Saturday, October 31, 2009


Trick: peeing on a stick and waiting 2 minutes

Treat: having a beer so dark it's black when the test comes back negative

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wait and See

One of the hardest parts of the "almost pregnant" process for me--and for most women, I suspect--is the waiting and the seeing. I happen to be one of those people who's pretty good (maybe too good) at getting what I want, most of the time. There is not a lot of waiting and seeing in my life; there IS a lot of me forcing things to go the way I want them to go. It's not entirely comfortable for me to admit this, but I think it's true about me. (P.S. I don't think a man would feel so guilty saying that, so maybe I shouldn't either???)

However, there have been times when I have not been able to strong-arm life the way I prefer to do. Several potential lovers just did not see themselves as my potential lover, no matter what tactics I employed to help them see the light. Several graduate schools did not see me as their potential student, no matter what GPA I waved in their faces. And now, apparently, several sperm and several eggs have refused to do the hokey-pokey on command, no matter how optimal the conditions seem to be!

In each of these cases, I've looked back to think, well that was just the Universe trying to teach me A) that I'm not in control, or B) that that situation wouldn't really have been right for me. In moments when I am my better self, I can adopt this laissez-faire attitude and shake off my sense of indignation. But other times, I still feel very annoyed that I didn't get my way. Once a spoiled only child, always a spoiled...? Well, let's hope not.

But here's what my spoiled inner child really thinks: c'mon, this whole waiting for my period thing is a particular kind of torture! Every ping and pang, every moment of lightheadedness, every twist of the stomach is instinctively cataloged, analyzed, compared and filed away as evidence for or against possible pregnancy. To prevent disappointment, every month, I tell myself I really don't care if it happens this month, in fact, it would probably be a lot easier if it didn't because x, y, and z. But against my own better judgement, every month the evidence mounts and I feel like maybe, just maybe I AM pregnant! But then, instead of swooning with joy, I feel uneasy and worry about the loneliness of motherhood and the stress it would put on my marriage. Just when I think I've again got myself convinced that I'm not really ready for a baby, I start spotting and cramping and getting zits...and here comes my period, surfing this horrible wave of disappointment and despair. Oh poor me--indignant, spoiled girl that I am!

I think I just want to know that my body can do it--I just want to "win" one time so that THEN I can have confidence and faith that it will happen "when it's supposed to happen." Honestly, even if I miscarried, it would just be such a relief to know it really could happen. That my body really does know how to do this and I really don't have to muscle the issue. But right now I don't think I fully trust my body or the Universe. Too bad for me because, in accordance with the eternal wisdom of the Flaming Lips, "it's all a mystery."

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Naomi Wolf wrote this book, Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood. It's an expose of "how the experience of becoming a mother, as miraculous and fulfilling as it is, is also undersupported, sentimentalized, and even manipulated at women's expense" (2). For someone trying to get pregnant, even it's Introduction and first two chapters are pretty damn scary. And enraging--TOTALLY enraging! I couldn't go to sleep last night thinking about how the risks of amniocentesis are systematically hidden from women ("the risk of miscarriage related to amnio is one in two hundred; the risk of infecting the amniotic sac is one in a thousand and the risk of fluid leakage in a hundred" (39)). I mean, I'm only almost pregnant--nothing bad has happened to me yet--and I'm already pissed off that doctors are colluding to hide this kind of information from women. We deserve all the information we need to make informed choices!

And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Check out her description of the infertility clinic: the men's "jerk-off room" is plush, comfy, fully appointed with videos and magazines, as well as an attendant to come take the sample...but the hopeful mothers sit in paper gowns on metal tables in sterile, overcrowded, freezing-cold rooms and are, in many cases, mocked by the very doctors they've come to for help (44-45). Even when they're paying $20,000 for the treatments, women are treated like second-class citizens by the medical establishment; and don't even get me started on the insurance agency and its sexist rules!

Probably many of you are not surprised. I suspect that lots of people have grown up having impersonal medical care and imagining nothing better. But somehow, maybe because my father was a doctor in a small town, I've always had incredible, personable, compassionate medical practicianers. One doctor even came to my house when I was too sick to come in to the clinic. I saw these same doctors and nurses from ages 11-28; they knew my health history, they remembered my hobbies, and they called to check up on me after office visits. They weren't "alternative" and their office wasn't touchy-feely, but it was always a humane place in which I felt seen, heard and warmly cared for. That was my experience of medicine, before moving to L.A.

But wow, have I met some asshole doctors here. So many assholes, in fact, that I continued seeing my old doctors every summer when I went home to meet my parents, until one year they suggested that I find someone in CA to prescribe my antibiotics. So I have to say, I'm scared to know that I don't have this team of people "on my side" going into pregnancy. As much as I want to do things non-medically and to have a home birth, if anything prevents that, I know I will not tolerate being treated like what I'm reading about in Misconceptions. But to whom will I turn?

It's terrifying to feel unknown, especially when you are vulnerable due to illness, etc. Maybe that's why Klein starts her book with this African proverb: "Being pregnant and giving birth are like crossing a narrow bridge. People can accompany you to the bridge. They can greet you on the other side. But you walk that bridge alone."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


For someone with a penchant for costumes and silliness, late October is the most wonderful time of the year. I fall into this category (pun intended) and gleefully plot my Halloween get-up from August onward. This weekend, I've made a snazzy "Winter Olympian" costume for my husband, complete with DIY construction paper Olympic rings and gold medal with the Vancouver logo (is that a Picasso-esque yetti?). Myself, I'm going as "Swine Flu." You'll just have to wait for the pictures...

