Why I’m Pagan

Sometimes the answer to why someone is religious is as simple as knowing what religion/culture they were raised in. The familiar is often comforting, and most large religions have enough to offer people nowadays that there wouldn’t necessarily be big reasons to look for something else.

I grew up in a Christian community, going to a Christian church that was unique in that it was influenced by very eastern ideas. The congregation believed in reincarnation, karma, astrology, etc. We learned all these things side by side with Bible stories. I remember when I was old enough to start going to the “young adult” services (the children were given a more participatory, separate service to keep their attention). The young adult service was the third tier, and the last one before you graduated to the adult services. There’s a particular one that sticks in my mind.

We were performing the normal meditations and prayers, lighting candles and speaking devotionals and so forth. I remember looking up into the corner of the room, near the ceiling. And I asked the Christian God in my head, not in a demanding way, just a curious way…are you there? It was, more specifically, an “Are you there for me?” type of question. And even though He didn’t answer, I could feel Him there. For many people, that’s enough. To know, or to believe, that He exists. Feeling a godly presence is something that can impact your emotions and psyche for a long time. It definitely creates ripples.

I don’t want to sound selfish or demanding, though you could probably interpret this as such. But a divine Presence wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. I wanted an answer. I wanted attention and visibility and above all LOVE. I didn’t feel like the Christian God was all that interested in me, personally. He’s got better things to do, I guess, though I don’t understand how you can be omnipresent and omnipotent and not be able to divide your attention a billion ways to give each person individual time and love.

It occurs to me that I should probably also write about why I’m religious, which ties more into my writing. But this essay is specifically about why I’m Pagan, so I’ll keep running with that.

I wasn’t even aware I was searching for something else when I found a book at a weekly outing with my best friend. It was at a Borders (makes you feel old, huh? Remembering when they were still around…). The book was in the teen section, titled Where to Park Your Broomstick. It was the perfect intro to Paganism/Wicca. It stressed the religious beliefs, while still touching on the witchcraft and personal acts and rituals of worship. I stayed up most of that night reading it, and then by the next morning I was ready to devote myself to being Pagan. It wasn’t until a few months later that I did a meditation where I actually came into contact with the Goddess.

To give you a bit of background, my relationship with my mother hasn’t always been easy. To say it’s strained doesn’t even describe it well. It’s more like…it’s complicated. I wanted desperately to please her, when I was a kid. I noticed that if I did well, or didn’t upset her, that she’d be happy. And I wanted her to be happy. She invested a lot of time and effort in the care of myself and my sister. She loves children, and still views our young years as the best of her life. I think her identity as a mother is her favorite and predominant one. And as a little kid, I must have sensed that, and wanted to feed into it to make her happy. The problem that I think we had was a sense of imbalance. If I’m her life, and I’m trying so hard to make her happy–where is my life? I got all tangled up in my mom and my sister, until I wasn’t sure where I stopped and they started. Then as an independent, fiery Aries, age thirteen, I was trying to define myself. Except I didn’t have a self.

So I created one. I fought to find the beliefs and passions and motivations that would sustain me the rest of my life. I read some very influential books, the predominant ones being the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Humanism, I could get behind. Organized religion? Sure, there’s a lot of potential for corruptness there. The best thing those books taught me was personal accountability, though. You can be a young kid, with no special powers, and the fate of all the worlds can rest on your shoulders and on the decisions you make in innocence and faith.

I want to change the world, of course. I want to make an impact. I think because I have so much gratitude for the people whose creative work, philosophical thinking, or lasting historical impacts gave me my sense of purpose. I think about the men who died recently on a Portland bus and I am heartbroken by it. It does help bolster my faith in humanity, though. There are good people out there. People who will stand up for others. In this situation they were cut down for doing so. That isn’t right, or good, or just. The intentions, though, the actions to protect others–there is a purity in that. A faith, and a decency, that I think everyone should aspire to embody.

So as someone who was largely invisible and had no sense of self as a kid, there I was thirteen years old, reading books that were teaching me how to look at the world, how to be a responsible world citizen. I had English teachers encouraging me to write–prose, poetry, anything at all. In my writing I found much of myself, as well. And then I was introduced to a religion where the God and Goddess were participatory. They were right there. You were allowed to talk directly to them, and they would answer back. All I needed was a faith in the fantastical, a belief in the inherent magic of the world. I had that in spades. I was raised to be religious, after all. Meditations were easy. You mean I just have to see things in my head? You mean that the voices that respond to my questions are actually my psyche’s connection to the divine, speaking through my mind?

It was the easiest thing in the world. To go from playing by myself (I didn’t have many friends as a young kid), creating stories and adventures for my stuffed animals and toys, to move up to meditations and astral travel and spiritual self-discovery. I’ve got imagination in spades, and if a spark of that is all that’s needed to contact the divine, I was more than eager to sign up.

That first meditation where I met the Lady was more influential than I could possibly describe. I had been starving. I had ideas about what a mother should be, and for some reason they didn’t jive with what my actual, biological mother provided for me. I experienced a lot of grief over that, constantly wondering if I just wasn’t good enough to merit her attention and love the way that I wanted to be attended to and loved. Then in steps the Goddess, and She is warm and soft and ever so strong. She is unwavering in her support of me. Her love is legendary and offers me everything I could ever hope for. Here were a Mother and Father who didn’t want me to fit some version of what they wanted me to be. They just wanted me to be who I am. That’s all. Be true to yourself, They said, and remember Us. So that’s what I did. That’s what I continue to do. That’s what I consider being a good Witch, and a good person.

So Paganism, for me, fills the void of feeling invisible and un-important, as well as unloved by a certain kind of Mother.

As far as the Nature aspect goes (since that is a big part of being Pagan, too), I have my grandpa to thank for that. He was in the field of sustainable agriculture, and he loved to teach. He used to take me puddle jumping every time it rained when I was growing up (which wasn’t often, since I grew up in Southern California). Then when he moved to Washington state he had me help him design his backyard garden, and build a pond and waterfall. He sent me across the street to a big pond (which has since been mostly built over) to catch frogs to set loose in the back yard, so he could hear their singing at night and they could bring life to his pond. He took me out to sites that were going to be cleared for new houses so that we could save saplings and replant them elsewhere. One that I picked out specially still grows by that house.

When you put it all together, it’s 0% surprising that I am Pagan. I’m glad I found it so young, of course, so that I could really absorb it and not have to try too hard to adjust my mental processes later on. I would have found it eventually no matter what, though.

If you have any questions about my beliefs or anything at all, you can reach me at annaimber@gmail.com. Blessed Be.

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Star Ratings (on Goodreads)

I was thinking a lot about the way I rate books on Goodreads. The 5-star system is pretty effective to capture my thoughts.

1-star: I typically don’t rate books that I’ve rage-quit, because what’s the point? Those would probably get a single star, if I did. I just don’t feel right giving an opinion on something that I haven’t fully experienced. So you probably won’t see any books with only one star in my ratings.

2-stars: These are the books I finished but didn’t enjoy. Sometimes I don’t enjoy them because of craft reasons—my MFA has changed my tastes in a lot of ways, though I don’t want to imply that my tastes are objective by any means. Ratings are always subjective. Totally dependent on the person’s tastes. You probably won’t see many written reviews on my 2-star books. I tend to write them up so that I have them for later reference (in case I need a reminder about the book or my opinion on it), then never post them publicly. It’s hard enough being an author without having a bunch of people slam your work. And there’s just no way to tell if I don’t like it for a purely subjective reason that’s totally out of their control, or if I genuinely think that their writing sucks by all conventional standards. *shrug*

3-stars: These are the good books that I enjoy but probably won’t go back to re-read. They’re either not in my main wheelhouse, not executed in ways that catch my love and attention, or have some faults that are glaring enough that I can’t be wholly enthusiastic about them. I will usually post my reviews about these, though I always feel a little bad doing so, because anything but a rave review can be hurtful, depending on the author who’s reading them.

