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Pickle Me This

September 10, 2015

It begins.


I got pregnant at nearly the exact same time as Harriet started playschool three years ago, when she was three years old. And I so vividly remember those precious mornings, the time, rushing home to rescue my tea from under the cozy and sit down to get some work done, not wasting a single moment. To be alone. Although the time did not seem so luxurious: I was in my first trimester and would pass out every night not long after Harriet did. If I hadn’t had those mornings, I would have had no time to get any work done. After Christmas when my energy levels had returned, I got a job writing a book about Arctic exploration, the gold rush, mountain climbing, and parkas, and by then my days of freedom were numbered anyway. So I spent that winter reading Pierre Berton on the Klondike and listening to Iris by the Split Enz over and over again, dreaming of my baby as she kicked away inside me—so you see, I was really not so alone at all.

It seemed like the smallest window, that year. I knew that with our new baby, we’d soon be thrown back into newbornland and babyhood, and we’d have to find our way out again. That it would be a long before I once  more found myself at home alone at 9:30 in the morning, the teapot still warm. I edited an entire book as the baby slept on my chest, for heaven’s sake. And now, here I am. And dare I say it: it all went by so fast?

This morning I dropped Harriet off at Grade One, which she is enjoying immensely so far, and then Iris and I trekked down the street for her to begin her first day of playschool. The playschool she has known since she was a fetus: she spent her first year in her carrier as I did co-op shifts three times a month. By the end of the year, she was scooting around the room like a champion. It has always been familiar to her. We love the teachers. Last year when Harriet was no longer a student there, we still visited our playschool friends often, and we’d play with them at the park.

Drop-off was not without its drama. Iris was not happy about my departure, and while I wanted to get out of there and trusted she was in very good hands, I’m a bit worried about the teachers who’ll have to deal with her. Though I assure myself that perhaps like all parents, I’m imagining that my child is more unique and particular than she actually is. I’m crossing my fingers that they’ve seen it all before. And that she’ll have a wonderful morning.

And now here I am, right back where I’ve been before except that this is the way forward instead of just a blip. It’s even time to put the kettle on. It’s time to get some work done. To figure out this new routine, just what to do with all this space and this quiet.

See also: “When I got home again, I didn’t know what to do because there was so much that I wanted to do.” 

May 31, 2013

The baby turns and swims and waits.

IMG_20130524_181454-001Every time I post a picture of a banana split from Fran’s Diner, I have a baby the next day, so this is the trick I’m trying today. Oh, what we haven’t tried to get this baby out in the world! That list would not include acupuncture, pineapple, spicy food, 10 km walks, riding over speed bumps in a taxi, bouncing on a ball, going to bed early, crawling on my hands and knees, raspberry leaf tea, stress and relaxation, evening primrose oil, love and distance, baking cherry pie, being patient, being anxious, going out for meals a lot, being cheerful, being crabby, asking the baby, yelling at the baby, self-hypnosis, and eggplant parmigiana at lunch today. The best induction method, I’ve heard, is time, so we’re trying that too. I do think that the baby will be born on Sunday, and it finally seems like things are starting to happen. If Monday rolls around, however, and we’re still baby-less, I’m probably going to resort to being crabby again.

But I haven’t been very crabby. It has actually been a fantastic week with beautiful weather and Stuart at home (where he will remain–until September!!!). We’ve indulged ourselves in so many ways, and made a point of enjoying the time we have left as just three. I have been fortunate to be energetic and feeling really good–I walked 6 km home from my ultrasound yesterday, and 8km the day before (because apparently walking is a surefire trick… but no). I feel fortunate to be supported by my midwives who know that “overdue” is an unfair designation, and are helping to ensure that Baby stays healthy as we wait for her to arrive by her own clock, and yesterday’s ultrasound confirmed that she’s doing just fine.

