Post #28: What you may not expect when you're expecting...

A lot of what I knew about pregnancy prior to becoming pregnant came from television and cinematic portrayals of it. This means that I was embarrassingly na├»ve, and, in some cases, uninformed about what to expect. Fortunately, in the age of the internet, naivety is easily corrected and information readily available in just a few clicks. And a great, easily accessible birthing coach is Google. My search history is flooded with pregnancy-related questions. Most of these are of the form: “Is ______________ normal in pregnancy?” And most of what fills in the blanks to my web browsing is too embarrassing to disclose as it would demonstrate just how little I really knew. But in nearly all of these cases, no matter how strange the symptom, the answers available on medical websites and baby-mama forums were all “yes”. Normal? Really? I would think in a mixture of bewilderment and relief as I pondered the association between my latest concern and the ensuing reassurance provided.

But not all of what I’ve learned generated from concerns or worries. Much of my prenatal education has resulted from pure fascination and curiosity. Lessons compiled from seven months of observation.  It seems that, when it comes to being pregnant, the one word response to “What to expect when you’re expecting” is… anything. Since that doesn’t really narrow it down, I am going to use this post as an opportunity to disclose the top ten things I’ve learned from my experiences so far. Maybe this will save someone some unnecessary googling….

Pregnancy is not really nine months. I know this is a mind-blowing revelation, but it’s actually longer. Let’s do the math, each month averages 4 1/3 weeks and the normal gestational period is 40 weeks.  40 divided by 4 1/3 leaves us with approximately 9.23. While a quarter of a month doesn’t seem like much, I am sure that when I am nine months along, it will feel like an eternity. Even as it is now, I feel like I have been pregnant forever. Not that I am feeling awful, but I’m definitely anxious.  Knowing that in just a couple months I will be a mother is an all-consuming reality that can make the days feel longer than usual. But who knows, maybe at nine months I will be grateful for the extra week of preparation. I’ll get back to you on that.

Morning sickness is a misnomer for the nausea that characteristically accompanies the first trimester (and beyond for an unlucky few) of pregnancy. A more fitting title would be “all day sickness”, or “all day malaise” should you opt for a more phonetically pleasing title.  I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I wish I had been forewarned of this inaccuracy in nomenclature and so I feel inclined to give the heads up.  Nausea is, in my opinion, one of the worst feelings possibly experienced. And, having it linger for days on end is torture. Fortunately for me, the feeling only lasted for about 8 weeks. And every day during that stretch, I reminded myself that it would be worth it. Because I knew it would and hold to that belief now.

Cats have whiskers for a reason. Beyond their sensory capacities, whiskers enable cats to tell whether or not they can fit in an opening.  If the long hair-like structures do not touch either side, the cat knows he can pass through. This, I’ve learned, is a useful functionality. Though I don’t think pregnant bellies should grow equipped with whiskers, I do think that an innate sense of my expanded size would be useful. It happens far too often that I try making my way through a half opened door or walking down the rows of student desks only to find that I’m not going to make it. Rather than turn into a doorstop or bump seated students with my bump, I have to retreat and find an alternative route. So pregnant ladies, be prepared to modify your bodily navigation. Maneuver yourselves with the same caution as a former Smart Car driver would her new SUV.

Our inner ear can’t always compensate for pregnancy. As such, balance can be tough to come by. When I was in Rome, whether on a bus or on the subway, I noticed that standing while in motion was nearly impossible. There I was, wobbling, back-stepping, and clenching onto the ceiling rails with every bump and turn. And there was my seventy-five year old grandma next to me, standing firmer than the marble Roman statues we were passing by. I didn’t ever consider that a changed weight distribution would interfere so extremely with my center of gravity. But it does! Standing on one leg to tie a shoe or practice tree pose is a challenge. And, while walking, I’ve logged one embarrassing trip and countless close calls into my record books. So, along with “stay hydrated” and “avoid alcohol”, add “walk cautiously” to your pregnancy to-do list.

You don’t have to be a cage fighter to get kicked in the ribs and karate chopped in the kidneys. Turns out, you just have to be pregnant! I’m sure that battling in an Ultimate Fighting competition is far more painful, but I’m often surprised at how such a little baby can deliver such a powerful blow. I am always amused by these ninja-like movements, especially now that they have become stronger and more regulated. Never would a punch to the stomach seem like such an endearing gesture, but it somehow does when it comes from the little ball of love growing inside. Which reminds me, just in case your little one should decide to jab you in the bladder, it’s best to use the bathroom as proactively as possible. Not that I’ve learned this from experience or anything…

