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January 22, 2013

The opposite of this scattered post would be an empty space.

IMG_02371) A friend emailed recently as she was doing a clear-out and wondered if I wanted any of her books on babies and birthing–Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Birth, Sheila Kitzinger, Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby. And it was such a pleasure to tell her no. I’d read these books already. I remember poring over Gopnik’s book when Harriet was six weeks old, desperate for some kind of understanding of this creature who’d arrived in my life. I remember the hours spent on internet forums trying to work out a pattern in the pieces of brand new life as a mother. I remember a lot of talking about talking about motherhood, the desperation of these conversations. How important they were for me to have at the time, but how there came a time eventually when I didn’t need them anymore. I have this fantasy that when our new baby arrives in the spring and my life becomes all-baby again that literature might be my one escape from the haze. That I might spend my summer reading about everything except babies, even if it has to be done in the middle of the night while the rest of the world (except the baby) is sleeping. But I’ve never had a second child before. I do not know if my fantasy will come true.

2) Motherhood still interests me, but on a broader level than the whole strollers on the bus brouhaha and whether breast is really best. The conversations I appreciate most about motherhood are those that don’t usually appear on the pages of glossy magazines, which rise above the Mommy Wars to broaden notions of what motherhood is and can be, and the ways in which different women’s lives are affected by various experience of maternity, and the elusiveness of “choice” (which is so often another fantasy, no?). Anyway, I’ve got more to say on the topic and the most exciting news ever forthcoming in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.

3) We took a picture of my baby bump! How positively first-pregancy of us! It is not altogether flattering, as I’ve no make-up on, lighting is poor and I’ve had a cold for three days and it shows. But this is me at 22.5 weeks pregnant, which is kind of remarkable. I know many people find pregnancy pictures obnoxious, but as someone who has spent most of my life feeling fat and the last three years in particular trying to hide an unfortunate abdomen post c-section (3 years later, it is no excuse, I know, but still…) it is awfully refreshing to embrace and celebrate the shape I’m in. And it’s a remarkable thing, however ordinary, to have happen to one’s body, to change so much in such a short time, different every day.

4) I keep vague tabs in my mind of how my blog content is divvied up, the grown-up things, the kid things, the women things. I always have this notion that I’m doing terribly well when a string of posts doesn’t reference children or motherhood at all, and yet I don’t fully believe this either. My blog has always been a reflection of life as it is, and small children (and the books they read) have been a huge part of my life for some time now. I could pretend otherwise, but then I’d be left with not much to write about. Anyway, all of which is to say that I’m feeling self-conscious and babyish posting about pregnancy and belly-shots, but then here is where I’m at right now. The opposite of this scattered post would be an empty space.

January 20, 2013

A bad year to be a woman with a reproductive system.

I want to take a few moments to delineate the many ways in which 2012 was a spectacularly depressing year to be a pregnant woman. We’re only a few weeks into 2013 so it’s still too soon to say, but so far I haven’t had to listen to that jangly Rick Santorum song with the lyrics, “We’ll have justice for the unborn/Factories back on our shores…” one single time, and that is progress. Neither have I noted once that a panel of old men (too many of whom with more children than fingers on one hand) have been provided a international platform from which to debate just how much American women’s access to contraception should be curtailed.

And speaking of “debate”, so far in 2013 I have not once had to endure the insult of 91 members of Parliament (including the Status of Women Minister) voting for a say as to the contents of my uterus. I was five-weeks pregnant at the time, and I was absolutely horrified, as well as confused as to why I had not been brought in to provide expert consultation. Surely some  expertise might have been necessary. Did you know that there are actually 233 members of Parliament who have not a single uterus among them? The input of a living, thinking pregnant woman into this conversation might have provided some much-needed perspective.

So far, 2013 has been an improvement. It’s been at least a few weeks since a group of Ontario MPPs (not a uterus among them either, note) staged a press-conference supporting a move to stop public-funding of abortion in this province. And while I am sure that several women worldwide actually have died this year because they’ve lacked access to abortion and other maternal health procedures, there has not been a story with the level of tragedy of Savita Halappanavar‘s, who died in Ireland after miscarrying at 17 weeks pregnant when a fading fetal heartbeat was privileged over an actual human life.

2012 was a bad year to be a woman with a reproductive system. I’m talking Handmaid’s Tale territory. When I got pregnant, it was immediately apparent to me that my body had become a national concern, that my womb was now somebody’s territory for staging a shouty “debate”.  A woman who was pregnant in 2012 owned herself  just a little less, and it was total madness. I really can’t believe we put up with it. My resolution for 2013 is that we not do that anymore.