Oh, we’re going to look back on these days fondly. Today I was quite excited that the heat was such that we were able to fill up Harriet’s pool in the backyard, and cool off a bit, mostly because the whole scenario put me in mind of the wonderful Bronwen Wallace story “If This is Love” from People You’d Trust Your Life To. It has taken this long for the maternity bathing suit I ordered online in December to finally fit, and I feel quite radiant whilst wearing it. I will even skip an obligatory note apologizing for my thighs (or not, I guess. Confidence only stretches so far).

pool“And that was it. That was all she did that summer. What she remembers of the rest of it is cool water sloshing over her belly as she sprawls in the pool drinking cold beer and eating popsicles, Daniel paddling beside her or eating an ice-cream cone on his swing under the trees. Around then, the grass turns brown, the garden wilts, the tar on the driveway melts. Lee doesn’t care. She sets up the stereo on the back porch and turns it on full blast. Planet Waves over and over again. Sometimes she hauls herself out of the pool to push Daniel on his swing in time to “Forever Young” or “You Angel You”  while, in its time too, the baby turns and swims and waits.

A very gentle time, Lee thinks now, when she turns, as she does occasionally, and sees herself there, with Daniel, suspended in that clear, golden light. Gentle, in spite of the heat. Lee likes the way she looks in her green bathing suit, the shine of it on her great round belly and breasts, her hair piled carelessly on top of her head, curling in fine blonde tendrils around her face…” –Bronwen Wallace, “If This is Love”

May 23, 2013

Date Due

Me, last weekend. Less date-due than I am today.

Me, last weekend. Less date-due than I am today.

The honeymoon has ended, that wonderful period of pre-baby motherhood in which it’s imperative to be taken out for afternoon tea and be administered lots of fragrant baths. Now instead of relaxing and taking care of myself, I’m given instructions like, “Try crawling around the carpet for half an hour–while watching TV or listening to music. It is good exercise as well as good for the baby’s position!” And it’s only a short slide from here to the point where I’ll be having trouble breastfeeding and crazy people on online forums will instruct me to refrain from eating anything but white rice, while I lock myself in a darkened room for a fortnight hovering naked over my colicky child in order to discourage it from nipple confusion. At least this time, I know what to expect.

Today is my due-date, which I’m calling my date-due because I’m better at libraries than being patient. But what I’m better at than anything else is jumping straight to worst-case scenarios, which is why I decided that since baby shows absolutely no sign of imminent arrival (or even un-imminent arrival) that baby was never going to arrive at all. I’ve since been reassured by enough stories of babies failing to be engaged who managed to be born anyway that I am no longer fretting about booking a c-section at 42 weeks. I’ve had a hunch all along that our baby was going to be born on the Barbara Pym Centenary anyway, (June 2, but you already knew that) and I’m becoming convinced that this is really the case. I’m also sure that my bout of stomach flu at the weekend made the baby reluctant to make an entrance to the world, and now that I am feeling much better and energetic again, I am content to wait until baby decides that it’s time.

As I crawl around the carpet on my hands and knees, of course. There cannot be enough of that.

May 14, 2013

Baby Blankets and Mini Monsters

IMG_20130514_193912We sure hope our baby doesn’t end up with jaundice because this blanket/cap combo really isn’t going to flatter if that happens. Blanket and cap are yellow as per Big Sister’s instructions, as yellow is the colour she most reveres, and basically the baby is welcome to be born at any time because Harriet has had her birthday party and the blanket is done. This is the Big Bad Baby Blanket, which I’ve knit many times before, and I made a little hat with the leftover wool. The blanket is pretty lovely with just enough errors that you’d know it was handmade if you went looking for problems, but none that stand out too much. Strange that it won’t be too long before we meet the wee person these knitted things are meant for. At this point, it’s still quite unbelievable to suppose that it’s really going to happen. It feels like these are ordinary days–who’d go and throw a newborn into the midst of that?

The little monster is Harriet’s gift for the baby. For months, she’s been determined that she was saving the money in her piggy bank to buy a present for the baby. A few weeks ago, we gathered funds (and were grateful to whomever had once given her a ten dollar bill) and went to the Intergalactic Travel Authority to purchase Maggie the Monster, Harriet’s chosen companion for her own Colin, and our baby’s future crib-mate. For all my deriding of consumption (book buying aside, naturally), it was quite adorable to watch Harriet make her first purchase in a shop. They told her the total and then she handed them a nickel and asked if it was enough. I had to help her with the rest, but was quite proud of her and the spirit of generosity behind the project. I really do think that Harriet is going to take to the Big Sister life with aplomb, and that our baby who is not yet even born is already incredibly lucky.

