Sunday, September 28, 2014

Prods & Pokes of Pregnancy

During pregnancy, you get kicked, poked, prodded and rumbled by the little bundle of joy you are cooking and while that can be extremely painful (for instance when your muscle detaches from your rib bone), it's nevertheless one of the best experiences in the whole world. It's a truly miraculous experience when your tummy rumbles with a seismic surge and you feel that there is another conscious being inside you as opposed to merely knowing abstractly that you are housing the most lovable parasite you will ever meet.

The other prods and pokes, by your doctors, are not comfortable nor as inviting but necessary.  I am not one to believe that just because birth is natural, we don't need to medicalize pregnancy and childbirth. After all, the number one mortality factor for women for, oh, let's see, ALL TIME, has been childbirth and child and infant mortality has steadily decreased with better medical care. The infant mortality rate in the United States does not fare well compared to other countries and all the states in the top ten of lowest infant mortality have unsurprisingly very good health care systems for their citizens, including Iceland, France and Sweden. The issue in this country, despite the prevalent literature of over-medicalizing, may actually be the converse, the fact that many mothers are left without adequate care due to an inefficient and iniquitous health care system.

As most issues in the US, the US should be seen as a mosaic of different and completely contrasting value systems and services. For instance, my OB's office is located in Tribeca and my hospital, Presbyterian Lower Manhattan, is in the Financial District and we are fortunate to have good health insurance. The average resident mother of Mississippi, I would wager, would have a different experience - but then so would someone in the city with different insurance. This medical segregation is a reprehensible state of affairs of which this country, which espouses pride and describes itself with an assortment of superlatives, should be ashamed.

For me, however, prods and pokes have been the way to go. From my first visit, my OB made patently clear to me that, " (I was) in Tribeca, (I was) going to be tested for everything." Boy, was she right. I fainted my first appointment when they took ten vials of blood and on waking up, was high as a kite, with my husband carrying me home as I laughed at everything and was the best audience for a shy, novice comedian. Viewed as high risk due to a past thyroid issue, I had numerous ultrasounds in my first trimester which were performed vaginally. From the second trimester, the ultrasounds could be performed on my stomach, which was more pleasant, although I could understand why my son complained and squirmed against the prying eyes of the paparazzi. They push down hard! The more he resisted, the more they pushed. In the end when we realized they were just  trying to snap a picture, having confirmed all was picture perfect during the anatomical scan, my husband and I called off the hounds. To the sonographer's disappointment, we left with a 3D picture that showed an extremely abstract face, which we decided not to share with the grandparents, but all we cared about was the fact that we saw two lobes of the brain, two eyes, two arms, two fingers, ten fingers and ten toes, two kidneys and a healthy beating heart and the absence of any dragon wings and the like.

A pattern I've noticed is that they decline to tell you when you're about to be injected, prodded and poked. Maybe they like to see the surprise on your face when you're told, after being over the moon that you were now elevated to stomach-only ultrasounds that in fact, you had to take your clothes off and have a more painful examination to see whether your cervix was "competent."  Thankfully, my cervix passed the test, albeit through the discomfort, I was also quite nervous about the ability of my cervix. It had never taken such an exam before - I doubted it studied and if it were anything like its host, it would have cut class, sneaked a smoke in the valley of the high school and only crammed the weekend before the test. Last week when I was told they were going to do a routine Strep swab (again, without any warning) and she went for equipment, I tensed up and was surprised it was really just a swab, barely three seconds and much easier than a Pap smear.

Apart from blood tests, urine tests and vaginal probing, you even get the benefit of vaccines. This surprised me most of all, because I thought that you weren't meant to have vaccines when you were pregnant.  I was hesitant at first, but my doctor explained to me that our son, who we understood would be born with a weak immune system as all babies are, would be born at the height of the whooping cough and flu season and that my husband and I, and even my mother, who graciously agreed to come help us in the first couple of months, all had to get the vaccine. Our son would get the antibodies through me, while "primary care givers" ie me, hubby and mum, would need to be protected also in order to protect him. Now, I'm all for vaccines, after all, they've ended epidemics and wiped out many diseases, such as smallpox and polio, although recently an anti-vaccine craze has seen polio rates rise. See, vaccines only work to eradicate a disease if we all take it, which people don't seem to realize. In Europe, where I was born, a baby has a vaccine passport and they will knock on your door if you refuse to vaccinate your child. However, there are some vaccines that I think are a bit overdone. The only time I took a flu shot was when it was made a condition of my green card. But back to our V-day. While I was hesitant, I decided to take the doctor's advice - after all, she had been to medical school. It would be like her arguing case law respecting employment discrimination to me. So, I handed over my arm. The biggest surprise that day, however, as I was by now used to being surprised with what seemed like impromptu exams, was that my hubby was asked to take the shots as well. He was floored, used to simply sitting there and watching me get poked and prodded. He complained about his arm for days, which provides solid evidence why we are the sex that carries and delivers the child.