Pregnancy is no place for modesty, especially if your pre-natal exams take place in Italy. The world of obstetrics, like gynecology, is not a particularly pleasant one.  I have yet to meet a woman who truly enjoys going to her annual exam or a man who doesn’t squirm when she talks about it. I anticipate that giving birth will be the most vulnerable and exposing experiences of my life, but I didn’t realize that my pre-natal visits overseas would do such a good job of preparing me for it.  I’m not going to go into much detail here, but if you feel compelled to skip right to the next one, I will not be offended. Okay, so from my appointments back home, I’ve grown accustomed to being provided with a little cloth robe that ties in the front and a sheet that sits on my lap. It’s not much but it does manage to award us ladies with a little bit of decency. Now, take these away and add a translator to the side of the exam table (bless her soul for surviving three pregnancies on the team this year). And forget about being escorted to a room where you change and wait for the doctor. Just enter the doctor’s office while he’s looking over your charts and strip down behind a small two-paneled, see-through room separator. That was my typical appointment in Italy. Kevin’s perception of what goes on at the usual female check-ups is definitely distorted. Poor guy was thrown into the fire.

When you are expecting, you are subjected to a wide range of reactions from people you encounter. Most people see pregnant and they smile. Some offer to help carry my groceries, or halt traffic when they see me from their cars trying to cross the street on my daily walk/waddle. Others are more vocal about it and will compliment my basketball belly or inquire about my due date, the sex of the baby, and potential names. Students are especially candid in their perspectives on pregnancy. “We have to be nice to you so you don’t get all angry like pregnant women can get”, or “Wow, Miss! You keep getting bigger!” or “I heard that when your water breaks, your contractions intensify!” And, my favorite, “your belly scares me because all I think about when I see it is how the baby is going to get out and I know that’s going to hurt… a lot”. Yeah, it scares you and me both, kid.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some people who are much quieter about my being pregnant. Men, for example, often exert the same energies towards not looking at my enlarged midsection as they would towards not looking at a chesty woman’s over-exposed cleavage. This involves the practiced skill of holding eye contact during conversation. I imagine them thinking, whatever you do, don’t look down. Maybe this is an evolutionary response to those horror stories they hear about some unfortunate man who mistakenly inquired about a non-pregnant woman’s pregnancy. Rather than make the same egregious error themselves, they ignore the possibility altogether. Or maybe pregnancy and the mystery that surrounds it because they are males just make them uncomfortable. I can relate to this discomfort because, prior to becoming pregnant, I was very curious/fascinated/frightened by it all. When I would talk with pregnant woman, I could feel myself on the brink of asking a million questions about it that some would find inappropriate coming from a stranger.

It’s weird having your tummy touched. Go ahead. Touch your stomach. When was the last time you did that? The average person touches their face over 4,000 times a day. But, unless you are doing that bodily kinesthetic trick of rubbing your belly with one hand while patting yourself on the head with the other, it’s unlikely that you are making hand to belly contact very frequently. It’s an equally strange sensation to have someone else touching your stomach. We hug, shake hands, and offer congratulatory pats on the back. But unless you are Buddha, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, or maybe “The Situation”, you probably don’t get your tummy touched by other people very often. I don’t mind at all when others try and feel my baby move and I certainly enjoy tracing his motions with my own hand, but it is funny to think about how something that would be so strange if I weren’t pregnant is so normal now.

The only regular thing about pregnancy is irregularity. This applies to everything from my energy levels to my emotions, the baby’s position in my belly, and everything in between. Just when I think I am getting used to how my body is responding to being pregnant, something changes. But I guess that is something I can count on every morning… that the new day is unlikely to be the same as the last.

So, until that little guy (or big guy should he continue on his current path of 98th percentile development) arrives, I will continue marveling at the crazy new symptoms I experience and observations I make. Because, the truth is...

As scary and worrisome as it can be, and as unattractive as some of the less glorified side effects of pregnancy may make you feel, nothing can take away from how beautiful it really is. The fact that we will soon have a baby boy is even more indescribable than I ever would have imagined. The closer the due date gets, the more surreal it all seems. I can hardly believe we are so lucky. 



Post #27: Full House

It seems that, as we get older, our decisions become more difficult and their outcomes evolve into increasingly more-complicated webs of if-then conditional statements. The association between age and the complexity of decisions is even more apparent when a new addition to the family is factored into the equation. A baby inevitably adds a new dimension to the decision-making process in that priorities must be rearranged and the magnitude of concern over making the right choice increases substantially. I was enlightened to this reality in January before I left Italy when Kevin and I were planning our next step.

First there was the fact that neither of us will be technically employed when the baby joins our family. But this is typically the case for every hockey family until potential contract options for the upcoming season arrive in early summer. So, with this tiny little insignificant detail being temporarily outside of our control, our most pressing quandary was where we were going to live.