April 23, 2013

Getting Ready

IMG_20130423_202141It is with as much relief as terror that we acknowledge that this is really happening. That after 36 weeks of us definitely thinking of getting around to performing these tasks that there is now a crib set up in our room, tiny diapers stacked next to the changing-pad, order created from the chaotic mess of our garret/closet which contains a ridiculous four-years-worth of baby and kid stuff. The baby clothes are laundered and waiting in a drawer. And the baby itself is head-down as confirmed by last week’s ultrasound and therefore I’ve not had to spend this week consulting moxibustionists. This is not to say that there aren’t a thousand things I want to/have to do before our baby arrives, but at least they don’t involve putting furniture together, matching tiny socks, or turning impossible babies. In a fundamental way, we are actually ready for the baby to come. And due to a crazy trick of nature, we’re even excited.

There wasn’t a lot of “birth preparation” going on the last time we went through this. We took the obligatory pre-natal class, but due to obvious defects in our personalities, Stuart and I just sat in the back and made sarcastic comments. And Harriet was stuck in the transverse-lie from so early on that it felt futile to make real arrangements for the natural birth we’d been hoping for. The “natural birth” itself was a choice we’d plucked out of the air without much context–it didn’t really seem possible that we’d come out of this whole pregnancy gig with something as miraculous as a baby anyway, and we were very much just going through the motions. When we were waiting for Harriet to be born, we were really just playing house.

This time however, it’s been so different, and I’ve been so much more deliberate in my choices. Even though my choices are the same, but this time I understand what they mean to me, to us. And it’s different too now that “us” is also Harriet. Having a little person with stakes in the arrival of another little person changes everything. She is also evidence that this baby is really going to happen, and our lingering memories of her babyhood make us quite aware of what we’re getting into.

“This time, it’s been different….” I keep writing this, and it should be self-evident, but the difference continues to fascinate me. It all feels a bit like Annie and Ernie McGilligan Spock and their fantastical trike ride: “In the same front yard/ Stood the same small tree;/ On the same brown table/ The same pot of tea.” And yet not the same at all. “How was it possible?/ Think of the shock…”

There is relief though this time in how much seems so different. My introduction to motherhood was such terrible time and we’ve still not quite shaken off the trauma of it all, and so I relish the idea that this time around we could make a different story. I think this was why it seemed particularly distressing last week when doubt was cast as to whether Baby was really head-down after all. And, “No way, no how,” said I. “I am not having another c-section.” For the past four weeks, I’ve been practising birthing hypnosis, and its impact became evident to me in how I responded to the potential breech situation. “I have courage, faith and patience,” I said. “This baby is going to turn. I am not going to book a c-section. I am going to go into labour. I am going to deliver this baby breech if I have to. This baby and my body know what they have to do.”

It’s quite true that I am determined that my birth story is going to be different this time. Not that the birth of Harriet was particularly troubling in itself, and recovery from c-section was remarkably easy, but I’ve told the story to myself over the past four years, it’s become clear to me that the c-section was responsible for some of the disconnect I felt from my baby after my birth. And I have gotten more angry as time as passed that I never saw her when they pulled her out of me, that I never saw her purple and sticky. She wasn’t shown to me until she’d been tidied up and wrapped in a blanket, which was only a few minutes, but I am sure I missed something terribly important in that gap. I read a copy of my operative report last week and it was fascinating (“interoperative finds: a live female”) but disturbing too that this thing had been done to me and I was so uninvolved. Unfathomable that the subject of the report was me.

(Last Tuesday when we thought Baby was breech, I was in a foul, foul mood. I’d also brought home a pamphlet from a cesarean support group that helps women spiritually heal from and grieve their c-section experiences. “What kind of bullshit is this?” I was exclaiming [at the dinner table, naturally] and my terrible husband with an evil glint in his eye said, “I think you should go.” I protested and he shrugged calmly: “You’ve been grieving your c-section for four years,” he said. My fist shook at the ceiling. “I am allowed,” I told him, “to grieve my c-section and find c-section support groups totally stupid.” I am a complicated person, and therefore this is my right.)