But WHERE exactly are we going to sport these stellar costumes? My husband and I were discussing the issue over dinner tonight, and found ourselves facing a considerable dearth of options. Our one actual invitation came from a friend in grad school who's planning a bar crawl of truly nightmarish proportions. With the end-of-quarter grading to do, the student comments to write, and the whole baby-making detox I'm observing, this option is unappealing. And, let's face it, even if we weren't so busy we'd feel out of place at such a gathering. We're homebodies, unless it's a friend's party or a can't-miss concert or a farmer's market...

But anyway, if we had kids, we could go to the wonderful, amazing, spooky haunted house up in the fancy neighborhood above ours--up where kids actually trick-or-treat because it's SAFE (and relatively flat). But, we have no kid and our cats won't wear the elephant hat and tiny tie we bought for them, so we have nothing to disguise and put in a baby sling as a way to get in the door. Not that I've considered that...

So, where does this leave us? According to my husband, we're "in between Halloweens:" too old and stodgy for the horror of L.A. nightlife, but too young and childless for the more innocent joys of the season. What do other folks do when they've been "Hallo-weaned" by society? Although most people don't have the deep, abiding love for the holiday that I do, I bet this realization hits in different ways. Maybe they're too old for the raging New Year's bash in L.A. but feel demoralized without a good reason (like a tired kid) to watch the ball drop in Eastern Time and call it a night. Or, perhaps they feel embarasssed (as I do) when "Santa" continues to fill the stockings each year, but there are no sleepy-eyed munchkins to scream with surprise; there's just me, in my jammies, thanking "Santa" for the hand cream.

I think we're in the middle school years of our adult life. As they say: "It's an awkward stage. But you'll grow out of it."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Squash Soup for the 29-year-old Soul (a haiku)

My husband made soup
Cooking while I laid in bed
Feminism lives!

Monday, October 26, 2009


I'm sick.

Nothing drastic, just a cold, but one that keeps coming up with new ways to torment me daily.

Here's the only thought my befuddled brain has had about parenthood today: I have NO idea how anyone could have the energy and patience to take care of a little one when they feel like this (or worse)!

Just thinking about it gives me a new respect for parents. I'm really going to have to learn to suck it up, aren't I?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Good Enough

One of my friends has a stellar blog in which she also explores the adventures of woman- and motherhood. A couple of days ago, she wrote about her eldest daughter waking her up to ask her to come soothe the little girl with a simple, tender gesture: tucking the girl's hair behind her ear. My friend mused about how hard she is on herself as a mother and wife, and how for this one instance, she actually let go of all those expectations and lived in the moment. She writes, "I tuck my daughter's hair behind her ear. That's all. That's enough."

This touching moment reminded me of a psychologist I studied in college, Donald Winnicott. He came up with the concept of the "good enough mother." Basically, this is the idea of an "imperfectly attentive mother who does a better job than the "perfect" one who risks stifling her child's development as a separate being" (Wiki 10/25/09). I remember loving this concept even as a self-centered college senior, faaarrrrr from parenthood. It gave me permission to stop being such a damn pefectionist and realize that, many times, there are actual, tangible benefits to being "good enough."

When you are good enough--instead of perfect--you can find more balance in your life. Obviously, no one can be perfect, so wouldn't it be lovely to let ourselves off that meat hook and just do our best to be "good enough?" This means I can commit to getting my papers graded by the time I'm asking my students to write a new essay--but I don't have to sacrifice my weekends to get them back any earlier. This means I can run as a hobby, pushing myself to keep going when I'm tired, but refusing to get looped into the competative "personal best" mania so many runners embrace. This means I can eat Hagen-Daaz, even if I no longer fit into the clothes I bought just last summer because really, who needs to wear sundresses now anyway? You get my point.

I have actually attempted to adopt the notion of being "good enough" for the past 12 years, and I do think I'm the better person for it--at least, my anxiety levels have gone down in some arenas thanks to good old Winnicott's discovery. Oh yes, perhaps I could have gone to a grad school with a better reputation if I'd killed myself to study for the English GRE while working full time...or perhaps I could have figured out that credit cards are evil before racking up some debt I'm still paying off...or maybe I could have taught summer school classes or traveled somewhere to help others instead to work on my tan...but in the end, I have very, very few regrets about the choices I've made based on my "good enough" philosophy.

Now if you think I'm sounding self-righteous, please know that I'm still working to turn off that little voice in my head that wheedles, "Good enough is never good enough..." But at least I have a good role model in my friend. And perhaps it's enough to simply keep trying to let good enough really be good enough for me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Plummers say the darndest things

The only line that really stuck out for me from the "Orgasmic Birth" film I watched yesterday was this: apparently, during labor and birth a woman's body produces its highest level of oxytocin, the which encourages attachment and bonding, which means that the first hour following birth is the most optimal moment for mother and baby to "fall in love." I thought that was interesting and sweet...

