Sunday, August 31, 2014

Let it rain

I'm entering my 32nd week and as expected, it gets a tad harder every week. The past few weeks I've had uninvited guests consisting of lower back pain, pelvic pressure, massive nose bleeds and just a few days ago, the fashionably late arrival of shortness of breath. Walking the dog to the bakery just ten blocks up gets me wheezing and dizzy as if I were an octogenarian who had just ran a marathon. While I'm wary of the nostrums that are advertised for all our carrying ills, I have succumbed to buying a few and admittedly have adored them. My first try on the pregnancy pillow fell short as it was too large, but the second try, with a smaller number, found a loyal companion for my sleep (I hug it between my knees). Bra extenders descended unto my life as a seraphim - whomever thought of that product is a genius (sometimes the most simple solutions are the best). I had spent several unfruitful hours before I discovered their magic trying various sizes, unsatisfied. Now, I've just bought a belly support, recommended by my OB and yes, it does feel better! Although baby doesn't like me wearing it when I'm sitting or lying, informing me of his distaste with forceful kicks, so I only wear it when I'm up and about. And yes, I've moved on to the granny pants. None of my pre-baby clothes fit me now, so I wear the maternity clothes I bought (the staples  - jeans, work pants, shorts, a few dresses and a few tops) and have borrowed  (thank you J!) and have taken over my husband's wardrobe when at home.

Apart from these necessities, which have been worth every penny, I don't see the need to buy all the speciality products that have been made just to snap expectant mothers' dollars. There is a product for just about everything you don't need - and it gets even more elaborate when it comes to baby. I refused to give into the marketing. Noting the ordeal surrounding my wedding decorations, it seemed that everything that had "baby" in front of it, followed the "wedding" rule that it was 3 times more expensive than a product for a person not getting married nor having a baby. For instance, place "wedding" in front of serviettes and you pay the "wedding" price, even though, say, your engagement might have broken up the next day because you realized your soon to be life partner was an egotistical maniac and you ended up using the serviettes at your "freedom bash." For no other product do you get a tax, as if the merchant were a single embittered soul, solely for your intended use of the product than when you are about to have a wonderful life changing event such as getting married or having a baby. Or more likely they charge more because they can - knowing that in the reptilian depths of our psyche, faced with two equal objects wherein one is specified to be used for our special day or special arrival, we cannot but fail to choose it, lest it have the power of an added blessing.

Today I was bombarded with speciality baby products (you can't just buy any small blanket - it has to be a baby blanket and priced accordingly). We did the registry walk through. My friends insisted I have a baby shower. I had resisted a bridal shower and prevailed on that count, not having a desire to open gifts I had picked out in front of family and friends and then rave about how much I like them - thank you, this towel set is just so charming! My pleasure, I had a sneaking suspicion you liked it as you put it on your registry.

However, I was turned on to the baby shower idea. It would be party in the evening, including Y chromosomes and I wouldn't have to open gifts in front of people (and the gifts would be for baby!). That seemed fun! I held firm on the registry however... that is until today when my dear friend, my husband's cousin's wife, J, took me under her wing and introduced me to the zapper. I zapped away at 116 items, my husband trailing behind us, rolling his eyes. Does everything have to have an elephant he protested. Yes. They are wise, godly creatures. My rational self was consumed by my love of cute drawings. Aww, look at that elephant and giraffe blanket - how could I not get that? Aww, look at that rhino hooded towel! He has to have that. 116 items later (and two bathroom breaks) we were zapped out and now a little afraid to go online and see the consequence of our strikes.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The birth plan part I

The more D day approaches (I trust they call it "labour" for a reason), the more decisions loom and the more we are bombarded with various experts pandering their nostrums for the best birth for mother and baby. Should you bank the cord blood? Eat your placenta? Encapsulate it or cook it? Have a doula? Go to Lamaze classes or Bradley classes or Alexander technique classes? Have an epidural? Give birth at home? At a birth centre? In a hospital? Have first contact? Have the dad cut the umbilical cord? Will you breast feed? What breast pump will you use? Will the baby sleep in your room or in their room? What co-sleeper will you buy? What crib? And so it goes. All the minutia seem to be able to be taken care of by a few clicks on the internet - you can book a doula, a birthing class, a cord blood bank and placenta encapsulation all with a few clicks (I see a future google ad in the works, the clicks that start life).