The worst test - well, I should qualify with thus far - is the Sugar Surprise. Every time you go to your OB, you give them a sample of your urine. They check for bacteria (UTIs are common in pregnancy), protein and sugar levels as well as your hydration levels. While gestational diabetes is a real threat they have to investigate, surely the urine would reveal at least whether you were in a risk group? However, it's standard that around week 26, you arrive at the OB and they tell you with a smile that you must ingest some glucose and wait around for an hour to have your blood taken. I had just had coffee and a blueberry muffin (not my healthiest day). Ingesting that glucose was extremely difficult and I was near a rampant rage by the time my blood test came around and would have charged like a bull in the Pamplonian encierro had I any energy (all the better for everyone else). I failed the test and was told to return for a stricter one. I had to fast twelve hours before it so they could take my blood whilst I was fasting and then I had to ingest the same glucose drink and then wait three more hours while they tested my blood each hour. By the time the fourth hour came along, I was near to faint and extremely nauseated. My darling hubby came to pick me up. I was shaking. We went straight to eat, which seemed like a fantastic idea at the time, but halfway through my meal, I began to pass out again. I spent the majority of that day sleeping on our couch and leaving my clients in the lurch, not having planned I would descend into such a stupor.

I found out later that nearly 20% of women fail the first test and have to undergo both - why not just give us one day of hell and have it over and done with? I would wager a price tag determines the conclusion of that issue.

It's week 36 now (home stretch!) - I wonder what other prods and pokes are waiting for me before the Big Day.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Name Games

Nearly 35 weeks in, we've finally come up with a name and a middle name. Phew. Otherwise he may have to go by the nickname we've been calling him, "Moose" (due to our recent hiking in Newfoundland, where their majesty presides and due to alliteration with my hubby's surname). We'll probably still call him Moose between ourselves though, particularly as his antlers have already shown through his solid stubbornness. Our little boy knows what he wants and no one is going to stand in his way. Running out of room in his home, my little tenant has realized that putting his feet up between my ribs is comfortable, not knowing how that affects his landlord. Ouch! When we move him, he comes right back to position. Every time I get hungry, he starts fretting, kicking this way and that as if to communicate to me that he has to be fed. One time, Sir Moose voiced vociferously through his ferocious kicking that he did not appreciate his napping disturbed by my laptop on top of my belly, blasting out tunes.

If Moose were a girl, we would have a name set by the end of the first trimester. I made it clear no exes and paramours would make the cut and we both liked the same names. After discounting one name for its popularity and one due to our goddaughter having the same name, we finalized a name we both loved that just 'fit' - save for the fact that I was carrying a boy and the name we picked was distinctly female.

Unisex names are quite fine by me - I was named after my father and we both use the shortened form name. However, coming from a more masculine culture, which has no doubt pervaded my perspective on all issues of sex and gender, I prefer unisex names for girls. After all, there have been many previously male names that have been completely coopted by the female camp so that now naming your son one such name would be tantamount to putting him in high heels and a pink tutu (which might actually be quite liberating, but as hilarious my husband's expression may be on seeing such a scene, I would not want to see its consequence, which I imagine to be his 6'2' 195 pound frame on the floor and my 5'1' 110- pre pregnancy!- inability to pick him up). Hardly anybody would name their boy Leslie, Ashley, Hillary or Vivian  (which really did go with the wind with the rise of its star) these days, albeit these were historically male and/or unisex names.