...And then my sink started leaking and my garbage disposal broke and we had to call in the emergency plummer, Jordan. He did a bang-up job digging the gunk out of our pipe and replacing the "sink blender" (which, apparently, is best cleaned by grinding about 12 ice cubes now and again). He also commented on the blissful peace and quiet in our home on a Saturday afternoon. Having 3- and 5-year-olds himself, he painted the distressing picture of a home in which the TV up all the way and the two kids are fighting about what to watch on TV, what they want/don't want for dinner, etc. We laughed and said we'd reconsider our interest in having monsters of our own.

Like any good dad, however, Jordan quickly moved to balance his portrayal of the wee ones. He smiled over our nasty, petrified pipes and said, "Despite the chaos, I would never not want to have kids, because when you have them, you get to fall in love again. You get to fall in love with the kids, but also with your wife or husband, just watching them fall in love with the kids..." As Jordan spoke, my husband smiled behind him and I loved him (my husband) for that little, hopeful grin. I could see where Jordan was going with all this--I guess oxytocin is not just for new moms any more.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not once, but TWICE

Home sick this afternoon, I finally watched a DVD I've had laying around: "Orgasmic Birth." For the most part, it's kind of low-budget and repeats a lot of what's said in "The Business of Being Born," so I can't recommend it too highly.

HOWEVER, there is a woman in it who is shown having not one, but TWO, orgasms whilst giving birth. WOW. Her labor and birth experience are shot on film and included in the film--it's hard to believe, but seriously, you can tell it's happening to her, for real. I thought it must be faked, or maybe a re-enactment for film, but no, this mama's eyes roll back into her head with pleasure! It's incredible.

If I get pregnant, I plan on doing some serious research into this possibility.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Knowing what Einstein knew

" The intuitive mind is a sacred gift; the rational mind is faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." ~ Albert Einstein

Lately, I’ve been thinking about not thinking, which is to say, I’ve been trying to get back in touch with my intuition. I say “back in touch” because (believe it or not) there have been times in my life when I was much more attuned to other ways of knowing and being. So I know I have it in me to listen to myself in ways that my quotidian chatter doesn’t typically allow.

One snowy day last winter, a new friend and I went cross-country skiing in the mountains above L.A. When I told this friend, who practiced midwifery for many years, that I was thinking about trying to get pregnant sometime soon-ish and that I really want to have twins, she suggested I start “talking” with my future baby/babies. I could tell them that my body and our home would be a good place for them, and let them know that they’re welcome to move in any time.

Now, for many people, this is some far-out shit, but for me it actually felt like the perfect advice. As obsessive of a thinker as I am, I do believe in the world of intuitive knowledge and communication. Since the days of kicking tracks in the wet SoCal snow, I’ve mentally made a handful of shout-outs to the potential twins within. I'm trusting my intuition to find the right kids. Who knows if it will work?

Last week at an acupuncture appointment, I was laying there with the needles chilling me out, and experienced this wonderful dream/fantasy/vision: I could see this sturdy, inviting, well-made nest built right into my body. It had a satisfyingly-symmetrical hollow in the middle and was lined with soft, grey-blue feathers all the way ‘round. I was looking at myself and the nest from above, seeing it tucked into the crook of my pelvis, like a real bird's nest tucked into a knot in a cottonwood tree. The dark brown twigs were all in place and there was just enough space for one…or two…tiny people inside. All the work on the nest had already been done, and it was just there, cozy and inviting, waiting for the babies to find their way.

Knowing that I have this nest within makes me feel ready. Birds learn to make nests instinctively; this nest within me was built on instinct too. It's a good sign, I think, that my intuition led me to the right tree. I hope my baby/ies have a homing instinct too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Whip It, whip it good!

I am one of those girls who had to give up hitting people for Lent (the only Lenten promise I actually ever kept, I think) and who always gets "too competitive" and hurts someone when I play basically any contact sport. For a long time as a kid, I actually wanted to be a boy, so my way of being in the world would be validated, instead of tolerated (at best) or squelched and stuffed into a cotillion dress (at worst). I think I may have to get into roller derby...

All this is coming to mind because I just treated myself to a mid-week movie with my best girlfriend from way back. We saw Whip It--I haven't enjoyed a movie so much in a long time. It's hysterical and heartfelt and it may be the best/only gynocentric action movie I've ever seen! You have to love Drew Barrymore for making an ass-kickin' mainstream movie with feminist themes.

Overt feminism only goes so far, even these days. At one point in the film, the protagonist's disgruntled BFF snarkily calls the women who rock the wheels "she-males," giving voice to what we can only assume is the general public's opinion of women who play rough (at sports, or in the board room). That comment got me to thinking--why do we still associate aggression with men only? Not that aggression is a virtue unto itself and not that I don't want "feminine" virtues to finally have equal footing with the more macho traits, but physicality, competitiveness and the ability to take hard knocks are valuable traits in my mind. And, I know many, many women who embody them as completely as they embody feminine virtues like caring, compassion, and connection. It sucks that women who embody those "roller girl" attributes are still derisively considered "masculine."

However, it seems that the roller derby world is all about playing with these gender roles, expectations and stereotypes. The outfits in the movie are uber "feminine" with lots of T & A, and the women get all dolled up for the games. This display of femininity makes the physical violence and speed of the sport that much more shocking. And part of what's great about the roller derby subculture is it's love of puns, many of which warp traditional/idealized women. So, I guess in the end, the message is that women can be rugby players on wheels and sex kittens at the same time. Is this progress?