In aid of some of these decisions, various people tell you to have a ready birth plan. The type where you list you want to listen to David Bowie, have a bath and have nag champa everywhere and then end up going into labour on the subway or having a caesarian, cursing the cosmos that this was NOT in your birth plan. Though I haven't given birth to any child yet, from what I've read and seen, it seems however much you would like to control one of the biggest events in your life, you are but an actor in a script that your baby is writing and directing. I suppose it's only appropriate since from the time the little tykes in your tummy are born, they will be running the show anyway. Mine has already displayed his dictatorial tendencies. He wakes up me up at 5 am daily so that I could eat and he can gorge on yoghurt (he is half Greek).

Before attending any birth class, I decided to do some research and decide which would be the best. The first method I started to look at was the Bradley Method and quickly discarded it. I found his book quite misogynist. Before I was thirty pages in, he had accused women of overcomplicating labour, pointing out that cows and sheep do not seem to have as much of an issue. His thesis to include the dad in a more major role (although not having developed a way the father could of course do the labour himself) and congratulate him on the mother's labour by rewarding him with orange juice also raised an eyebrow from this reader. The dad's part in labour is to take whatever abuse we need to yell at them and withstand our grip. I barely restrained myself from throwing the book across the room. So we crossed that one of that list.

Lamaze, which is not trendy these days, appears to focus on relaxation and breathing and the Alexander Technique (which aided me through a ghastly knee injury a decade ago) focuses on posture. You may wonder why there are so many classes that focus on breathing techniques in labour - we need to breathe to live, so why learn something so natural? Sadly, we don't breathe well in our daily lives (with a tendency to breathe only from the upper lungs and failing to utilize our full breathing potential), let alone breathe well when we are in panic or in pain- and hence the classes, although I wonder how many women remember and utilize the breathing they learnt in class. Contractions can be so painful that women may well not be able to breathe through them, which is why breathing between contractions is so important. One of my issues with these various breathing classes (even in yoga) is that there is so much focus on the particular breathing technique- whether you exhale through your nostrils or through your mouth or which nostril your breathe into and exhale from and how long you inhale and exhale - that some people get so caught up in following the right technique that they get nervous, which affects their breath and they are incapable of breathing as directed. Really, the instructions should be simply- breathe and breathe deep. You may notice that after taking some time to breathe deeply and slowly, you will feel at ease - all those lovely endorphins are rushing through you. The trick is being able to breathe and calm yourself down when you are in panic - for instance, when you have to squeeze out a watermelon in front of strangers.

As far as birthing classes go, I've opted for a yoga workshop with my husband wherein we practice yoga breathing and poses for labour and more importantly, he practices yoga labour message techniques. If I can push out the baby, he can push on my muscles - it only seems fair.

I've been given a hypno birthing tape to listen to, but have not had the pleasure of it yet, so stay tuned. Apparently you shouldn't listen to it before week 34, which is at about the time you are guaranteed a healthy baby, although their lungs aren't quite up to scratch and they need to stay in the incubators for a while. With such a warning, you may wonder how well it works - maybe even women who haven't conceived end the tape with a tyke and a lot of explaining to do.

Everyone has been raving about doulas, but I am a little recalcitrant to have a complete stranger be my birthing coach. I know it may seem a little silly as the hospital staff will all be strangers and the OB is not exactly my BFF and could be one of the three doctors I've only met once or depending on the insanity of the particular day, a complete stranger - but since you can't help all those strange souls, why add another one to the mix? I'm also a little hesitant to have someone so gregarious and ebullient (as the ones I've met all seem to be) holding up pom poms to me when I'm in my most uncomfortable state. I'd rather just yell at my husband like the good ol' times - you did this to me!

