gums, development of boils or allergies, and much much more. Basically try googling any symptom or condition with the word pregnancy, and you'll find the same response, "occurs in some number of pregnancies; could be normal or serious, check with your doctor.".  That in and of itself should tell you that a person shouldn't have to go through it if they don't want to.  But think about all the sacrifices a pregnant woman makes for her beloved child.  No imagine that the woman does not want to be pregnant; how might that affect her decision to have a cup of coffee (which affect neurological development) when she suddenly needs twice as much sleep to function at the same level in the first trimester.  Or her decision to forego anti-depressants, allergy medicine, or pain killers (all of which are tied to birth defects).
This is to say nothing of the loss of autonomy you feel as a tiny force inside of you steals your vitamins and nutrients (necessitating those expensive prenatal vitamins), demands your energy and alters everything in your body from your hair and skin to the location of your organs and arrangement of your joints.  To me, it is an argument first about autonomy, second about how and why we value children and life, and third an appeal to what our actual priorities are.

The first argument is difficult, because there's no great comparision to be made; pregnancy is not really like any other aspect of life.  The best I've heard so far is of a life-saving donation, like a kidney or liver transplant.  Do we obligate everyone who is a donor to donate their blood or a lobe of their liver?  Sure, there are risks, but a life can be saved, right?  In these cases, with two adults, the donor's autonomy wins out over the recipient's life.  Why is this not true in cases of small, non-viable fetuses?
The second argument and the third are intertwined; they have to do with how we treat  these babies before and after they are born, and how we indicate the value of babies through public policy.  If we value these lives before they are born, then why to we appear to cease caring as soon as the baby leaves it's mother?  Why do we have a failing foster care system, children aging out of mediocre and damaging state care without ever knowing the love of a family, and children languishing in care that fails to meet their basic needs, is abusive, or both.  If these lives are all truly special and valuable, then why aren't babies born to mothers not ready to raise them not treated as valued by our society?
Finally, in terms of our national priorities, we cannot rationally continue to claim that children are precious, that life is precious, if all of our policies are to the contrary.  If nascent life is precious, why isn't adult life also precious?  Why to we imprison adults with drug addiction, or leave people of all ages with mental health issues to their own devices?  Why do we kill other people, and accept that police killing innocent people is acceptable, if all life is truly precious? 
And why don't these precious lives then have access to health care and education?  If we want mothers and people to believe that every child is wanted, why do we not provide free or even subsidized maternal health care?  Why do we not provide excellent health services to those who conceive?  Why do we not make sure that every child, or even most children, have access to quality child care, quality education, quality health care and mental health services until adulthood?  If these children are wanted, why do we not support their parents when the wanted child comes, through paid family leave?  And why do we not provide people of childbearing age with quality sex education and pregnancy prevention, so that they can make the best possible choices for themselves?

I have never heard a satisfying answer to these questions.  Instead, the most recent health care bill proposed by the president and congress sought to make maternity care optional, allowing insurance agencies to choose whether or not to provide healthcare to pregnant women.  More than any law attempting to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the lack of healthcare options for pregnant women indicates what our true priorities are.  Pregnancy is physically and psychologically brutal, to say nothing of motherhood, parenthood, and the 18+ year commitment entailed therein.  If you want to spout nonsense about each life is precious, act like it is true for more than the first handful of months prior to birth.  And act like life is actually valuable and worthy of care.  And then we can have a serious debate about the autonomy of women with uteruses versus the autonomy of fetuses.  And then that debate will no longer be about, on some level, condemning women who get pregnant to live forever with the result of one instance of sexual intercourse. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Chapter 34.5

In which our hero makes a potentially life-altering decision.

Is this what parenthood is?  Today is my first day in a job that is, as far as I can tell, a step down in every way except that it will provide the consistency my employment has lacked for the last five years.  I am starting as an assistant manager of some kind at a student apartment complex in Davis.  This is essentially the job I had 9 years ago that inspired me to go after my PhD in economics.  It was a smaller property, but I was the manager, so step up?  Step down?
It feels like a step down, like a sacrifice.  Like something I should be ashamed of.  Like moving back in time, like I am erasing the last nine years of my life....big years, by the way.

Years in which I fell in love, got married, got divorced, fell in love, got pregnant, realized my dream of becoming an Economics professor and loved every painful second of it, lost and regained my sanity, became a subject expert on Native American voting rights, experienced a pile of death and life and found strength in myself that I thought could only be reached through the worst conditions necessitating survival.  And thrived.  And now...