Let me know what you decide. In the meantime, I'm going to dig out my old skates.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Tao of Midwifery

Pap smear at home, you ask? It’s a long story…

When my husband and I decided that we'd embark on the pregnancy pilgrimage this fall, we also began the discussion about how I'd get prenatal care when the time comes. Since my first women's studies class in high school, in which I read about the many excesses of the “medical model” if birth, I have known that the midwifery model would be the path for me when/if I get pregnant. In fact, becoming a midwife has long been a fantasy of mine; I even did my high school senior project with midwifes and actually attended a birth (but that's another story)! The “birth is not inherently a medical event,” personally-empowered approach of midwives has always made sense to me. For the past fifteen years, I have looked forward to giving birth on my terms, trusting my body, my instincts and my midwife.

Part of this for me is also the opportunity to have a baby at home. I know this takes faith in midwifery to a new level, but the option just seems much more appealing than a hospital to me. Although my husband was freaked by the idea of home-birth at first, talking about direct-entry midwifery and watching Ricki Lake's "The Business of Being Born" documentary helped him to become much more comfortable with the idea. I decided that I should start the process by getting my annual exam at home. So, last July, I researched Los Angeles area midwives and put in a bunch of calls to midwives whom I found interesting (via their websites).

Rebecca of Birth Revolution Midwifery called me back; I liked her phone-vibe, so we made a date for my pre-conception annual exam. When she arrived for that visit, she looked younger than me and was dressed like one of the nouveau-hippies I went to many a bluegrass festival with back in Colorado. When I immediately judged her for her earthier-than-me persona and seeming lack of experience (if she’s younger than me, she must be a babe), I felt old! What was I expecting—a doctor in a lab coat? Actually, I think I wanted to see a wise old crone, ready to counsel me based on her hundreds of years of birth experience. I told myself to stop being a ridiculous romantic and to at least give Rebecca a chance. Just how much wise-woman hand-holding did I have in mind for a basic exam and pap smear?

To be continued…

Monday, October 19, 2009

The first of many lists

I love making lists. Someone at grad school told me they can be a kind of poetry, and I agree. Lists have a logic and eloquence of their own.

A Dozen Things About Parenthood I Can't Wait to Experience:
  1. Crafting sudsy baby-hair mohawks in the tub
  2. Having a good excuse for why I'm late all the time
  3. Planning low-budget, high-fun birthday parties
  4. Seeing the Waffle Prince (aka my husband) pass on the family recipe
  5. Playing drums in baby music classes where I don't have the worst rhythm
  6. Rubbing herbal oils on my beach-ball belly
  7. Becoming part of a lineage of women who have created life
  8. Singing "One Tin Soldier" slightly off key at bedtime
  9. Knitting items that might actually be practical (booties, blankets, hats, etc.)
  10. Employing my considerable talent for barnyard animal sounds
  11. Making "art" and "jewelry" out of noodles and paper scraps with my child
  12. Snuggling in a sleeping bag with a snoozing bundle of joy on "baby's first camping trip"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Running into pregnancy

Every Sunday in the fall, I train with a running club to prepare for a half-marathon in December. when I decided to start trying to get pregnant, I mentioned my plan to my acupuncturist during a regular visit. She started at the thought, and said firmly, "Oh no, you can't run when you're trying to get pregnant. It can prevent implantation--all that pounding, you see what I mean?" In that moment, I was just as shocked as was my acupuncturist. I'd never considered giving up any physical activity in order to get pregnant or really even during a pregnancy, unless it became medically necessary. The notion that I'd already have to start compromising and "giving up parts of myself" for the sake of my unborn child was upsetting to me.

I started running to help myself deal with a series of losses a few years ago, and I found that it has helped my mental health more than anything besides hiking and camping. Although I still find it difficult and uncomfortable, I keep up with it as much as possible and set goals (like the half-marathon) for myself in order to maintain a routine that steadies my emotions. When I imagined giving up running for as long at it takes to get pregnant--and possibly for the pregnancy itself--I actually felt scared; how can I be comfortable in my skin without this hobby?

Naturally, I researched the topic online and found plenty of medical evidence confirming that, as long as you've been a runner, it's quite safe to continue running into your pregnancy (with a few reasonable restrictions later in the process). The OB-GYN I visited concurred, as long as I keep my heart rate below 140. So, I've been jogging in my usual pattern and have felt 95% sure that it was the right decision. I figured that my acupuncturist was being over-cautious since she primarily deals with couples dealing with infertility; I bought new running shoes and hit the road.

All has gone well, until this morning. Today, we did a 2 hour and 10 minute run, which turned out to be about 12 miles for me (we run very slowly in this phase of the training, much to my delight). I started feeling queasy around mile 10, and walked a while, but continued feeling "off" for the rest of the run. Even though I'm confident that the nausea was a natural reaction to the length of the run and the Lara bar I noshed on along the way, the feeling did make me pause. I wondered if I was depleting my reserves too much--am I hindering my chance at getting pregnant just so I can keep up my "hobby"? Is this a wise choice, in terms of my mental health, or a needlessly reckless one?