Although we had said we wouldn't follow our cultural traditions of naming our children after our parents, my husband posed both our fathers' names. In particular he liked my father's name, but as much as it is dignified, Greek and imposing, it's also my name, and having three generations respond to one name was not something I fancied. I did acquiesce to have my father's name as a middle name, which I think he would favour (our tradition however being that it should be the father's name, but to heck with it - as Gandhi said, we must swim but not sink in the waters of tradition). My husband then fought for his father's name, but I was not fond of his father's name, which always impressed upon me an older person and was also tainted by the fact that it used to be my dog's name. I pointed out that his dad got the benefit of having his surname passed on and after a while, my husband gave in to my veto.

He also threw in a veto on a name I was set on by the end of the first trimester. Of Latin origin, it meant "fortunate" and was not very popular and I had zero connection with it. My husband thought it more attune to a pet and vetoed it. I then composed a list of my favourite male names and handed it to my husband with the express disclaimer that some of those names contained ex paramours (the names of my more serious engagements permanently affecting those names in my memory and not on the list). I figured, like me, he would immediately ask me to take them off the list, but instead, he said he didn't care and asked me not to tell him which names they were. Then, he vetoed a bunch of names, leaving three, with one soon discounted by the joyful announcement that we were to be godparents to a boy with one of the names.

I agonized for a few months over the fact that my husband's favourite of our short list was the name of an ex paramour, as I would not be comfortable with the converse situation. I voiced to him one more time that one name on our short list included a possibly "tainted" name and he continued to assert he didn't care. I then confided in my friends, who told me to leave the issue alone, but I still fretted. Maybe he wasn't understanding what I meant, so one day, I brought up the list of three and bluntly stated one name was a longer than usual fling. My husband waved me away, stating he didn't want to know. I then called my sister in law and asked for her advice. Once she told me that her brother really didn't care and didn't want to know, I let it go.

We love the name because it's a standard in both our cultures, easy to pronounce for everyone (but the Japanese - oh well, you can't have it all!), means "bringer of light",  is not overwhelmingly popular, passed the "tease test" - after going in character as five year olds to fifteen year olds and putting all the names on our list to the test (after all kids can be cruel!) and fits his stubborn, fiery character.

Moose, you have a name!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Prep talks

My husband and I are firm believers that the reason the human gestation period is nine months, is that it takes about nine months for the reality of being a parent to set in and the limit the human body could take. At 34 weeks, I stress the latter. Back pain, fatigue, constant peeing, pelvic pressure and difficulty breathing are just a few of the uninvited companions that join you for the ride. In the grand mammalian scale of gestation periods, however, we fall fairly in the middle. Whales have a gestation period from 400 to 500 days, for instance, with the sperm whale at 480 and the orca at 500 having the longest gestational periods. That may seem insupportable, but at least they are swimming. Camels and giraffes have to trudge it on land and their gestation periods are just as long, at 400 and 450 days respectively and rhinos have anywhere between 486 to 548 days. Whenever you reach the point in the day when you really want to scream at the injustice of it all, the back pain wearing you down, the pressure on your bladder and pelvis mounting and the little one hanging out by pushing his or her feet between your ribs, think of the poor elephant, who carries her baby on average for 660 days, up to a whopping 760 days!

There are mammals that have a much easier ride of it and they of course tend to be much smaller - I suppose there is no room for the baby to grow.  The mountain beaver has a gestation period of 30, the mouse 21, the hamster 18 and the opposum has lucky number 13. While this may seem like a breeze, imagine finding out you are pregnant and that you will be a parent in less than a fortnight!

So as mammals go, we fair pretty well in terms of ability to prepare (both practically and mentally) as well as physically (who wants to swap places with the opposum or the elephant for instance?).

Luckily not opposums, my husband and I were consistently advised by our friends and family with kids over these many months that we should spend as much time together as possible and enjoy being able to go out on a whim, because "it  will all soon be over" they warned. While we've snuck in a few dates here and there, our chaotic lives at the moment (who has time in New York?) hasn't really given us much time to indulge, although we did spend ten mesmerising days up in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland (I definitely recommend the babymoon!). Our spare time was focused on finding a new apartment in unfortunately the hottest mark this city has seen in years, leading to many offers and disappointments and our recent realization that we were welcoming our son in our west village loft.

With his due date looming, it's finally hit us that we have to rearrange our whole apartment, buy a cosleeper, carrier, stroller and other necessitates and learn as much as we can about parenting. There are baby books and baby things sprawled around our apartment - he has taken over even before he has even arrived!