4-stars: Books I really enjoy and would be happy to re-visit/re-read. Awesome execution, compelling characters, interesting worlds—there’s a lot that can catch my eye, and with any 4-star book there’s something I really love about it.

5-stars: The best of the best. Top of all lists. These books touched my heart and changed my life. I don’t give out five star ratings often, because they really have to make an impact. There are books I’ve read ten or more times and they won’t get five stars from me, because that’s how exclusive that club is. (That said, my five-star rating books aren’t for everyone. Usually they hit me in the feels in very specific ways, and other people might consider them 4-star books, rather than 5. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. :D)

Spiritual Drought

I went years after I finished college without participating in any Pagan groups. Mostly it was location and time-availability restricting me. And it figures that just a few months before moving away from Central California, I found the ONLY other Pagan in the area starting work at my company.

The thing is—I’m built for group work. It’s fulfilling and wonderful. I was raised in a very involved church, where members went to services or events at least three days a week. After every service was an “agape” session that was a potluck for mingling and cementing bonds. I was so involved with the friends I had at the church that I had no idea how to make friends at school—and went a few years with only a single friend there.

In middle school after I found Wicca I started a coven with my best friend and some other close girlfriends. That coven was the closest, best relationship I’ve ever had with women. That it fell apart is to be expected—I’m the only devout Pagan of the bunch. Everyone else lapsed or converted to other religions over time. But it was a beautiful, soul-enriching thing for a long time.

When I went to college I had the luck of meeting a lifelong Pagan through a mutual friend, and he quickly brought me along to the Pagan group events at the local Unitarian Universalist church. Then a friend of a friend spear-headed the creation of a Pagan Alliance at our college, and we had those rituals and group events as well.

After I graduated, I moved to a more affordable area, closer to my then-boyfriend’s job. There went my Pagan groups. From there we moved all over the place, and I didn’t always have a car, or the money to spare on gas to get to events I knew were happening.

Then I spent two years in Paso Robles, a very nice area but predominantly Christian (with only one other aforementioned Pagan that I’d ever found). I had a nice Pagan wedding, but it’s different when the only people who are Pagan are the bride and the officiant.

Now we’ve moved to my home, a place that speaks to me, body and soul. And there are Pagans here. More than I thought existed in a single area anywhere. I went to one non-denominational, all-inclusive event. Then I had to miss the next one, since we had family in town. And I’m starving for it. For the sense of community. The peace that descends when you are among people who get it. It’s a different sort of vibe, knowing that you can fundamentally agree with people on that spiritual level. Pagans are as varied as they come, but being around them and worshipping with them recharges me in a way I didn’t realize I’d been missing.

I’ve been in a spiritual drought, and I finally got some water in late February, only for the land to dry up again right away. It was just a tease, and now I’m craving more.

Some day, I’ll have a coven of my own. A small group of people who meet near Sabbats and esbats. People who support each other in all areas, not just in religion and spirituality. In the meantime, I’ll go to big group events as often as I can. I’ll take what small steps I can, on my own. Tomorrow night, I’ll celebrate the full moon.

Writing with a New Baby

Babies sleep a lot. Except, it seems, when you want them to. My daughter will sleep in the car on the way to the grocery store, in the stroller the whole time we’re at the grocery store, and then for about two minutes after we get home. Which is just enough time to put away half of the groceries—the perishables, basically. Does she sleep at night? Sometimes. Does she sleep for long stretches of time? Sometimes.

The problem I didn’t think about before she was born is that whenever she’s asleep when we’re at home, I want to be sleeping, too. Or cooking, so that I can sate the ravenous hunger of a nursing mother. Or cleaning, so that all the burp cloths around the house get into the hamper before we do laundry again. Add in a full-time work schedule (which also adds: time spent cleaning breast pump parts + commute + putting on non-pajama clothes and brushing my hair + cooking/packing a lunch to bring + frustrating blocks of time where I have to beg her to wake up to feed before I leave in the morning…)—basically my time for writing has disappeared. Does this mean I can’t ever have a stolen minute or two to write? No. She’s on my lap right now squirming and I’m typing away. We just won’t mention that time she spit up onto my laptop keyboard, or how uncomfortable it is to lean at this awkward angle so that I can reach the keys with both hands and still keep her from falling off.

It’s frustrating, actually, how many minutes you recognize as “Oh, I could have been writing” minutes just as your little one begins to wake up and need you again. Supposedly breastfeeding even gets easier eventually, but at three months old it’s still pretty necessary for me to hold my boob in place for her, so she isn’t slipping off or smooshing her nose into it until she can’t breathe. Ever try to type with just one hand? I could probably get good at it eventually, but by the time I did she’ll have outgrown this phase and it won’t be necessary.

The point, really, is that even with the eight weeks of maternity leave, even with the naps she takes, even though she can’t talk yet and is only starting to be vaguely interested in toys—something always comes up. Writing always gets bumped down the list. It’s easy enough to do the dishes when you’re out of forks and the breast pump parts need to be clean again by tomorrow. Not so easy to put off those dishes and just write.

(Also, Netflix is evil. You sit down to nurse and you think, “I don’t want to type away super slowly with only one hand while I do this…” and so you turn on Netflix. Except an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Is 45 minutes long, and you aren’t going to stop it halfway through just because baby girl is done eating. Even worse? Finding out you have HBO Go access through your in-laws cable subscription and finding 20 movies you’d love to watch…)

I thought, before I had her, that I would find plenty of time to write. It seemed inevitable. I would be healthy and whole again, after a very ill, soul-wrecking pregnancy. I failed to calculate all the extra minutes spent folding and unfolding that stroller, taking her for walks so she can see the world, staring at her cute face and talking to her to make her smile. They’re essential, all these extra moments. Even the hour you have to spend walking her up and down the hallway, bouncing her a little in your arms, while she fights off sleep because she just doesn’t wanna. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Truly. It’s just a sad consequence that I can’t write as much as I’d like to. I miss it, and sometimes that makes me really sad. She’s worth the trade-off, for sure. And yet…

Recovery (Baby Steps!)

One of the absolute best things I’ve learned from the Nerd Fitness Academy is the importance (and effectiveness!) of baby steps. Incremental changes over long periods of time will stick 100% better than quick, monumental changes. I used to be the kind of person who wanted to change everything at once. It’s a funny kind of perfectionism, where you say “Today is the day that I do EVERYTHING right!” And maybe on the first day, you do. Maybe even the second. But somewhere down the road you miss something, and all of a sudden your change, your effort, is no longer “perfect.” You’ve already failed, so why keep trying? So you give it up, and slide into your old ways, and then weeks or months down the road you map out another quick, monumental change that won’t stick. All the while getting down on yourself because you can’t seem to get better at life even though you want to.