And now I am back.  In Davis, the town I went to high school in.  Doing the job I did when I was 25 years old.  Sort of.  It seems like the smart choice, though, because there is a baby coming, and babies need things like money and food and health insurance and consistency.  But I can't shake the feeling that I am letting go of a piece of myself, a piece of myself that makes me strong and proud.

And I don't even know if I'm supposed to be here today.  All I know is everyone around me is happy for me, congratulating me, and inside I am screaming, "NO!  This has to be some kind of mistake!  Can't you all see how wrong and backwards this is?!"  And no one can hear me.

Monday, July 18, 2016

99,999 miles

Credit to my wonderful Aunt Melanie for this idea, because I apparently *needed* a reason to write.

Today, on the way to work, my car hit the 99,999 mile mark.  This is not terribly remarkable, because I bought the dang thing with 89,000 miles on it, but it felt like an opportunity to mark time, to plant a flag and state proudly "this is where I am; that is where I was and that is where I am going."

I thought I would hit the marker on Saturday, when I drove into downtown LA for 10+ hours of extra work to try to make some extra cash because I am still, somehow, at the ripe age of 34, a broke-ass graduate student.  It didn't, likely in no small part due to the fact that I was so fried after a full day of troubleshooting minor technical glitches and listening with fake enthusiasm to an introductory seminar for MBA students that I drove straight home, untemped by even the slightest detour.  Yesterday me, who had tried to make dinner plans with friends in the city?  She was an insane masochist with no concept of the finite nature of energy.

And I didn't hit it on Sunday for similar reasons.  working all day Saturday had left me drained, so I vowed to stay in bed and relax while watching tv shows on Amazon Prime.  And fell back asleep.  And ate pasta in bed, and eventually decided that it was exactly what a pregnant lady would do after working 6 day straight.  take one damn day off and do nothing.  So I didn't leave my house all day Sunday.

In a sense, my Sunday is an apt metaphor for my general feelings of late; mobilized; stuck somewhere between self care and self pity, avoiding a potential stream of thoughts threatening to overwhelm my mind at any moment.  A lot of avoidance.  In part because I am scared.

And there's this thing i do when I'm scared where I let fear sort of wash over and color everything else in life.  I'm afraid of my dissertation, of completing my degree, so now I am also afraid of my baby's development, of what kind of relationship I am in, of what my choices have been and are going to be...general fear washes and paralyzes.
Fun times.

In my experience, the first and best step in mitigating all of this fear and avoidance is simply sitting quitetly, thinking, talking with trusted friends, and letting the thing most terrifying, my thoughts or my success, just happen.  It's never as bad as the anticipation of it is. 

Which, if I were to try to tie this all together and wrap it up, is the whole point.  Life, death, change, growth, age, development, shock, fear, and shit are all inevitable.  Life and things rarely go as planned.  But the clock keeps ticking, and we strive to make better choices int eh moment, because in actuality that is all we have; our choices in the moment.  So I have been slacking off?  So what.  That was yesterday.  Today is pregnant with potential, and filled with moments for me to make the most of.  Chock full of potential.  The clock hasn't ticked over yet, and I am still at 99,999 miles, 16 weeks, 8 years, and 34 years, depending on what we're counting.  Life is good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ch-Ch-Changes

There's this feeling that arises when one is on the brink of a major life shift; a feeling of urgency colored with anticipation.  Like I want everything to happen all at once, so that I can be in the middle of it already, but the magnitude of the change makes me hope I can delay any real change indefinitely.
In this case, this change can neither be rushed nor delayed; I have it on good authority that a health pregnancy takes about 40 weeks, and there's no way around that.

The challenge, then, becomes filling the time remaining with productive and precious experiences.  There are two ravenous horses pulling the cart that is my life; one clomps ahead, urging me to work, pack, write, read, prepare, prepare, prepare.  The other matches the first's pace, instead insisting I savor, that time is dwindling, that things will never be the same again.  Never again!   And they are both right, and they both send me straight to Netflix to engage in practiced avoidance while I re-watch episodes of Jessica Jones and 30 Rock over and over.

Realistically, none of this is really that new.  There are always events that seem larger than life, too big to focus on something as mundane as a literature review.  And so I keep scheduling time to sit in front of my trusty laptop, waiting for the motivation to come...inching closer to actually completing work.  Today, instead of Netflix, I started writing something!  That's better than nothing!