Several years ago, I read a book (which I THINK is called Baby Love by Rebecca Walker, but I can't quite tell based on the excerpts I've perused on Amazon) and in it, the author grapeled with the decision of whether or not she should continue to take her anti-depressants whilst pregnant. She was afraid of the affect the pills could have on the fetus, but she was also afraid of the affect SHE could have on the fetus, her life, and herself if she didn't keep taking her meds. In the end, she chose to take the medication and I remember thinking, wow, motherhood doesn't have to be all about sacrifice.

Now, here I am facing a (slightly) similar situation and I'm feeling guilty for making a similar choice. Running is my anti-depressant of choice in the autumn and I really do think it's better for everyone involved (myself, my husband and our potential child) if I just keep on moving. So, why do I feel still feel so conflicted about this decision? Uh-oh. I think I feel a mother's guilt before I'm even a mother! That sounds like me. I'd better go for another run...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Like most almost-30-somethings, my husband and I grew up with the children's book, Where the Wild Things Are. He has much fonder memories of it than I as it was his little brother's favorite bedtime story, but I do vaguely recall the look of the illustrations and their shadowy woods. Last night, we took a trip down memory lane and saw the Spike Jonze/Dave Eggers adaptation of the book.

Wow, was that a hipster-ed-out film! The whole vibe was indy, which can be an annoying genre in my view, but it turned out to be pretty effective for this story. The artfully rumpled costumes and hipster-kid hair set the stage quickly, but the flat winter gloom that the story opens with and, later, the dusky, orangey light that fills the forest are wonderful because they prevent the film from going in a Disney direction. The film stays in the realm of possibility, rather than becoming a fairytale, which makes it much creepier, almost like a psychological thriller in my view.

However, the thing that really grabbed me about the way Jonze & Eggers did this film was the intensity of the fighting, wrestling, groaning, growling and general "wild rumpus." I couldn't believe how truly out of control and vicious were the adventures between Max and the Wild Things--many times, I felt breathless and uncomfortable, afraid for Max in particular. I found myself worrying constantly about what would happen when he got hurt. I think this is why the film (and the story) is so successful--it captures a child really going to that place where he scares himself, he's so out-of-control, and it shows him slowly, painfully learning to reign himself in. Watching him dive into his unconscious and wrestle with his Id, I didn't know whether I would be able to handle the maturation process (let alone this 8-year-old kid)!

It's incredible and scary to think back to a time when I could have played and raged and bolted without fear, the way Max does in this film. Even though I often feel like my emotions and reactions get the better of me now, it's nothing like what kids experience, especially when you add in their vivid imaginations. I'd forgotten what a wild ride childhood really is. It's daunting to think of having a child who will be full of that kind of potential for pushing and crossing boundaries--what a responsibility it will be to both let go enough to let her explore that inner forest, with all its potential for fear, danger and loss, and then to be there with dinner when she comes home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Life happens

Yesterday, I was supposed to get another pap home, in my bed, with a midwife doing the dirty work.

It didn't happen, because the midwife was--you guessed it--attending a birth. When she called and apologized for canceling, all I could say was, "Life happens (literally)." Silly, I know, but it felt good to embrace the notion that pregnancy, birth, and parenting are all about flexibility.
This is a quality that I need to cultivate. Call me pathetic, but I have been know to "sweat the small stuff. By not freaking about a missed appointment yesterday, I took is a baby step, if you will, on the path to greater flexibility. Even in insignificant moments such as these, a control-freak like me as to take my tiny triumphs where I can get them.

But really, are there any insignificant moments, especially if you're a parent? Isn't life the accumulation of all the reactions we have--positive and negative, controlled and reactive--to the constant flow of stimulation we encounter? I've heard it said that, when you have a child, every moment is "a teaching moment." From the memories I have of my parents doing the most mundane things, reacting to their world, in such unique and influential ways, I know this to be true. It's such a gift to have a parent who models flexibility--I think it makes the world a much less scary place. I hope I can learn to be one of those people.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Children of the pavement

One of my greatest fears is that any baby I may eventually have will become a "child of the pavement," as one of the characters so aptly puts it in The Awakening. Even though I grew up in lovely, soul-less suburbia, I did have daily access to ditches brimming with crawdads, dirt roads I could rumble down on my bike, long fields of corn in all stages of development and death, and the Rocky Mountains so close I could feel their presence even when the springtime fog obscured their view. Living in L.A., I miss seeing both homely livestock and majestic wild beasts; it's a primal longing to commune with other living things that I can't explain to my city-mouse husband.

What would childhood be if it didn't include the freedom to "light out" like Huck, to feel the freedom of being alone in a lonely place? Children need intimate access to growing things--flora and fauna untamed, unmanicured, untouched--to know their place in the universe. My husband argues that he got that know-how just fine on family camping trips and summer excursions along the West coast. But it tears a hole in my heart to know that our child would never, on a day-to-day basis, have the kind of relationship to open spaces that brought me so much solace growing up. Where will my child go when I tell her 'No' and she hates me and life and needs to cry and sing and run it out until the world is a place of possibility again? You can't do that in your bedroom; you can't do it at the mall; you can't do it online; you can't do it in the car, on a freeway. Maybe you can do it in a theater or a sports field or an art class--all good things that this city will offer at a caliber I never experienced as a child, I'm sure. But it won't be the same. It won't be outdoors...and I won't understand it.