Nerd Fitness has taught me to take it slow, and to love myself. You can’t hate yourself into a better person. You just can’t. But you sure can love yourself into a better one. That starts with letting yourself make mistakes. Letting yourself miss stuff, and not giving up just because you broke a streak or things won’t look “perfect” when you track them in your planner. Putting self-care and self-love before everything else has actually improved my productivity and my health. If I’m deep in the feels and really need some Netflix binging, I allow myself to do that. Depression isn’t something you deny your way out of, after all. But with a little TLC, I can come out of it faster and better prepared to get on with my life.

With all that in mind, I knew that I would need to be forgiving in my recovery process after the pregnancy. C-sections are no joke, caring for a newborn is tough in ways that you don’t quite expect, and since I spent the entire pregnancy laid up with HG I was starting from a literal ground zero, with no muscle strength, no stamina. Here’s my recovery process, broken down by weeks.

Week One: Hubby took this week off work to stay home with us and help out, and that was super important and wonderful. Baby girl was eating every couple hours, and on some days even every hour or half hour (they call it a growth spurt…I was just exhausted). I just did not have the energy to constantly feed her AND change diapers, soothe her back to sleep, etc. I couldn’t even get up from a sitting position while holding her, because of the extra weight, my weak muscles, and the pressure it put on my incision. Likewise, if I’d had to cook for myself that whole week, I wouldn’t have eaten anything. Having hubby there to cook and refill my water (breastfeeding makes you SO thirsty) was a lifesaver. I didn’t give myself any goals this week, because I was expecting to still be in need of some major rest.

Week Two: My sister came to help out for the week, ferrying us to doctor appointments and cooking for us and spending lots of time hanging out with her niece. I was feeling way better after the surgery—what’s a little incision compared to the nine months of HG? I was also still taking ibuprofen and tylenol pretty much around the clock, which I can see now tricked me into thinking I was doing better than I was. I set a goal of 1,000 steps every day, and met that goal because in a single week I had a lactation consultation, a follow-up with my OB, an eye exam (because I desperately needed new glasses, and had run out of contacts), and a weigh-in at the pediatrician for the little one. Definitely too much to take on in week two of recovery! I also set a goal of writing 200 words/day, and brushing my teeth every morning. The teeth brushing went well (with someone else here to hold on to the baby while I did so, it was pretty easy), but the writing I only managed on one day. (Belly Progress: Still a super big uterus in there. I’ll need my maternity clothes for a while.)

Week Three: My mother-in-law came up for this week. No doctor appointments, so we took it easy at home every day. I upped my daily step count goal to 2,000 a day, and met it 6 out of the 7 days. It was tough to meet on some days, though, because my incision was still hurting when I did too much (and sometimes just taking a shower was enough to lay me out for the next hour). I tried to brush my teeth every morning and evening, and only really managed to hit the mornings consistently. My word count goal of 200/day was completely neglected. I began to think that I was taking on a bit too much, expecting more than just tiny little goals. Even through the frustration, I kept telling myself it was okay if I didn’t get to write on a given day. Newborns need a lot of attention, and I still wasn’t fully mobile/functional. But it might get better/easier as time goes on. Certainly once she doesn’t need to be held constantly to be happy, once toys are interesting and she’s got full neck control and can go a little longer between feedings, there will be more snippets of time for me to snatch for writing. (Belly Progress: When looking from the side, my belly finally drew even with my breasts)

Week Four: My first week alone with the little one. Hubby works down in LA, so it really is just me and her at home all week. The fridge was pretty abysmally empty. The first day was super tough, and we didn’t reach our step goal of 3,000 steps/day. The surgery recovery seemed to be going great, as my incision didn’t give me so many of those warning pangs that I was pushing myself too hard. I did have to schedule another emergency doctor appointment, though, to deal with some shoulder/breast pain that kept growing in intensity. I shouldn’t have to take ibuprofen around the clock four weeks post c-section, so I figured it had to be thrush or mastitis developing. Not fun. Thankfully, the meds worked pretty quickly. Baby girl did a good job of staying pretty easy the latter half of the week, and then we had another fairly easy weekend with her. (Belly Progress: Finally sticks out less than my boobs!)

Week Five: In which I learn that having visitors is great for my mental health but bad for my sleep. Seriously. If I can’t sleep when the little one is sleeping, I end up staying up way too many hours in a row because then she’s awake when I want to be sleeping later. No bueno. I decided to throw out my step counts this week, mostly because it still hurts enough to shower or to bathe her that I can’t do both of those in the same day. I’m obviously still recovering and still needing not to push it too hard, so I just need to trust that it will get better with time, and that higher step count goals will be attainable in the future. Honestly, it’s hard enough just brushing my teeth morning and night, since there’s no real semblance of routine with this little one yet. I read a good book, though, and managed to do all the dishes before hubby got home for the weekend. I’ll consider that a win for this week. (Belly Progress: Seems to have stalled a bit, but more of the dermabond is coming off my incision and it’s a nice healing pink underneath, so that’s good.)

Week Six: My mother can be pretty abysmal at “taking it slow” after surgery, so when she decided she had to travel with my dad for his work a mere 1.5 weeks after knee surgery, my sister and I decided she’d be better off spending the time at my apartment than alone in a hotel room. It was a rough week for me—loading and unloading stuff from the car with no one to help, cooking for two when sometimes all I wanted to do was snack on something unhealthy instead. It was nice to have someone here to watch the baby while I got out of the house briefly—I even bought some new shorts, in my pre-pregnancy size, that fit perfectly (a little loose, even). (Belly Progress: Still stalled.)

Week Seven: My mother-in-law is visiting again this week, and she’s great about staying up late with the baby and giving me ample time for naps. I’ve had to check my blood sugars this week for a follow-up appointment to make sure the gestational diabetes went away. I was kind of freaking out, getting a lot of high numbers, until I realized that the test strips I was using were reading a whole 45 points higher than they should have been due to leaving them out of their special container! A fasting number of 130 is not great. A fasting number of 85 is spot-on. The gestational diabetes is well and truly gone. Unfortunately, at the end of this week I had to head to the ER three times in one weekend. You’d think I would have had enough of hospitals after that hell of a pregnancy. What is it this time? Gallstones. Stones that I know weren’t present before, because the last abdominal ultrasound showed a “sludgy” gallbladder, thanks to the weeks spent on TPN, but no stones. But pregnancy hormones have a way of completely screwing with your body’s normal processes—so now I’ve got symptomatic stones and am scared to eat any fat or chocolate. I have to do little experiments of eating something to see if it triggers a gallbladder attack. And I now have to convince a surgeon that we shouldn’t be hasty about getting my gallbladder out, because if I can get these stones to resolve no new ones will form (not being pregnant or having HG or diabetes anymore).

Week Eight: The little one still has night and day mixed up, but a kind friend is going to sleep over on Thursday night so that I can get some uninterrupted rest before I have to go in for my first full day back at work. I’ve cleaned the house and done the laundry in preparation for the nanny’s first day, since I figure everything should be in its place at least once, so she knows what things are supposed to look like and where they all go. I’m apprehensive about going back to work, mostly because I haven’t gone in for a full day since week 7 of the pregnancy. And here I am with a two-month old daughter. What if I’m rusty? What if there’s too much to catch up on, and everyone is annoyed with me for being so far behind? I love my coworkers, and none of us could have foreseen all these health issues, and they aren’t resentful because it’d be pretty silly to resent me for getting sick, since I obviously would have done anything to avoid it if I could have. Still, it feels strange. I’m nervous. And hoping that I can prove myself a valuable asset again. And that it doesn’t take too long to pump. And that my milk supply doesn’t start dwindling from the pumping. *Sigh*

Week Nine: Back at work! I can’t say I’m 100% recovered yet, of course. It takes a body a very long time to recover from being sliced open. But, I am strong enough to go back to my mostly-desk-work job, and slightly eager to get out of the house and have some time free of my responsibilities to the little one. As much as I miss her when I’m not with her, I do feel slightly more like normal when I’m at work and just dealing with work stuff. More posts will follow later, probably about the new challenges of being a working, nursing mother.