I asked my OB about the hospital's policy on epidurals, having decided that I would not have one. It wasn't so much my fear of the effect it may have on my son, although I was concerned, as the fact that I wondered whether an epidural prevents you from feeling the need to push, creating a need for pitocin, which creates a need for a stronger epidural and a downward spiral that may well lead to a caesarian. I decided that for both issues, it was better to err on the side of caution. My OB looked at me, smiled and said, in a tone reminiscent of a rehearsed phrase, "as you wish, but honey, let me tell you, no one is going to give you a medal for not taking pain medication."

How much more painful can contractions be to say, tearing your meniscus or tearing your scapholunate ligament to the point of your bones dislocating or breaking your coccyx? I should be thankful for all my past injuries in preparation for this upcoming pain...of course, it may well pale in comparison, in which case....I could always just yell abuse - it's the only time we're really permitted to, so we might as well as let it all out. Yeah, you. That's right. You look like a wet porcupine!

I am giving birth in hospital, which is not the most magical setting, but considering that the number one cause of death for women for, well, EVER, was childbirth, I've decided to err on the side of caution and be around the minds and equipment that can handle an emergency, should one occur. After all, I've had a terrible medical history so giving birth at home in a blow up pool is just inviting disaster for myself and my son. While I haven't had the tour yet to see the maternity ward, which apparently you can only do with a lactation consultant, I do know that unfortunately Lower Manhattan Presbyterian does NOT have baths, which I was rather looking forward to. I suppose a shower would have to do (which thankfully they do have in the room).

I would have opted for a birthing centre, one that sat as an adjunct to a hospital, if New York had more of them, but the only one we have in the city is connected to St. Luke's and my OB is not affiliated with it. Even if my OB were affiliated with the hospital and my health met their standards, my husband and I would have to be picked from a personal interview in order to be allowed to give birth there - and of course, if it's a full moon and everyone's water breaks, you may get to the centre just late enough to lick the door and be told that it's full and your hospital room awaits you upstairs. I wonder what they ask you in the interview. How many comebacks do the 80s have left?

My prenatal yoga class is full of St. Luke birthing centre mums who beam ebullient during our introductions when the teacher asks everyone how we're feeling, where we're giving birth and whether, if it's not our first, we had a vaginal birth before. I always try and come late to avoid this discussion as it's extremely judgmental for a yoga class and feels quite incongruous. As we go around the room and some women reveal they are pregnant with their second and had a caesarian before, the teacher immediately expresses her sympathies and encourages them to try for a vaginal birth this time around- not bothering to ask whether her student intends on having one in the first place. As most women are having their first child and ecstatic that they are enrolled in St. Luke's birthing centre, the class becomes one big high five for their right decision. As for the rest, to give my example, when I said I was giving birth at Lower Manhattan, the teacher furrowed her brow in horror and with her best encouraging face, said, "well, I'm sure you'll have an OK birth anyway" as the St. Luke mums looked on aghast. I'd like to see them all mid-way through their labour when they are screaming for drugs and being told that they picked a location where they wouldn't have any, but as a consolation prize, they do have a bath.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The seventh month itch

I had heard my friends, who were in the dreaded third trimester or had already had one or a few tikes, roll their eyes and shake their heads, warning me abjectly about the Big Itch. I insouciantly did not take heed to immerse myself in a coco butter bath daily, not having any issues with my skin. Curse the caprice of the cosmos! With one slap of fate, I am battling an imperious itch through a policy of attrition and am submerged in my own Verdun.

While no women wants stretch marks, I had determined that there was no panacea for pregnancy's ills and no prophylactic for any of its symptoms, so that the use of coca butter, which I do not deny is quite nourishing for the skin in any case, would not withstand the conquest of stretch marks. Admittedly, the heat and humidity of NYC in the summer did much to sway me away from adding layers of butter onto my skin, particularly as my A/C, as if harboring animus for me all these years, decided to dramatically end its days in a burst of spite in the middle of July.