Harriet’s birth was booked two weeks before it happened, and it baffles me now that I opted for surgery so readily (though not before trying an ecv so there was a bit of effort on my part). But I think that my scheduled caesarean brought with it a bit of relief, some assurance, less of the great unknown. I’ve been sorry ever since that I never got a chance to go into labour though, and I’ve never shaken the feeling that I missed out on something monumental in my own birth as a mother. I went into her birth uttering inane phrases like, “The baby’s in charge,” but I never really meant it. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s that I can out-stubborn the most unruly toddler. I was a fool to pretend that I could give in so easily, and this time I refuse to. I think I also said things like, “What matters is the result of a healthy baby and not how baby arrives,” which is a very easy thing to say if your body is not involved with baby’s arrival. Birth happens to Mother as much as Baby and to suppose that the mother’s experience somehow matters less is so completely insulting. This is also the thing that disappointed people say, as I know from experience, and also because my friends who’ve had amazing births will tell you straight that how their babies arrived matter to them very, very much. And I want to know what that’s like.

As much as one can ever prepare for something as unknown and unpredictable as childbirth, I feel as though we’ve made a valiant effort. Daily hypnosis practice, so much reading, the 3 hour pre-natal refresher we did last night which was so fantastic. I am very excited about the chance to try something I feared would always be out of reach to me. I can’t quite believe it really that anything could be so straightforward, and while I know that there is nothing straightforward about birth (just as I know that Harriet and I would have died had I not had access to a c-section with her in a transverse lie, and I know that these things don’t matter to some people as much as they’ve turned out to have mattered to me, which is just fine), I feel confident and supported in this being a road I can travel down.

And I now am excited and hopeful to discover just where that road leads.

April 16, 2013

Upside down

the-interestings-42ff47c14ca1547b59189bc03f125427845518b4I am quiet this week, mostly because I am reading Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings and that’s all I really want to do. What I don’t want to be doing is fretting about Baby being breech, but alas this seems to be my fret of the moment. I’m waiting for an ultrasound that will confirm either way. At least Baby is not transverse ala Harriet, which means the ending of this story has yet to written. Fingers crossed, but I’m pulling out all the stops this time, which is to say that I might discover what moxibustion is, and anything else that could possibly help turn the wee one. And if baby is breech, I will then be really concerned about why its bum is so head-like in its composition. What kind of anatomy is that?

In good news, I’ve worn capri pants and sandals two days in a row. Not entirely sensibly, but altogether happily. And at least the sun is shining.

April 11, 2013

A Book for Baby's Library

welcome-babyI bought a book for the new baby this week, the very first book of this baby’s own. It’s Welcome, Baby, a gorgeous new board book by Barbara Reid that I’m sort of thinking was written just for our new baby. If you know Barbara Reid’s illustrations, then you already know the book is beautiful–I’m in love with the quilt on the title page. “Welcome, baby, welcome!/ All the world is new,/ And all the world is waiting/ To be introduced to you…” the book begins, with a picture of a couple holding their new little one, a tree and robin just outside the window. And what I really love is that older siblings are a part of this welcome too, and so Harriet gets to point to the picture of Big Kid and Baby playing trucks, and saying, “That’s me!” of the former, and so too with the picture of the siblings splashing in the paddling pool. It ends, “We’ll hold you close,/ And let you fly.” which is just perfect, and the whole trick of being a parent really. I look forward to reading this one over and over, and in delighting as new tiny hands learn to grasp its pages.

April 1, 2013

On being that innocent again.

elements of styleI took myself out for lunch on Saturday, with Wendy Wasserstein’s The Elements of Style for company. I haven’t eaten alone in a restaurant for a long time (and in fact, I rarely get to eat in restaurants without the company of someone who is ever in danger of knocking over her water glass and ever requires ketchup and grubby crayons as a garnish), but learning the pleasures of doing so was once upon a time one of the greatest lessons in my education of being a grown-up woman. So when the prospect of a free Saturday afternoon presented itself to me, a solo lunch date was at the top of my agenda. A brand new baby is scheduled to explode into my life in about 8 weeks, and who knows when I’ll ever get to be alone again?