Overall, I don’t think I’ll know what full recovery feels like until I’m done breastfeeding. My body still isn’t completely my own, and my incision still hurts sometimes a full three months after the surgery. Mentally, though, I’ve made a full comeback from the horrible illness of the pregnancy. And a year from now, I’m sure I’ll be stronger and healthier than ever.

Baby Stuff

The website that was completely instrumental to every decision I made regarding our baby registry was Lucie’s List. All the research and honest opinions on baby products helped me sift through the millions of options to find what we wanted/could afford. There’s just too much stuff out there for babies. It’s as bad as the wedding industry.

Items we couldn’t live without:

-Pack N Play: Ours is the Graco Snuggle Suite LX, but really any model with the raised bassinet insert and the changing table would work. She hardly ever sleeps in it because she sleeps in bed with me while her daddy’s in LA for the week, but that changing table is amazing. You want her up closer to your level post c-section, since bending over to clean and change her was pretty much out of the question for the first few weeks. (She doesn’t like the vibrating bouncer that came with this one, but the cat adores it, so it was nice for him to get a new toy to sleep in when he was feeling insecure about the shift in our attention.)

UPDATE: Apparently Graco now has a Pack N Play (called the Everest) whose changing table FOLDS DOWN when not in use. I’m super sad we didn’t know about it when we bought ours, as the changing table always being up is getting in the way as she gets bigger. Also, baby now enjoys the bouncer with vibration setting a LOT. She hangs out in it all the time, and the cat has had to make do with his cat tower again.Gabe in Bouncer

-Car Seat/Stroller: Because obviously. We got the Graco Click Connect type because my work had already given me a Graco Click Connect stroller. They’re pretty and functional and on the more affordable end. I don’t anticipate needing a jogging stroller because I don’t like running anyway, and I’d really rather go lift weights if I’m going to be working out.

-Breast Pump: We haven’t used it much because she’s still young and we want to exclusively breastfeed for the first four weeks, but I really do love my Spectra S2 pump. The two different modes really accurately imitate the way she nurses, and the pump can be super gentle, which was absolutely necessary during my tough engorgement period when my milk first came in.Milk and Pump

Kiinde Breast Milk Storage System + Bottles + Milk Warmer: Even though we haven’t used them much yet, we love this. Forget having to wash/sanitize bottles! The nipples are easy to wash and the starter gift pack came with adapters that let me attach the milk storage bags right to my pump. So efficient.

Little Giraffe Chenille Blanket: Great quality, super soft (even after repeated washings!), and so warm. Now that it is getting hotter we don’t swaddle her in it as much as the Aden + Anais blankets (which are also fabulous and everyone should get at least four of them), but this Little Giraffe blanket lives in the Rock N’ Play and keeps her cushioned and warm when she’s in there. She’s actually asleep in there right now as I write this.

-Diaper Bag: We got a nice $40 Eddie Bauer diaper bag from Target. Plenty of pockets, neutral enough design that Daddy doesn’t mind carrying it around. Forget spending over $100 on a designer purse-imitation diaper bag. We just need functional (and none of those fancy ones have all the pockets I wanted, plus insulated pockets for milk!).

Things we bought (+more of) after she was born:

-Hands-Free Nursing Bra: Oh gods, why would any woman want to sit around for twenty minutes holding the suction on one of those breast funnels? I had to do it in the hospital and once at home, and it hurt my back enough (and was frustrating to not have free hands) that we immediately got on Amazon and ordered one of these wonderful hands-free nursing bras. I was even able to lend it to my sister when she was here helping us the second week, because she’d forgotten to pack hers and was still pumping for our one year-old nephew.

-Backseat Car Mirror: I didn’t think I would need one of these because I’m a pretty zen mom. I don’t freak out about stuff, I don’t really get anxious. I’ll worry when the doctors tell me to worry, you know? But then I did a four-hour car ride down to LA with the little one in the back, rear-facing, and I didn’t like not being able to see that she was okay and hadn’t spit up all over herself. So hubby went to Target and got us one, and the drive back was so much better because I could see her.

-Breast Pads: We’ve ordered a THIRD pack of these Q T Bamboo ones, and I think that might be enough, but we might even buy another one with the next round of Amazon purchases. They are so much softer/more comfortable than the disposable ones we got at Target. They wash *great* in the washer and dryer, coming out soft and new (a big difference from the crusty, dried milk that’s on them after I’ve been wearing them). I’m pretty sure I’ve got overactive letdown AND oversupply, so I don’t know if other women would need as many of these as I do, but I go through them very quickly. It’s also nice to not have to put a wet one back on a nipple after a feeding—I can soak through them pretty quick depending on how full my breasts are. I’ve only soaked entirely through and onto my shirt once, though, wearing these.

-Burp Cloths: Even if you don’t have a super reflux-y baby, they will spit up. They’ll drink too much, not have enough room, have trapped air bubbles that agitate their system, whatever. We’re lucky that our little one doesn’t spit up all the time—usually burpings are mess-free. But every couple days she’ll basically projectile-vomit a little fountain stream of half-curdled milk, and then we have to change everyone’s outfits, wipe down all the furniture, and do a big load of laundry because she’s soaked through multiple burp cloths and towels. My favorite burp cloths are actually ones that my mother-in-law made for us by sewing squares of towel to some colorful fabrics (Adventure Time, Pokemon, and Star Wars themes). The towel is super absorbent and soft on baby’s face as she rests on a shoulder. I also use them under her head when she sleeps in bed with me, so that I don’t have to change my sheets all the time when she spits a little.

UPDATE: We also absolutely love the Aden + Anais Burpy Bibs. Pricey, but so absorbent! The shape is perfect for shoulder burping, and they’ll be great as bibs when she starts eating food. They’re the most absorbent of all the burp cloths we’ve tried (even the cloth diapers that we use for burp cloths!), and come in lots of cool styles.

-Bulb Syringes: We’re probably using the NoseFrida wrong, but it just doesn’t work well for us. The bulb syringe we got at the hospital, however, has already saved my little one from some serious oxygen deprivation. She threw up and it came out her nose, and she was having trouble clearing it herself. The syringe was powerful enough to actually clear her nostrils in record time, so that she could breathe again. It was scary enough for me to watch her go purple in the face in those few seconds that we keep the bulb syringe in the car seat at all times, and have ordered more to place around the house in easy reach (plus one for her diaper bag).

UPDATE: The NoseFrida works okay now that her nostrils are bigger, but mostly needs to be used in conjunction with saline spray to loosen up the dried boogers before they can be sucked out. I think the combo NoseFrida/bulb syringe is the best for any snot-sucking situation you might find yourself in.

-Nursing Sleep Bras/Maternity Tanks: When we’re better at nursing, I’m sure I’ll be happy enough with those nursing bras that unhook and sort of fold down off your boob. Right now, though, especially when she’s going through a growth spurt and nursing every hour or less, I love wearing a stretchy bra that I can just pull down off a breast. Likewise, the maternity tank tops I got from Target are indispensable. I wish I’d gotten more than just two (and I did send hubby back to Target for two more of these sleep bras, and two more loose-fit, non-maternity tanks). There’s just too much bulky stuff hanging out under your boob if you have a normal nursing bra and a normal nursing tank, both of which fold down and bunch up in weird ways, potentially cutting off your milk supply. The whole point of not wearing underwire to avoid mastitis is to keep pressure off of that area.