The other thing I keep thinking of is something I like to call event-hangover.  I get it all the time; birthdays, weddings, vacations, dinner parties.  Planning for a big thing, something you are excited about, can take up so much energy and lead to so much anticipation, it can be hard to stay afloat in the quick recession to normalcy that follows.  I am sure some of that will still pop up, but the reality of this life event is that now it is forever.  I am going to be a mom forever, Bruce is going to be a dad forever, to my baby, to our baby, we are going to be a family, bound to each other, in a new city, on a new joined adventure. 

So, there's that.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Timing is something...

When you are an unmarried student with hundreds of thousands of dollars of grad school debt and five roommates, people tend to ask you if your recently announced pregnancy was 'planned'.

Which is fair, I suppose.  And the answer is complicated.  Faced with an unsure completion date, a precarious and unknowable job market, and an equally precarious biological clock, I thought I would hedge my bets and go for broke!  I have a partner I love and trust, and want to start a family with, and a handful of friends who either already have school-aged children or are struggling with infertility, so I figure I would just go for it.  We started trying with the assumption that it would take a while, and the belief that there is no 'right' time to have a baby.

And then instantly got pregnant.


So planned might be strong language, but this wasn't unexpected, just slightly ahead of schedule.  Now I find myself feverishly mapping out time tables in my mind, reading the blog posts of other women in similar positions (who all, somehow, manage to be further along than I am...), and breaking into a cold sweat while imagining the sleep deprivation of academia coupled with the sleep deprivation of motherhood.  It's been a fun time to experience hormone fluctuations.

The thing I notice, when I read about the experience of others, is the same problem I have with most of the available narratives academia offers up; they all come from a position of unacknowledged privilege.  None of these women are worried about how they are going to pay rent while finishing their dis and caring for their pregnancy or baby.  The biggest secret I should have known about academia rears it's ugly head again; this game works best if money isn't an issue for you.  Poor folks need not apply.



But.  I use that calm rational voice I hope will someday work on my kid, and repeat my mantra in my head, "There's no such thing as a perfect time; Everything happens for a reason; Everything will work out in the end; You are a survivor, and have done more with less".  It works, about 45% of the time.  The rest of the time I try to push that anxious energy into productivity, writing disjointed sections of an almost due lit review or a new revision of my modest c.v.  Sometimes I take the time to do what some women write they wish they'd done, and enjoy my pregnancy.  I read articles about prenatal care and early childhood development (almost as much fun as poverty trap formulation!), and try to take it easy, let my body just be pregnant.  And wonder in the back of my head if the women I read about only became successful because they sacrificed these tiny luxuries.

I constantly assure myself there are no right answers, and that I am making the best choices I can in the moment, the same choices that led me to be a successful adjunct with a fantastic relationship and research areas I actually care about, and have presented at several conferences on.  So the next part can't be all bad.

I tell myself that there is no rule or firm definition for what constitutes a good life, and I have to trust I will find it, now with a tiny hand held in mine.  I remind myself all the times I worried that this would never happen, and marvel at how quickly I moved from fearing I'd never be pregnant to resenting the inconvenient timing.  So I try to shut up, get back to work, and be grateful.

Timing is just chance most of the time, and we can't control the things that appear on the path before us.  So I keep walking forward. 

And I miss coffee.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Best and Worst, right now

I have a friend who is a very dedicated mom to two lovely children, and she has this tradition of asking her children what their 'high' and 'low' of the day, are as a way to encapsulate the day's activities, and release gratitude and resentment.
I think.  I just think it's cute.

So, here are my current perceptions on the high and low of pregnancy:
 Low:
  • Making it through the noon-slow-down with zero caffeine.  WTF.
  • So, is this lower back soreness going to persist?  Or get worse...
  • My train of thought now runs on it's own schedule, often in the wrong direction
  • I miss red wine, dirty martinis, and coffee
High:
  • I have always wanted/needed an excuse to snack constantly!
  • Drinking so much water is making my skin look great; you mean I could have been doing this all along?!?
  • Superb excuse to be in bed with dinner and netflix by8 pm.
  • Braggin about being everyone's go-to designated driver is making me feel *very* important
  • So much fruit and so many avocados!  delicious!

All jokes aside, so far it has been a pretty easy process, and I'm increasingly excited for the next steps.  My man and I have long conversations about morals and how we want to raise our family, what kind of people we want to send into the world, and it makes me more optimistic, in general.

Who knew planning for a future made you give a crap about it?