IMG_0441I did enjoy this blog post by a writer who is about to give birth to her second child and contemplating the distance she’s travelled since she was waiting to birth her first. She writes about the loss of self that transpires when a woman becomes a mother, and looks forward to this new birth because it will occur without that loss. I feel similarly. Harriet made me a mother, which was a difficult, nearly traumatic, absolutely not natural for me experience. When she was born, I did not know how to love a child as a mother does, and I had to grow into that love. I tell her all the time how I did not know how to be a mother before her, and how she taught me, and how excited I am to meet her sibling because I know how to do it now. The love I have for our new baby already comes via my love for Harriet, as though Harriet is the connection between us. Harriet, of course, sees nothing unusual about being a linchpin. She is quite sure that she is the centre of the universe after all.

IMG_0428There is something different about going over the edge of a cliff when you’ve been over the cliff before. I spent my entire pregnancy with Harriet in a state of disbelief, really, not remotely convinced that there would be a baby at the end of it. There had never been a baby more unfathomable than Harriet, I supposed, so even my birth preparations were half-hearted, and I never allowed myself to imagine beyond it. This time, however, I’m going over the cliff and recognizing all the landmarks. I know even that the cliff itself is not the point, and that the journey beyond goes on and on. I have a concrete awareness of my own limits as well, which were pretty much the greatest lessons I took away from new motherhood, and I’m not going to deny them. This is why my husband will be spending the summer at home with us as we settle into life as a family of four. This is why we’ve bought a queen-sized bed. This is why I will unabashedly read through breastfeeding marathons instead of staring into my baby’s goopy eyes. This is why I’m going to hate having a baby sometimes and I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I will not enjoy every minute. This is why I’m not going to push myself to recreate ordinary life right away as the dust settles from our new baby’s arrival. This time, I know that ordinary life will come back without me even trying. That the trying is the hardest part, and I just have to be patient instead. I just have to get a little bit better at being patient.

I also have to avoid the inclination to try to get it right this time. There really is no getting it right. This is not a do-over. New motherhood is a mad fumble, no matter what you do, and one way or another, I’m going to end up crying on the floor without clothes on. But I will not be surprised when it happens this time, and that is really something.

I never thought I could be this open-eyed excited about having another child. When Harriet was small, I looked back at the end of my pregnancy with the saddest nostalgia. “We’ll never be that innocent again,” I remember thinking after bringing our small baby over to visit friends whose own baby’s birth was imminent. But somehow, we’ve unlearned reality and I’m excited again. Maybe I’ve become wise enough to know we’ll get through the hard times, that they’re worth it. Or maybe I’m a fool and the return to innocence is just a survival mechanism.

A bit of both, perhaps. I guess we’ll have to see what I have to say about it all once I’m back there crying on the floor.

March 26, 2013

Where does a month go when it's gone?

IMG_5756We were very happy to hear the word “benign” today when we visited the doctor for results of my biopsy. I have to see him again before my baby is born, and then once life settles down post-baby, decisions will be made about whether or not I’ll require surgery to take care of my lump for once and for all, but in the meantime, we’re relieved. It’s been just over a month since I found the lump, and what a crazy time it’s been. The last two weeks have thankfully been free of much worry, and to be honest, the news today was a bit of an anticlimax because it was what the doctor has set me up to expect. But I also find myself able to listen to There Must Be An Angel without bursting into tears for the first time in ages, so something essential must have shifted. (What is it with my propensity to listen to ad-nauseum to songs that make me cry? I imagine that this is something that men don’t do. Or women who aren’t ridiculous, for that matter.)

Today’s other piece of good news came today at the midwives where it was determined that Baby is (probably) head-down. I’m only 32 weeks so this could change at any time, but it’s significant for me because Harriet was transverse from 31 weeks and I’ve been paranoid that history might repeat itself, no matter that there was no physical reason that it would. I really don’t want to have another c-section, and we’ve become extremely keen about natural birthing (so yes, I’m back reading Ina May Gaskin again, after four years of making fun of her, and Harriet has been reading up on placentas and crowning). I am so fortunate to have many friends who have had successful home birth/natural birth experiences, and I’ve been steeping myself in their stories for inspiration and confidence in my own abilities to do similar things.