-Nursing Pillow: In the hospital it was clear pretty quickly how many pillows and re-adjustments and such were needed to find a good position to nurse in. I’m dealing with muscle pain right now on one side that’s probably related to my nursing position—some sort of overcompensation on my left side because the muscles are weaker or something. It could also be due to the fact that I pretty much always hold her on my right side, because it feels way more natural. Regardless, I know I would be way worse off without this nursing pillow that my mother-in-law got for me. It has a handy extra attachment that props her up closer to the boob on whatever side she’s feeding on, and allows her to feed in a semi-reclined position, which is better for us when she’s choking on my overactive letdown. She’s already pretty much too big for the football hold to be at all comfortable. (As a side note to this, a comfortable nursing chair/seat/whatever is a must. I can’t make recommendations because we’ve had this big cushiony armchair for a very long time, and got it secondhand from a friend in college anyway. But I’ve set it up with the right pillow support for my back, with a hanging organizer on the arm to hold a kleenex box, burp cloths, a book, etc. The ottoman is great, too, because when she’s done nursing I can put my feet up and she dozes on the nursing pillow on my lap while I watch Netflix or whatever.)

Baby K’tan Carrier: I’m only just starting to use mine, since I was worried about her feet being right at the level of my c-section incision, but I already really like it. We had to order one in a larger size for my husband, because he also enjoys wearing her. It’s a great way to bond, but it’s also just more calming for her, I think. She still isn’t super happy about being out in the world, so she likes to be close to people whenever possible.

Other things we’ve learned in the first few weeks:

-Periodic Breathing in Newborns. Look it up. Trust me, you will want to know about this before you notice it in your own baby.

-The Gerber clothes run slightly smaller than the Carter ones, so she outgrew the Gerber newborns first, and now has outgrown the Carter ones. Hand-me-downs are fantastic, as we haven’t had to buy a single article of clothing for her ourselves just yet. And people just keep buying her clothes, so I’m assuming we won’t have to buy her any clothes ourselves until after the first year or so.

-Huggies wipes tear pretty easily when pulling them out. The Costco Kirkland brand wipes are great, though. The Pampers ones work well, too. Amazon Elements wipes tear like the Huggies ones.

-Huggies diapers have elastic in the back, which helps protect against blowouts from that direction (but you still get some, because, babies). Pampers doesn’t have the elastic in the back, and we got way more blowouts when we were using those.

-The Amazon registry was a good idea, especially because old coworkers and family members sometimes got us Amazon gift cards instead of items from the registry. We ended up with a sizable gift balance, and have been using it to cover diapers and wipes, which with our Prime subscription are cheaper and get delivered straight to the door in two days.

-Colic is a ridiculous term that basically means “you have a fussy baby and we don’t know why.” We’ve found that she generally makes sense—when she cries or fusses it’s because she’s hungry, has a dirty diaper, is gassy, needs to poop and is having trouble doing so, or is too cold or too hot. You run through the list of possibilities, and after addressing all of them she usually calms down. That will get more complicated as she gets older and starts hitting overstimulation while her brain is developing in leaps and bounds, but for right now it’s a comfort to know that caring for my baby can be a pretty logical process.

-If you have to live apart, as parents, due to jobs, invest in some IP video cameras. We got a couple from Amazon, and I think it’s really nice for my husband to be able to check up on us when he is down in LA for the week. We also like to talk to him on the phone in the evenings (I put him on speaker so that she can hear his voice), and he gets to see us while we do this, and it makes us feel the distance a little less.

-I really love my sister’s approach to “advice.” She told us as soon as we announced the pregnancy that she would try not to offer advice, but that she’d be available if we ever had questions. That’s been great. She hasn’t stepped on my toes once, and I’ve got this willing and knowledgeable source of information who just had a baby a year ago. It’s been 26 years since any of our parents had a baby, so their information can be a little bit outdated. And they won’t know everything, since not everyone breastfed, or used disposable diapers, or had a c-section, etc.

Life really does change a lot when you have a baby, but so far we’ve been in love, even on the rough days. I completely understand and respect anyone who chooses not to have children—that probably would have been my path as well, if my husband hadn’t always wanted a kid so badly. But we’re happy with our decision, and now that she’s here I’m very much in love, and excited for all the new adventures life will throw at us. Mostly I’m excited to get to know her, and see who she is. Her growing awareness and expressiveness every day is amazing to witness.

Side Effects

Hubby and I were talking about medication side effects, because of how strange some of my reactions have been to certain things. He majored in Psychology, so he knows a little about the biophysical effects of various medications on the brain and all that. He talked some about the blood-brain barrier—not something I’ll claim to understand, but it seems kind of cool and would explain why I’ve got some of the reactions I’ve had to particular medications.

I realized that even though internet searches can sometimes yield confirmation that what we’re experiencing isn’t completely, totally unheard of, that only works when people share their experiences somewhere on the internet. So here are some of my weird side effects, in the hopes that someone will feel less alone if they also suffer from the same ones.

-Synthroid vs. Levothyroxine. This one is weird, but people theorize that it has to do with the way that the drug is formed (binding agents used and stuff) differing between companies. All I know is that when I take brand-name Synthroid for my hypothyroidism, everything is great. When I take any of the generics, I end up with symptoms of hyperthyroidism, even though my TSH numbers don’t reflect hyperthyroidism after being on them for a while. Heart palpitations are not fun to deal with on a regular basis. Or ever at all. So I always ask my doctor to have them dispense only Synthroid for my prescription, instead of giving me the generic.

-Reglan. This is supposed to move things through your digestive system faster, theoretically so that you don’t have as much opportunity to feel nauseous and toss your cookies. What it did for me was create a vague and very uncomfortable feeling of constant achy pain in my abdominal region. It didn’t touch the nausea for me at all. But the pain was irritating enough that I couldn’t keep taking the drug.

-Phenergen. Made me EXTREMELY tired but simultaneously gave me such bad restless legs that there was zero percent chance of me being able to sleep at all. Ugh.

-Zofran. One of the best-known side effects, so I hardly need to include it, but just to be thorough: constipation. There are gads of women on pregnancy and HG forums who have already talked about the awful-ness of this, so I won’t go into details. Oh, the pain.

-Vicodin/Norco. Usually around the time it’s supposed to be wearing off in my system (4-6ish hours after I’ve taken it) I get the sudden and overwhelming urge to vomit. And I always do. No bueno.

-Percocet. The worst nightmares in the history of anything. My husband physically abusing me, my baby dying right in front of me, the ones where I can’t move, can’t wake up, and there’s an intruder in the house, horrible brushes with death like drowning… I wake up from all these in a complete traumatized terror. I got so scared to sleep that I went more than 24 hours without any sleep once in the week post c-section, just through willpower and the sweet, sweet services of Netflix. Interestingly enough, oxycodone by itself in the hospital didn’t give me nightmares, but did make it hard for me to sleep deeply (or for more than an hour or two at a time (no, not because my newborn kept waking me up—she often sleeps more than two hours already, though I’m not crossing my fingers that it will last)).