There are few people in this world whom I consider true kindred spirits. These beloved friends and family all fully get this thing about lighting out when your soul calls. Even if they don't get out there very often, they have internalized the value of the wild, they they respect and crave its incomprehensible beauty. I can't imagine having a child who would not be this kind of kindred spirit, due to my failings as a mentor and guide. Every parent has a handful of values they feel they must pass on to their child: this baptism by dirt and sky tops my list.

How will I raise a "child of the wide open spaces" when all I can see is pavement?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Mommy Myth

My little magazine rant yesterday reminded me of something my professor brought up in my 1999 "Intro to Women's Studies" course at Colorado College: can you imagine how women might have contributed/could contribute to the world if we weren't so damn busy worrying about how we look? Think about all that mental energy that women use considering ads for beauty products & clothes, shopping for beauty products, accessories & clothes, discussing and yes, even worrying about all of the above! I bet I spend 5-10% of my daily energy thinking about how I look, how I compare to other women around me in terms of looks and what I could be doing to improve both my looks and, by extension, my ranking in the beauty pecking order. Now, hopefully most women aren't this pathetic and narcissistic, but judging by the number of ads and articles in women's magazines related to beauty...they are. What ELSE could we do with that 5-10% of our mental and emotional selves? I would use it to A) finish my damn novel, B) hike/play outside, and C) volunteer for all those causes I care about, but never have time to actually help.

In her 2002 book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, Naomi Klein suggests the deletion of mental space and energy due to our concerns about our looks/weight are the least of our worries; many women (as many as a "fifth on college campuses") are actually suffering eating disorders that make them "hungry, weak and sick" (208). No wonder the women of today aren't changing the world at the pace that our fore-mothers envisioned! I know that during the times when I've struggled with my weight and body-image issues, I rarely have time or energy for external projects; instead, I've used those extra kilowatts at the gym, counting calories, or worrying about why I'm NOT at the gym or counting calories.

As an extension of this idea, the celebrity motherhood media blitz that I was thinking about yesterday strikes me as akin to our obsession with idealized female beauty on many levels. First off, all the mothers in the magazines look gorgeous, well-rested and elated at the joys of parenting--they're never shown the way most of the mothers I know look much of the time: pretty put-together (clean, but a tad disheveled), pretty alert (but due for a well-earned nap), and pretty happy (but a little anxious and/or frazzled). These magazine images of motherhood are another face of idealized female beauty--and the new "MILF" fad puts an intriguing spin on the virgin-whore dichotomy...but that's a topic for another post.

Back to my point: seeing all these idealized images of motherhood reinforces the notion that motherhood is the "it" thing to do--it's glamorous, it's sexy, it's a way to prove one's worth in a man's world. Now I'm not saying that becoming a mother is NOT all those things; however when women start to obsess about getting pregnant (...ahem...), doesn't it just start to consume our mental space the way beauty does? "It's glamorous, it's sexy, it's a way to prove one's worth in a man's world"...

What could I be doing with the 10-15% of my brain and heart that are now so focused on making my body the perfect nest for a baby? All the information and research I've done and appointments I've had and the money I've already spent on pre-conception stuff (thermometer, books, sticks to pee on, cute nightgowns, etc.)--what do they amount to but another distraction? Maybe I should use that mental energy to do something good for my neighborhood, to create, to make the world a more livable place for this baby I so desire.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Total Woman

Total Woman Gym is THE place to catch up on celebrity gossip. It’s a for-women-only gym that assumes women want to work out in an atmosphere not unlike a two-star hotel lobby, complete with a giant, primary-colored hanging mobile over the cardio zone. Classy, it’s not, but it is clean, it doesn’t smell, no one oogles me when I wear a worn-out sports bra that gives less than full support. Anyway, it’s the only place (besides airplanes) where I allow myself to indulge in such gems as Us Weekly and People magazine.

Trashy magazines have an obsession with motherhood. This evening I was stunned by the not one…not two…but THREE articles in an issue of Us Weekly devoted to the latest, hippest, fittest mommies. In my view, since Brittney and Brangelina started spawning publicly there has been a crescendo of pregnancy/birth/mothering mania. (Perhaps it was sparked by the same maniac who founded the giant-bellies-in-spandex trend and made a prudish mockery of the tent-styles that dominated the expectant-mother market of my youth?)

You know me--I just don’t understand about Third Wave feminism’s love affair with pop culture and its sexy SuperMom heroines: when did we forget that motherhood has a tendency to obliterate a woman’s free time and to hinder her career, to do a number on her body and to make even the most egalitarian of households into one in which women still do more of the housework and make less of the money? Just because a woman can still be considered sexy and thus has cultural cache after becoming a mother (as long as she loses the “baby weight” within the first year after her child’s birth) and can go back to work, employing a daycare center or nanny without too much guilt, doesn’t mean that this renewed idolization of motherhood means progress for 21st century women.