January 9, 2013

Baby With a Heartbeat

There are so many things I’ve forgotten to worry about this time around: dwarfism, hermaphroditism, whether my baby would be born entirely covered with one big hairy mole like someone I saw once on Jerry Springer. My pregnancy was confirmed in September with the faintest double line on a home test (albeit the fifth test I’d taken that week. My un-neurotic behaviour only ever extends so far. But I’d known I was pregnant, even if the four negative tests had been oblivious). And after that, I didn’t even get a blood test. I made very few pregnancy-related google queries. One the odd day that I felt well, I didn’t panic and start to think that something was wrong. I was having the rare experience of living life as a normal person does, and it was a really, really nice way to be.

This was entirely different from my previous pregnancy, which tied me up in such knots that my midwife had worried about my blood pressure. Having never had a baby before, I’d found it impossible to believe it was possible, that my body would know how to perform this miraculous thing. It made me crazy to know that that here I was with this enormous responsibility, the creation of a person, and no control over the process. The no control thing was the worst of it, and it seemed really irresponsible to me. This time though, it was easy to accept it, to understand that being pregnant is fundamentally a passive exercise. Part of my ease with this was because it was easier to accept passivity, and with work, a small child and a first-trimester to contend with, any shortcut is welcome. The other part, I think, was because I already am a mother, and spend a large number of my waking (and sometimes non-waking) hours doing “mothering things”. I didn’t feel the need I’d felt before to enact pregnancy (worry about soft cheese and abdominal twinges) in order to stake a claim on motherhood. I had my claim. I also know that this baby is never going to be so easy to take care of as during its time in the womb–let’s enjoy the silence while we can.

(Note: As I say, my un-neurotic behaviour only extends so far. Don’t think that I haven’t supposed that my complacency will inevitably result in calamity. That just when I start to take security for granted, the whole thing will fall to pieces. That I will publish this post, and then find out tomorrow that baby forgot to grow internal organs. But I haven’t supposed so much. I can pack up these thoughts away in a box, which is really something significant.)

When I was pregnant with Harriet, I didn’t know her name or sex, or anything about her, but I spent a lot of time imagining. I wrote her letters, played her music, read her stories every night. I understood that bonding with this tiny being was a really important process, so I worked at this. From fetal kicks, we determined that she loved Motown, we read her Teddy Jam’s Night Cars on repeat so that apparently she’d recognize it, she knew my voice, she knew her daddy’s. Life the soft cheese aversion and anxiety, I think what I was really doing was staking a claim on motherhood. But then she was born, and she was a total stranger. I’d never imagined her face, she didn’t seem to like Motown at all, she was more amphibian than human. It occurred to me that my “bonding” had been 100% projection. The disparity between who she was and the baby I’d imagined (who, to be fair, was at least six months old) made those early days all the more difficult to navigate.

Which is probably part of the reason I’ve not really started using our new baby’s name or proper pronoun, though I’m aware of both. I tell myself that this baby hears more stories in utero than Harriet ever did, because I read stories to Harriet all day long (and most are of far superior quality to the children’s literature I had access to four years ago. Indeed, motherhood has opened up whole literary worlds). Perhaps the strongest bond that I feel to my new baby as a person is that this is Harriet’s sibling, which is a wondrous thing for me to behold. Any sibling of Harriet is someone I’d really like to meet, even if I have no idea what its favourite song is. Yet.

Baby has been kicking away all along as I’ve been sitting here writing this, and I don’t mean to convey that this feeling doesn’t fill me with overwhelming joy. But it’s more a harbinger than a direct message. The sight of tiny feet on my ultrasound two weeks ago, the galloping heartbeat at my last pre-natal appointment. When I went in for my first ultrasound at 11 weeks, and the technician who was blessed with people-skills said to me as soon as she’d started, confirming: “Baby with a heartbeat.” The first outside indication of fetal life since that faint double line six weeks before. That phrase was a kind of music, a song I have such faith in, and I love to play it over and over again inside my mind.

November 19, 2012

Reading in the First Trimester

I have so much trouble reading when I’m 6-12 weeks pregnant. As I’ve done it twice now, I can say for a fact that I am the problem and it’s not necessarily the books I encounter, all of which seem to me to be absolutely intolerable. In my first trimester of pregnancy, I completely lack the patience required to overlook the (often obligatory) parts of any book that are intolerable, and understand its fundamental goodness. I can’t read a book that’s very long either, because eventually it becomes associated with nausea and even the thought of the book makes me want to puke. I have a similar relationship with Calgary– every time I go there, I’m 6 or 8 weeks pregnant, and I can’t even think about it anymore. And with Cloud Atlas, whose first pages I read in Calgary and therefore never again.