The End of HG: Our Birth Story

I suppose the beginning of our birth story starts with an OB appointment. I had my week 37 growth scan with the perinatologist, and the results weren’t heartening. An abdominal circumference higher than the 99th percentile, and a head size in the 97th percentile. My OB drew me a bell curve and charted out our chances of getting the baby out of me naturally—he said we were probably running a 40% chance of either oxygen deprivation during labor and/or broken baby bones while trying to get baby out of my pelvis. And, a slight chance that baby’s head would fit but shoulders wouldn’t, in which case you’re looking at a 1% survival rate if they try to push baby’s head back through my pelvis to do an emergency c-section.

Looking at those odds, it’s vastly preferable to just do a scheduled c-section. It took a few days of calling my OB office to remind them, but then the labor and delivery nurses at the hospital finally stepped in and bugged my OB until we had a date and time nailed down. Then it was just six more days of waiting, and a 7:30 AM c-section (arriving at the hospital at 5:30 AM that morning).

I’ve got some control issues, a holdover from my childhood/relationship with my parents. They manifest most often in other family relationships, in people who have certain expectations and are vastly disappointed in me if those expectations aren’t met. So, I can get a little controlling when I feel like people are expecting something of me that I don’t necessarily want to grant. In this case, it was extremely important to me to preserve my dignity during the invasive procedure of cutting a baby out of me. I told all the (grand)parents that they should just hang back until we let them know that the surgery was over and we were settled. My mom ended up going in for a semi-emergency surgery of her own that morning, so it was just the in-laws who came into town. Respectful of my wishes but also trying to fulfill expectations of her own, my mother-in-law was waiting in the hospital lobby at 5:30 that morning to wish us well. She did go back to their hotel after that, for which I’m grateful. The last thing I want while I’m on the operating table is to worry about all the people who are impatiently waiting for me to make an appearance afterward. Having no idea how I would feel, or whether there would be any complications with me or the baby…it just made sense to tell people to chill out, relax, and not expect anything from us until it was all well and truly done.

My husband did an excellent job of being my sole support person (being the only person I felt comfortable having around while I was naked under hospital gowns, organs exposed during surgery, etc.). He described his feeling that morning as a “first day of school” sort of anxiety. We made sure he ate something (I had to fast for eight hours prior to the surgery), and made jokes and took pictures of him in his surgical scrubs. I got an IV and some instructions and a really fabulous Labor & Delivery nurse who walked me through everything with clear explanations, eye contact, and reassuring touches. The operating room was very bright, and slightly warm (to accommodate for baby). The table was much more narrow than I was expecting, but there was no risk of me falling off with that epidural.

The fabulous nurse held my shoulders while the anesthesiologist administered a numbing shot and then the epidural. I think that was the scariest part, just because you’re conceptualizing a shot going into your spine, and if things go wrong with your spine they’re not little things. I was just able to swing my legs up onto the table and lay down, and then they set up the curtain and surgical area while the tingling spread and my anesthesiologist tested my sensation with a pin. At one point, before my husband was even seen into the room, my OB asked, “Did you feel that?” My response was, “Feel what? Cause I didn’t feel anything, if you did something.” “I made an incision. I already started cutting.”

With hubby there with me, holding my hand, the rest went pretty quickly. There were a lot of tugging, pulling, pushing sensations that I could feel somewhere around my rib/breast area, but it was more the suggestion of things being done than actual feelings of touch or anything like that. And at one miraculous point, with a lot of tugging and moving of my numbed body, I was all of a sudden able to expand my lungs to their full size for the first time in months. It was—well. People talk about childbirth like it’s a miracle because they think children are blessings and reproducing a sentient individual is so damn cool and all. I think childbirth is like a miracle because of how in one split second it can restore you completely to yourself. Just you. No longer two cramped people sharing the same space. You get to live alone in your own body again. And if that isn’t the coolest feeling in the world, I don’t know what is.

The OB held the baby above the curtain for us to see the sex (though we were so shell-shocked we had to double-check with the nurse in charge of her!). They weighed her (7 lbs 15 oz), clamped her cord, wiped her down, all within sight of us. They brought her over to my shoulder so we could get some skin-to-skin right away, though pretty soon after her arrival there I had to turn away to be sick with a slight bit of projectile vomit that came on rather suddenly. I really only had time to say to the anesthesiologist “I’m feeling nauseous” before it was coming out. I’ve heard it’s pretty common for HG moms to vomit one last time during labor, and I’m not sure about c-section moms but it makes sense to me that my body would be freaking out a bit with all the cutting and such going on.

The rest of it was just a matter of cutting my tubes (thank the gods!) and sewing me up. Dissolvable sutures and dermabond. Super easy. The incision itself is about ten inches long, but then, she was still a pretty big baby for my 5’3” frame (and short torso).

Afterward was when I was so grateful for asking everyone to just hang out elsewhere instead of waiting impatiently at the hospital for us to finish. It isn’t like the movies, where dad comes running out yelling “It’s a girl!” and the baby is wheeled to some room full of baby bins and you coo at the one with the right name tag. Since she wasn’t exhibiting any ill health indicators, and her sugar checks were coming back in a good range, she never left our side. They wheeled us to a recovery room where my L&D nurse and the baby’s nurse stayed with us for two hours, taking vital signs and checking the things they check every 15 minutes without fail. It wasn’t an appropriate time for visitors—not with my bleeding constantly being checked, with her heel being pricked, with Matt being so steamrolled with the enormity of a baby AND a wife who had just been through major surgery. He was fantastic. Our phones had to be on airplane mode in the operating room, and we just left them like that, much too busy and preoccupied with “Is everything okay, is everyone healthy” to worry about the outside world just yet.

Eventually they transferred us to a room on the mother-baby floor, and we finally started calling and texting and sending pictures, trying to get the order in which we told people right (all the (grand)parents deserved to know first, then the siblings, then the extended family and friends, and on down the list all the way to our old therapist and the nurse practitioner who helped with my gestational diabetes…). My in-laws came to visit once I was decently gowned (still stuck in bed with no feeling in my legs and catheter inserted…but at least draped enough for slight modesty’s sake).

For a while the epidural and the morphine they’d given me during surgery kept the pain completely under wraps, and I was just feeling over the moon. Better than I’d felt in months. Physically, I’d say every ill effect of the pregnancy and its complications went away almost instantly. Slight heartburn stuck around for a few days, but considering all the hormones still circulating through my system, that just made sense. The headache, nausea, general malaise and lack of energy, muscle fatigue, food aversions, bad taste in the back of my mouth…it all disappeared faster than a bad dream. It was a friggin lightswitch, and all of a sudden the HG beast faded like it had never existed.

Emotionally, I think I can easily say that the day I gave birth was the best day of my life. It tops the wedding, it tops the day we found out we were pregnant, it tops graduations and friendships and just…all of it. Because in just one surgery, in just one moment of that sweet full expansion of lungs, I got myself back.

As far as the kid goes, Senga is fabulous. I’m very much in love with her. I don’t feel super different now that I’m a “mom.” Nor did I really expect to. I’m still me. And she’s her own person, and I have no idea who that is yet. I expect we’ll love each other, and we’ll fight, and we’ll have an interesting adventure getting to know each other and navigating some of the messier parent/child battles. All of that comes later, though. Mostly, I’m just so in love with every bit of her. I described it to a friend like this: “I’m super grateful to her for giving me the chance to house her body and soul for a little while, and I’m in awe of her existence because it’s so freakishly weird and cool that I helped make her.” Our pregnancy journey was not easy. If we’d known what to expect, we would have chosen a different path, and found a fulfilling life in other ways. We chose to have her, though, and we chose to survive the nine month battle to buy her the time she needed to come into this world. And now that she’s here, I feel like every smidge of discomfort, every experience that could now be an emotional trigger, every bit of physical deterioration, was ultimately worth it. It was a high price to pay, but I’m glad I did. And now I get to go along for the ride of watching her grow up and become who she’s going to be. How cool is that?