One other factor in my shrewd calculation was that I already had pre-pregnancy stretch marks from puberty and concluded that if puberty caused me stretch marks, which is not common (but then again nor is being 14 with a stick boy figure and not wearing any bra as there was nothing for such bra to hold, to in a matter of months gain 9 kilograms and wear a C cup - with my breasts displaying what appeared as the frayed wings of a rising Phoenix from thereon), then the marks of pregnancy already had my fate in their clutches, so that my choice was merely to go with the flow or follow in Oedipus's footsteps. I chose the former.

I did have some concern for my tattoo, a souvenir from a spontaneous stroll down Portobello road to its market when I was 23 and immersed in the "moment" (save for the day of July 7, 2005, which brought us to heel). I had chosen to have a small star on my right hip, to the the distress of the artist who complained that it would be too small. I retorted that the tattoo was for me and not for display (although I can't even see it anymore!). I chose a star for two reasons. One, I was born and lived till the age of 7 in a Communist country that later ended its days in self-mutilation and disembowelment, in a much less elegant way than performing seppuku, and I remember the time, before the cloud descended and the storm unleashed its fury, growing up with my extended family there as a haven, and two, I understood that I had spent the smallest part of my existence as me - that I came from stardust and would return to the stars. Every time I was embroiled in my own concerns and cursing why the cosmos had determined to foil me at every step, I had my souvenir to remind me that none of this mattered and I was part of the whole. And now my little souvenir has been lost underneath the conquest of my rising belly and I dare not think what shape my star may have turned into once my little boy arrives and my belly packs its bags and leaves for an extended and well deserved sojourn.

The first thing I noticed apart from my darkened and expanding nipples, was the descent of the linea nigra, as if an incision had been made down my tummy. For months it has been darkening and is now quite noticeable (a Chinese lady remarked to me that I was having a boy because it was so dark - she was right, although I am not sure whether having a darkened linea nigra is a good measure of sex) with a swirl around my belly button (or more accurately the area where my belly button used to be since it has since disappeared into the depths of my belly and something utterly different has taken its place). I have read that hormones affect pigmentation and hence we receive this line, however, that answer seems highly inadequate to me. For while it can account for the darkened pigmentation, how does it account for the actual line and circle that it produces? I must admit I haven't thoroughly investigated, but then again, I enjoy the mystery of it - the magical mark of pregnancy displaying the miracle that it truly is.

But back to my battle with the Big Itch. Once it came, it came with fury. At first I couldn't help but scratch, which caused red rashes on my stomach and quite a few raised eyebrows from surrounding company and a meek explanation from me that I was not carrying lice. I was quickly humbled and became a faithful user of coca butter. I also avidly use coconut oil and kukui oil. They may not conquer the march of the marks, but they certainly quell the fury of the Big Itch, at least for a time and any time without the need to madly scratch the surface which houses your baby is good enough for me...

I am embarrassed to admit, but tis true, the unseasonal temperate weather we have been enjoying in NYC the past couple of weeks, due to another polar vortex - a symptom of the destruction of our earth's current environment caused by our myopia- has only put a smile of relief on my face. I know it's selfish, but walking around immersed in butter and oil and carrying a lot more weight in a seasonal August - and without an A/C!- is a horror I am thankful, at at least in this limited time, I am living without.

There are times when the Big Itch rises and I do not have butter nor oil at the ready. I have decided to try to take this in stride - some yogis intentionally go through manufactured torture - so I am (trying) to utilise the Big Itch as a chance for me to let go even in maddening circumstances. Last night, during my prenatal yoga class, as the Big Itch descended, I was proud of myself for letting go and breathing through it. Then the fan decided to clank every two seconds. I couldn't help but laugh. The clank would either bring me down back to the beginning when I gave into the scratching or make me stronger in my practice. I breathed through it and wondered what the third would be, challenging the universe to slap me with another annoyance. And yet, none came as if I had passed some test, at least for that day.