As I mentioned last week, I’m teaching The Awakening and in it the very 19th century Edna is trapped by her predestined and strictly proscribed roles as mother and wife. Though she begins to have inklings of her personhood, it is not until she is alone—without her husband or children—that she begins to manifest her new self-understanding, proclaiming herself an autonomous being, someone with a role outside the family: “I am becoming an artist! Think of it!” In consultation with the family doctor, Edna’s husband describes this odd behavior by lamenting simply, “She’s not herself.” Oh, the irony!

Why is it that now, when women have all the options that Edna never had, we are being bombarded with images of idealized, glowing moms (oddly, mainly artists and actresses putting on hold the careers they fought tooth-and-nail to establish)? And what about Michelle Obama, who has to be one of the most photographed and talked-about women of the year? She was a hospital administrator and now, as First Lady, all we hear about is her lovely garden, her plans to redecorate the White House and her rockin’ arms (for a middle-aged, non-Madonna mother). Not that I don’t love the garden and her guns, but I am weirded out that she seemed to give up her career so readily. Maybe she’ll get pregnant—Us Weekly would love that! I think Oprah would too.

Could this media obsession with motherhood be happening because our country has been at war for eight years; fear and death can elicit powerful pro-creation impulses. Or maybe the women of the Third Wave are rebelling against the rigidity of the Second Wave—who said we can’t have it all? Perhaps it’s just the inevitable outcome when biological drives and the digital media collide.

Monday, October 12, 2009

All happy families...

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Tolstoy 1).

Last night, I began reading Anna Karenina for the first time. You know when you read a line or hear a lyric or catch a camera shot in a film that is just so true it hurts? Tolstoy’s line hits me in that solar-plexus soft spot and makes me wonder about my families. I say “families” because I seem to have several now. There is my immediate family, my clan of extended relatives, and my married-into family, each full of folks I love. There is a kind of classic joy threading its way through all three family cultures; I can see it in the albums of photos in every home and I hold it in my heart, in the memories of food shared, stories told and adventures survived.

But what about the unhappiness? Some of my family members have had more of that than others—untimely deaths, unhappy marriages, unwilling displacements and unfair illnesses have shadowed the good times and the good intentions of many. And what about the drudgery of daily life? Snapping at my husband for no good reason last night, I shocked myself: I wouldn’t want to act like that around our kid!

Maybe it’s the idealism of the uninitiated, but I still have this belief that if I can just be my better self—not even my BEST self—we will be one of the “happy families” when we have a child. Maybe if I don’t focus on the little things and take time to appreciate what I have, I will be less inclined to pick at/nag/whine about my child and husband. Maybe our grown-up kid will read that line in Anna Karenina and say, “Ah, so true—and what a joy it was to grow up in the right side of those metaphorical tracks.”

However, when I look at my families, I see how the unhappiness arrives, unwelcome, from all directions. It can come from within—perhaps in ways that we can control—but more often than not, it comes from without. And the world without seems capable of infinite variation on the theme of adversity, as Tolstoy observed. So what are we to do? How to be a “happy family”? Upon whose shoulders does this burden rest?

Maybe this is yet another aspect of life over which I have little-to-no control…

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Almost Pregnant: Pt. 3

Sitting around last weekend and nursing my injured pride, I remembered what one of my best friends who has worked as a doula observed: that birth, and specifically the cutting of the umbilical cord, is the first moment that a parent begins to let go of their child--it's all downhill from there. I took this wisdom to heart and, having spent the last month of my life as the Fertility Nazi, have now decided to apply it to the process of getting pregnant (in lieu of starting my parenting life as the controlling mother I'm determined NOT to be). Being me, however, I found another book to read: With Child: wisdom and traditions for pregnancy, birth and motherhood by Deborah Jackson. Here's a gem:

"A desire for children can be so powerful that in the West fertility is often regarded as a thing to influence rather than as a natural force. When we can control almost every aspect of our lives, it comes as a shock if we do not conceive the moment we intend...It may be better to...imagine ourselves in the hopeful state of being 'almost pregnant'" (19).

I am SUCH a cliche! So Western, so anxious, so out-of-body and thus out of my mind. How have I lived 29 years and not learned this one, essential thing? Boo. However, I do love the universe for sending me this timely reminder that I am not, nor have I ever been, in control--despite my very elaborate and convincing illusions.

SO, here is my latest vow: make the chart, take the vitamins, skip the booze, and even disconnect the caffeine IV until my 30th birthday in a month and a half, return the library books, ban mechanical sex, do some yoga, sprint if I damn-well feel like it and say my honest prayers to "the ancient and universal mother goddess, in whose fruitful womb the gift of life is conceived" (Jackson 11). Opening up to the mystery of this process is yet another chance to learn the fine art of letting go. In this spirit, I am going to think of myself as officially "almost pregnant."

(And on my 3oth birthday in late November, I plan to crack open a good, dark beer and toast my progress--and then have a cup of delightfully caffeinated black tea in the morning. How's that for trusting the universe? Well, for me, it's pretty damn good.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Almost Pregnant: Pt. 2

As teachers, my husband and I know that it would make our lives a zillion times easier if we had a baby in the summer. So, when my September cycle rolled around, I decided to make the absolute MOST of this chance to get pregnant. To this end, I started checking out fertility books from the library and...went for a pre-conception visit to an OBGYN that a friend had liked...and had a midwife come do a well-woman exam...and gave up booze (Lord save me!)...and called my naturopath...and ordered all the vitamins he recommended: prenatal food-based multi, Vitamin D, fish oil, Cal-Mag, probiotics, the whole shebang! WHEW. If you're not out of breath reading this, then you've clearly missed the obsessive nature of my quest for maximizing our fertility.