Diastasis Recti

Pregnancy Update: We’re nearing the end of week 37. I am ginormous, and the growth scan a couple days ago estimates that baby is already 8 pounds, 8 ounces. We get to set an induction date at my next OB appointment (which will hopefully be sooner rather than later. The perinatologist said she would push it closer to 38 weeks, because of the gestational diabetes and baby’s size…and then she got concerned and even more sure about the 38 week marker when she heard that my mom needed c-sections because my sister wouldn’t fit through her pelvis (and my sister wasn’t a big baby)). I’m hoping for the 19th, because it’s near the tail end of week 38 (which the OB can’t really argue with at this point, right?) and because it’s likely to lead to a March 20th birthday for our little one, which is Ostara and also when the baby’s sun sign would be Aries.

I’ve got a constant headache that actually gets worse every day, and which Tylenol and Norco don’t even touch (but the Norco does make me throw up, so I guess opiates and I just don’t get along). I’m more and more nauseous, and having trouble eating consistently and eating the right things for my gestational diabetes. I can’t imagine having to even make it to 40 weeks, let alone 42 like so many women do. My body is so worn out from the hyperemesis and diabetes, though, that perhaps if I was in prime shape like my sister was it wouldn’t be quite so unthinkable. Mostly I’m just excited to meet this baby already, and find out whether it’s a boy or girl.

So, back to the title of the post. Diastasis Recti. Anyone know what that is? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, because I certainly didn’t before all this. In fact, I had to figure it out entirely on my own, because it was just casually mentioned at an OB appointment when I was fogged out from this stupid headache. The OB just said, “Also, you’re developing a hernia, so have someone help you to sit up, or roll your butt in the air when you’re getting up from bed if no one is there to help you.”

That’s it. Dazed and severely pregnant, and dealing with underlying issues of not being able to speak up for myself much when an authority figure is “too busy” to be bothered with me…all I knew was that he had said the word “hernia.” So, I worried on the drive home, then turned to Google. The first thing I find? Hernias are ONLY repairable with surgery. There’s no way to otherwise repair a hernia. Okay. So, big deal. The only “surgery” I’ve ever had was getting my wisdom teeth out, and there were problems with the anesthesia dosing, and come to think of it the Vicodin they gave me afterward made me throw up then, too. I guess getting my PICC line placed counts as surgery of a sort, but it was so painless and easy it didn’t feel like it. There wasn’t some massive war wound afterward that created a jagged scar or anything. Just a tiny little point, bigger than a mole but already fading into that white scar tissue that just blends into my pale skin.

At this point I’m a little freaked. How can a doctor say so cavalierly that I’ve got an issue that might require surgery, and a lot more doctor visits, and probably physical therapy, and all of it?? Especially since I don’t know anything about it, and he didn’t even bother saying what kind of hernia I was developing.

In steps the internet, and all the helpful posters on forums far and wide. I learn about umbilical hernias and diastasis recti, primarily from women describing the “bulge” or “football” that their stomach mounds into when they are sitting up (like doing a crunch). My pregnant belly has been doing that for a good long time, pretty much after that cough I developed after the baby shower. How nice, that no one mentioned it before, even though they must have seen it at all my other OB appointments and NSTs at the hospital!

What I gathered from my frantic internet research is this: diastasis recti is the separation of the ab muscles. It’s pretty common in pregnancy, and most women aren’t ever aware of it and it can actually go away on its on post-pregnancy. Except in some cases when it just doesn’t. And then mom is wondering why she still looks pregnant months after her baby has been born. The stretching/thinning/separation of the ab muscles there can also cause an umbilical hernia, which happens when the ab muscles are so stretched that your organs can then—painfully—fit through gaps in them. The umbilical hernia is only repairable with surgery. Whether or not it develops, post-pregnancy, is kind of up in the air. I kind of just have to wait for my uterus to go back down to a more normal size, and then see if my other organs decide to start poking through my weakened ab muscles. Fun stuff.

The good news, or at least slightly less sucky news, is that diastasis recti is somewhat treatable, with splinting and strengthening of the transverse abdominal muscles. I can draw my ab muscles back toward each other, narrowing the gap and decreasing the chance of an umbilical hernia. My biggest disappointment, though, is that none of my health care providers warned me about this, or talked about treatment for it. I suppose if they didn’t want to alarm me, they would just wait to see if a hernia actually developed first, or see if the diastasis recti didn’t fix itself after delivery. But isn’t it better to be proactive about these things? I’d rather know what I could be doing now, and what needs to be done soon after delivery, to prevent or address these issues.

It’s all just icing on the cake at this point, with how many things have gone wrong during this pregnancy. I very much want it to be over. We’re close, but the days pass very slow, lately.

Third Trimester Invisibility Syndrome

Is this a thing that someone’s already come up with? I feel like it should be. Maybe it’s better to call it Parent Invisibility Syndrome. Or in our pityingly sexist culture, Mother Invisibility Syndrome.

It’s the whole idea that the “mom,” “parent,” “pregnant woman” is less important than her kid. A lot of women talk about how difficult it can be to retain a sense of self after having a kid—your time and attention and energy is suddenly absorbed by someone a hell of a lot more needy than your husband or pets. Some women feel like their individuality just gets tossed out the window, and that society encourages it. You must be a bad mom if you take time for yourself. You don’t really love your children if you don’t put them first in every situation.

A lot of women are calling bullshit on this, which is beautiful and refreshing. I’m reminded of a video clip I saw where Jada Pinkett-Smith is explaining how important it is to take care of herself, in order to be a better mom and wife and family member. Mostly, it just sucks that it’s taken us so long to start talking about all this and trying to shift the perspective.

A little background on me: I’m not the type of woman who has wanted to be a mom for her whole life. It’s always kind of been one of those marginal life goals, like, yeah, if the timing was good and I had a good partner and he really wanted a kid… My opinion on the subject has kind of swayed back and forth depending on who I was with at the time, and where I was in my personal recovery process of therapy and self-discovery. Fast-forward to marrying a guy who is so uniquely suited to me in every important way, who has always really wanted a kid of his own…and here we are, 35 weeks pregnant. Which isn’t to say it was 100% his decision. There’s a lot in this for me, as well. I haven’t met my kid yet, but I’m guessing I’ll be pretty damn fond of them. And really it’s all going to be worth it to watch the joy that it brings to my husband. I can picture him talking to his kid. Playing with them. Joking with them. Loving them and being frustrated by them. It’s a new adventure, and one that we really wanted to go on together.

I’ve talked about it a lot already in my posts on HG, how having SUCH a difficult pregnancy really changes the way that you think, talk, and feel about pregnancy and your unborn kid. What it really comes down to is, when your body is shutting down and giving up, and your little fetus is still at least ten weeks too young to have any chance in hell of surviving outside your body…you learn that focusing on your OWN survival is the only way to go. It took every ounce of energy, willpower, and determination I had to just stay alive during the first half of this pregnancy. This kind of directly benefits the baby, since it needed me to be alive in order to continue gestating. But why drive yourself even more crazy worrying about the baby, when the best thing you can do for it is to worry about yourself? In a lot of ways, the best coping mechanism is actually to convince yourself that the baby is perfectly healthy. With HG, that’s typically the case. The baby is absolutely thriving, taking first dibs on every nutrient possible, while you are wasting away. Even if we WANTED to worry about the baby, it would be wasted effort. And when you hardly have the energy to make it to the next hour, let alone the next day, you don’t waste it on anything but staying alive.