We knew we had to remain in Connecticut until the baby arrives since that is where I am currently insured. But we do not own a house, and renting is too complicated for a mobile couple. We do not have a definitive 6-month plan, and, therefore, cannot commit to renting in one place over another should an internship or job opportunity come up elsewhere. Not to mention the fact that we would be in the market for a furnished apartment, a commodity that is tough to come by when a big dog and little baby are part of the family.

So, yes, on paper our current circumstances probably read as less than ideal for Baby R’s arrival. And, sometimes, thanks mostly to sporadic surges of pregnancy hormones, I was vulnerable to this perspective myself. A large amount of unknowns in anyone’s life is bound to be somewhat overwhelming, right? Thankfully, we have an amazing circle of support. And we are fortunate that a room became available at one of my all-time favorite places…

It is one place that will always feel like home, no matter how much time passes between visits. To top it off, the rent is free, home-cooked meals are prepared on site, the landlords are lovely, and the girl occupying the room next door isn’t bad either. There is plenty of parking, though assigned spots are subject to change on a nightly basis. The only expectations, as declared by our “neighbor” are that the shower curtain be closed after showers are taken and the bathroom counter be clear of clutter at all times. Mrs. Landlord only asks not to run the water while doing dishes, and to always store food products beyond the reach of the elderly Labrador Retriever that guards the property and demands to be pet by anyone occupying her couch, or any other piece of furniture in the house. Mr. Landlord asks that all garbage cans be lined with a plastic bag and silverware be loaded categorically into the dishwasher (after being thoroughly rinsed of course). Small requests for room and board in a home so full of love and memories…

I thought that moving back in with my parents at 26 and pregnant would make for some twilight-zone worthy adjustments. After all, I hadn’t lived in my hometown since the summer after my freshman year at UNH, nearly eight years before. And here I was going home with a husband, a dog, and a baby on the way. But as it turns out, it’s not so hard coming home. The transition has gone rather smoothly for me. I mean, beyond shutting the refrigerator door between visits and turning down the heat during the day, there’s not much I have to do to avoid eviction.

But just because the adjustment has gone so smoothly on my end doesn’t mean the same is true for all members of the household. There have been a couple “instances” that illuminate how the dynamics of a household change upon the introduction of a new roommate.

First, there was a medicinal mishap. When I was packing for my return to the States, I downsized my Calcium supplements from their BJ’s-sized bottle to a smaller, empty bottle of Ibuprofen. While unpacking, I placed them alongside my bottle of pre-natals in the vitamin cabinet in the kitchen. Nearly a month later, my dad learned why the “Ibuprofen” he’s been taken hasn’t been helping his headaches. He spotted me taking what would have been the largest dosage of Ibuprofen ever produced if it weren’t a calcium supplement, and he asked worriedly if painkillers were safe during pregnancy.

Then, there was a little mix-up in the bathroom closet. Storage space is tough to come by in any house. Somehow, my mother magically opened up an entire shelf in the bathroom for our use. I carefully arranged my products in bins, leaving space for the dog’s supplies as well as the husband’s. One evening, I noticed the dog brush on the bathroom counter when it is usually on the shelf in the bin with the frontline medications and heartworm pills. Strange, I thought, as I reached to put it back in it’s place. That’s when I noticed my youngest sister’s hair tangled in the bristles! As if the idea of my sister brushing her hair with a dog brush wasn’t funny enough, I told my dad the story and he admitted to using the brush too. What’s better is he seemed disappointed that the brush was for canines. “It’s got a great ergonomically-designed handle,” he said with a laugh.

I am sure that, when Kevin arrives, there will be a short period of adjustment while we rearrange to have another adult in the house. The residents will get used to odor of his hockey equipment in the garage and he will (eventually) adapt to the bathroom etiquette established by my sister. And then, the baby will come, and we will need to make even bigger changes. My live-in sister drew parallels between our impending housing situation and that of the family portrayed on Full House. She stopped with a laugh at her own parallels with “Uncle Joey”.  Clearly entertained by the idea of our lives as a TV show, she later suggested that our youngest sister move back home so that we could turn this all into a reality TV opportunity.

All jokes aside, I am sure that we will think fondly of the time we shared with my family when we figure out our plans for the summer and make arrangements for living elsewhere. I am just hoping that they will view the craziness of our full house in the same light. 

Post #26: Baby Update

Good news today at the ultrasound! Baby looks healthy, though he is quite big for his age. Either his due date was miscalculated or we are en route to having a giant baby boy. We are very relieved by the report that he’s doing well in there. And we are perfectly happy that our only legitimate concern now is how he’s going to get out!
30 weeks!