And it’s really not so far away. Terrifying. The last month has got away from us entirely, and now we must shift back to Baby, to all the things we have to do before Baby arrives. It’s a far more fun preoccupation than thyroid lumps, but overwhelming all the same.

February 3, 2013

How (at least I am hoping…) having a baby is just like getting a tattoo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast summer, there was this two week period during which I was completely occupied by the question of whether or not have have another child. Mostly because we were coming down the wire of “now or never”. It was something we’d been meaning to get around to, but had had good reasons to put off for over a year by that point. We had been having a very good time with our one child, with a life arranged very much the way we liked it. It was easy, most of the time. We were comfortable. I suddenly understood those people who decided not to have children because of how their lifestyle would be affected. I had never thought about it first time around, because I wanted a baby, no question, but now I understood the stakes of having a baby, how much upheaval it would really mean. I also knew that my mothering self had limits I hadn’t known about when a baby was just something I dreamed about.

Anyway, because I am me, I spent that two week period of complete occupation talking about my quandary with everyone I came into contact with. Friends with newborns, pregnant friends, new friends, old friends, my book club, total strangers–I cringe now to think about it, but I kept putting the word out into the world hoping to get back some kind of answer, a confirmation.

“The problem,” I remember telling one friend, “is that another baby would push our limits. I mean, financially, and in terms of space, and how much I am willing or able to give of myself.” In practical terms, having one child only would make the most sense for us.

“So, why don’t you do that?” she said.

But I knew that I couldn’t. It wasn’t that simple for me. And not because of anything that society says, or pressure from outside camps, or even because of how much Harriet wanted to have a sibling. Just as I’d always known that I wanted to have a child, I also knew that I would want another. It’s not a logical thing; it’s more compulsive, actually. It doesn’t make any sense. A smart woman would know her limits, and heed them, but I know I would not be satisfied. It wasn’t a question of “choice” (and really, not much is, reproductive-wise). If I made the choice not to have another baby, I’d spent the rest of my fertile years longing for one. Happy in my “lifestyle”, well-rested, but it wouldn’t be enough. Perhaps if the decision had been made for me, it would have been different, but it could not be a decision I’d be content to make for myself. (And don’t think I don’t know how fortunate I am to be in this situation at all, how much more choice I have than so many other women.)

A problem that many women have, I think, is too much empathy. We meet one another and assume that here is a like-creature.We feel secure enough in that to make judgements. We assume that what we feel is usually the norm, in what is general. (Or maybe that’s just me…) I have always wanted children, and I really cannot imagine what it would be to feel otherwise. And so when I hear about a woman who feels this way, I assume that there has been some kind of misunderstanding, hers or mine. Or I’ll equate her feelings with my own fears or uneasiness before getting pregnant myself, feelings that were so easily brushed aside, completely dismissing the specificity of her experience. Also, that same woman will hear me talking my non-choice/compulsion to have another baby, and write me off as a complete idiot.

Or I’ll see a headline like “Opting Out of Parenthood, With Finances in Mind” and it will raise my hackles–kids don’t have to be expensive. But then when I read the article carefully, I encounter the line, “Some people have a profound emotional desire to have children. But I don’t. Young as we are, it would take a pretty big financial, practical and emotional shift for that to change.” And clearly, this writer and I are operating from beginning points that are so far apart. What makes sense of the matter for me isn’t applicable for her, and vice versa. As with most human communication, much of the time none of us really have any idea what others are talking about ever.

Here’s what I’m hoping for though: I am hoping for is that for me having another baby turns out to be a lot like getting a tattoo. I got my first tattoo when I was 20, and immediately started planning another. And it concerned me, that I might never want to stop and would eventually turn into Lydia the tattooed lady. But when I got my second tattoo, when I was 24, right away, I knew I was done. It was enough.

I just hope in terms of babies that I’ll continue to know my self so well, and most of all that my “self” will continue to make demands on my body and my life that are fairly unridiculous, relatively speaking.

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