Let me elaborate: on top of all this, I read aloud long chapters of Taking Charge of Your Fertility and The Fastest Way to Get Pregnant Naturally to my husband, relegated his boxer briefs to the closet, bought him loose, sperm-friendly underwear, and forbade him from setting the laptop on "the family jewels," if you will. Then, when the time was right (a full 20 days into my cycle, due to the stress of the new job I suspect), we followed the advice the OBGYN gave me: "Be intimate with your husband at least every other day until your period" (or until he gets the flu four days after you ovulate, which is what happened in our case). I proceeded to try all the tricks from all the books: resting prostrate in bed for a while after sex (risking a UTI, I might add) to give The Boys a chance to go for the gold without fighting gravity, jogging a bit slower to keep my heart rate under 140, eating at least one full-fat dairy serving per day, and generally rubbing my belly and sending some words of encouragement to theo potential babies within. Thirty four days into my cycle, I had a feeling it was all paying off.

I'm sure, Dear Reader, that you can understand why I teared up when the first tinges of cramps grumbled onto the scene during a perfectly lovely birthday dinner for my father-in-law. I knew immediately: a baby was not to be...this month.


I didn't cry, but, shamefully, I did pout. I hate losing.

To be continued...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Almost Pregnant: Pt. 1

The prospect of becoming a parent is scary; I've mentioned that in my last two posts. But we're going for it, so I might as well get down to brass tacks and discuss our plan for getting a bun in this oven. I've been "taking charge of my fertility" in an attempt to get pregnant for the past two months. This means doing the requisite 6:30 am temperature taking, cervical fluid observation, and charting of all my activities (sexual and otherwise) on the handy-dandy spreadsheet that the infamous Toni Weschler provides in her fertility awareness method bible. This is not the first time I've followed her method; off and on for the past five years, I've enjoyed getting to know My Cycle in this way. Since My Cycle is very sensitive (isn't every gal's?), it tends to vary quite a bit based on stress; I've always liked predicting with confidence when my period might come, although I've never been willing to play with fire and use FAM for birth control.

When I started charting again this summer after our wedding, I felt like I was returning to a good way of life--similar to how I feel when I go to a yoga class after a year's absence and remember the stretchy openness of breath and body that used to be mine on a more regular basis. The FAM charting and the yoga both get me back into my body, if only for a few moments a day; but let's face it, I need all the help I can get to crawl out of my head and back into my own skin.

So, the first month we "tried" we were on our honeymoon and--fabulously--I was drinking and staying up late, having a grand old time throwing caution and condoms to the wind for the first time in my life. Apparently, this fertility method works for some people in terms of baby making, but not us. C'est la vie, I thought, and got ready to start my new job. It was probably for the best that I wouldn't have to discuss maternity leave before I got my first paycheck.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I've always hated baby dolls...

This is a note on the fly, as I’m heading out to chaperone a 9th grade field trip…Last night we watched an episode of 30 Rock in which Tina Fey, aka “Lemon,” is trying to prove to an adoption agency rep that her life is safe and supportive enough to be granted an adoptive child. At one point, she holds up a baby doll and asks something like, "Is it so wrong that I want to have one of these to grow up and resent me?”

We laughed, mostly because that riff struck me as an accurate description of (some) of my fatalistic views on parenting. I imagine that, despite all our best efforts, we will mess things up for our kid and it’s hard to imagine a child of the global warming era NOT having some resentment towards the generations that have come, seen and conquered before theirs. So, why bring a child into this world?

Mostly, I guess, because I still love this world.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


In The Awakening, Kate Chopin writes that her protagonist, Mrs. Pontellier, “was not a mother-woman…They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (8).

I am not a “mother-woman.” There’s no way around it—in fact, I’m terrified of ever becoming such a creature. Yet for 15 years, I’ve been longing to become pregnant. The jokes about my “birthing hips”started when my Venus of Willendorf thighs made their wetsuit debut for my high school canoe and kayak team. In college, I considered (albeit somewhat drunkenly, but in that serious way that red wine makes you think) becoming a surrogate mother, just to have the experience of growing a human in my body. The really odd thing is, I don’t look forward to the “having a kid” part so much as the pregnancy itself—in fact, I’m terrified of being someone’s MOTHER. I just have this innate curiosity about what it would feel like to be a vessel, a cauldron, a test-tube on hiker’s hairy legs. Is it wrong to have a child for these selfish reasons?


But what’s a girl to do? Especially when she has a wonderful husband, a secure job and a body that’s only getting older by the day (not cheery, but true). I don’t want to wait so long that medical intervention is the only way to get pregnant; I want the miracle of life to be just that—miraculous and wild, uncontrolled by rubber-gloved hands. And I’m not quite as hard-hearted as I might seem; I do love gutting pumpkins with spoons, eating with my hands, and snapping toddlers into overalls. I have some kind of mother-woman in me somewhere, but she’s going to have to duke it out with this other gal that I’ve been for three decades.

So, I’m going for it. I’m trusting that some form of wings will grow if and when my belly does.