So, progressing into the third trimester, we’ve pretty much maintained that attitude, that baby is perfectly fine but I’m still sick as anything. The HG still hovers like an invisible wall, stopping me from “getting better” with nausea, headaches, aversions to foods, etc. The gestational diabetes adds to that, creating its own nausea, lack of appetite, malaise after eating and every other symptom that comes along with high blood sugars (because my GD has been hell to manage, and we can’t quite seem to get it under control…most likely because my body is WORN OUT, depleted of any reserves or well being, and unable to build itself back to a state of health just yet).

This week, I’ve also got these lovely additions to the shit list:

-Headache for over a week now (Tylenol doesn’t touch it, and it often keeps me from sleeping)

-Borderline high blood pressure (along with borderline high levels of uric acid in my blood, which probably means pre-eclampsia is right around the corner)

-Lower back pain that gets up to an 8 or 9 sometimes

-Frequent contractions, half of which are a blessed relief because the nausea miraculously disappears during them, the other half of which are hell because they HURT

-Pretty constant pressure and pain in my pelvic region because the baby dropped last week (and seriously, feeling its little hands squirming around (because baby likes to have its hands up by its face) in that particular part of my body is pretty darn weird)

So, today, I went to my weekly endocrinologist appointment, still trying to get control over this gestational diabetes. The nurse practitioner who is guiding me in this is fabulous. Truly. She is sweet and kind and well-informed and attentive. With the high blood pressure readings we were getting at the beginning of the appointment, and the fact that I’ve been spilling large amounts of ketones no matter how much water and how many carbs I space out throughout the day, she’s worried. She even gave me instructions for if the baby is born in the next week! To have that kind of encouragement from a health care professional at this stage is totally priceless. She sees the toll that this is taking on my body. She sympathizes with the misery, and wants to see me get some relief from it.

So, I called my very-busy OB office, finally got them to respond, and off I went to the hospital for a blood pressure check and additional NST. I was having contractions every minute or two already, probably from having to drive myself to appointments and hospitals 40 minutes away, and having to walk from far parking spots and sit in uncomfortable chairs waiting for admitting to have me sign paperwork…the contractions even got painful enough while I was waiting that I called up to L&D myself and just asked to bypass the downstairs admitting process.

These NSTs are vastly frustrating for us. I know a lot of moms feel reassured, because they get to sit around and listen to the baby’s heartbeat that clearly says, 140ish times a minute, that it’s still alive. The problem with mine is that they take longer every time. The first one was a good hour. The second an hour and a half. The third two hours. And so on. They haven’t seen the heart rate accelerations they wanted twice now, and have had to do biophysical profile ultrasounds. That last BPP we only passed in the very last possible minute (the baby didn’t want to move at all during the ultrasound, but was practicing its breathing the whole time. Contrary child.)

With the HG and GD and all the new complications (especially the headache that keeps me from sleeping because of the pain!!) I am worn out. And every NST just completely saps all my energy. I feel awful after them. I was spacey and contracting and just flat-out in pain on my way home from the one today. I honestly don’t think it’s the wisest decision for me to even be driving right now, what with how EVERY time I do I have contractions that are just a minute or so apart.

BUT, apparently, even considering all this, I’m supposed to just be GLAD that the baby is okay. Glad that every time they monitor it, it seems less and less okay…but still manages to barely pass their criteria so that they send me home. Is that really supposed to be reassuring? Seriously? The nurse today took this awful tone with me, basically berating me for having so much going on and being so miserable. Like I’m supposed to ignore everything I’m going through, all the pain, all the discomfort and misery and hell, because the only thing that matters in the world is whether that baby’s heart is still beating. She implied that I was trying to get them to induce me early just because I’m uncomfortable. RIGHT. As if I’m not worried about the harm to the baby from pre-eclampsia and polyhydramnios and macrosomia. Here’s the thing. The bottom fucking line of all of this. I did NOT go through these nine months of hell just to have a fucking stillborn child. No way. I want all of this to MEAN something. I have been through absolute hell to get this child, and I fucking deserve to have it be born healthy and happy and ALIVE.

So, the baby failed the kick counts last night. You pay attention for two hours, and if you don’t feel ten flutters/kicks/rolls/whatever, it fails. It isn’t moving as much as it should, and we’re all concerned. But when I tell the nurse this, I get conflicting messages. On the one hand, she’s like “you need to come in immediately when that happens. Just to be safe, we can check baby out and make sure everything’s okay and then send you home again.” On the other, she’s repeating the instructions for the kick counts, telling me to really pay attention and lie on my left side and all the stuff that I already know and already do. Because apparently it’s MY fault, I must be doing something wrong, if the baby fails the kick counts one day and then shows up kind of okay on the next day’s NST?

So not only does anything that me and my body are going through cease to matter at all, but it’s also MY FAULT if anything goes wrong with the baby. Like I’m not doing it right, I’m messing something up, I’m to blame. She’s saying I’m wasting their time coming in with signs of pre-eclampsia, but I should have come in right away for the stupid failed kick counts. I get the distinct feeling that none of these people would care if I died due to pregnancy or birth complications, as long as the baby survived.

So, is that right? Do we have an attitude in this society of valuing the baby above the mother? Why can’t there be equal regard for both? Personally, I think it’s pretty alarming, the deteriorating state of my body. I mean, labor is supposed to be the most difficult thing many women ever experience. My sister was walking four miles a day up until the day before she delivered, and she still talks about labor as being incredibly difficult. So you take a body that has been near death, depleted, run down, and generally abused for nine months…and you ask it to go through labor. A process where, if I’m unable to rally the strength to push this baby out, I can be endangering both mine and the baby’s life. Emergency c-sections exist, and thank the gods for that. But how often do they fail? How often does the stress on the baby from delivery complications result in a seriously ill, or DEAD baby?

You try not to worry, because you don’t have the energy to spare for it. Sure, I was having regular (and big!) contractions during the NST today, and the baby’s heart rate did NOT accelerate after them the way a perfectly healthy baby’s would. I mean, it didn’t decelerate, so that’s something. But this baby’s heart rate doesn’t like to accelerate when it moves around, either. Or when they try to wake it up with the buzzer. Or when my blood sugar is high. I feel like my little one is doing exactly what I’m doing. Just holding on, trying to survive by putting every ounce of energy into maintaining. Waiting for someone to look at us and realize that it’s not healthy for either of us to still be joined like this.

So, in the future, if anything I say about my kid seems shocking, take a second to examine whether you’re operating from society’s viewpoint that the parent ceases to matter as an individual once the kid is born (or conceived, wherever you think the life process starts). I am NOT going to be someone who loses her self because the role of mother completely consumes me. Fuck that. And while the medical professionals look at me as selfish, or self-absorbed, or whatever, I will keep on fighting to survive. I know my body, and I know my baby. I know that something is wrong, that we’re on a downward trend and no one will listen to us until we’re on the brink of serious injury or death. And I just have to deal with that. Keep going like nothing is wrong. And hope that their last-minute intervention is enough to save us both.