Another book I can’t handle is Cybele Young’s A Few Bites, which is so so good! But the book came into my life when I was six weeks pregnant and when Ferdie is presented with his lunch of broccoli, carrot sticks, and ravioli, my stomach heaves. I can no longer eat broccoli, which is bizarre because I’ve always loved it, but no longer, temporarily I hope. We’ve had to ask our organic food delivery to stop bringing it because every week I threw it out.

There is Nicola Barker’s The Yips, which I bought in Calgary but Calgary was not even the problem. The biggest problem I think is that it was not as good as Burley Cross Postbox Theft or Darkmans, and I was so unhappy (and feeling sick) while I was reading it. There were a few weeks where I hated everything, and not just books, but then I started reading A Very Large Soul: Selected Letters of Margaret Laurence, and began to feel better. Correspondance and short stories were the trick I guess, fragments, and perhaps this was why I was so elated to discover Isabel Huggan’s The Elizabeth Stories–finally a book to fall in love with. And the Susans anthology. And slowly, slowly, I was happy to find that I could love books again. (I am not sure that Calgary will recover so easily.)

So yes, this is a round-about way of saying that after being the first woman ever to have a baby three and a half years ago, I am going to pioneer the act of having a second at the end of May. Literary trauma aside, I’ve had a relatively easy first trimester and have been so grateful for Harriet’s mornings at school so that I’ve still been able to get my work done. Grateful too that we dragged out Harriet’s napping through the weeks when I needed it most. Also that emotionally, I’ve have a much easier time of it this time around–with a three year old running around, less apparent miracles are easier to believe in. I have faith this time, and it’s so refreshing not be crazy (though we’ll see how long the sanity lasts. In my experience, it comes in limited quantities only).

I am excited and terrified, and hoping that everyone who promised it would be easier second-time around wasn’t lying. I am really excited for Harriet to become a sister. And most of all, I just feel enormously lucky, that this decision whether or not to have a second child was one we had the freedom and good fortune to make for ourselves.

May 9, 2010

I'd rather lick a garbage truck

It was a year ago that we discovered just how immovable our child was, though I wouldn’t comprehend just how much until she was born. And now she’s eleven and a half months old, we’re planning her first birthday party. She sleeps all night almost every night, which makes me feel that wonder and amazement you’re supposed to feel when someone hands you your newborn for the first time. That this enormous blessing could be mine. (Other mothers say, “We’ll see how long it lasts” and then I want to hit them.)

I had a splendid Mother’s Day today, beginning with six and a half hours sleep (and it’s only that because I stay up far too late), then a lie-in, breakfast in bed (croissants! yoghurt! fresh fruit! tea!). Harriet was thoughtful enough to buy me Darwin’s Bastards (which I didn’t think I’d want to read when I first heard about it, but the more I read about it, the more I longed to). This afternoon, my own wonderful mom came into the city and accompanied us to afternoon tea at The Four Seasons. Scones were so fresh. Harriet was an angel, and the staff were so nice to us even though they had to vaccuum grapes and cheddar cheese off the floor after we had gone. (Interestingly, they remembered Harriet from our last tea in February. I am not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.)

Also, asparagus is in season, so all is well.

In really stange news, my maternity leave ended on Friday. In an alternate universe, I’d be going back to work on Monday, but as working full time and being a mother would cut into my tea breaks, we decided it would be best if I stayed home for a while. Also, my husband begins a new day job in two weeks, leaving his Bay Street office behind for work at a non-profit. I’m very proud of him, excited for him, and relieved that if I get to be home all day, at least he’ll be working somewhere that makes him happy.

And I do mean that, “get to be home all day”. Can I just say that staying home with a small baby sucks like nothing else in the world? I’d rather work in a glass chewing factory or lick a garbage truck. Staying home with a one-year-old, however, is pretty brilliant and gets better all the time. It’s also a great excuse to spend sunny afternoons outside in the park. Even though her naps are often fleeting, I get to curl up on the couch with a book and a cup of tea. When Harriet is awake, we hang out together. She is beginning to show her understanding of language in ways that fascinate me, we can share jokes, she is a pretty happy kid and very affectionate, and I really do like her company. So I feel lucky that we get to continue our days together, that spring is here and summer is coming, and I look forward to exercising feats of financial acrobatics so that our little family can get away with having our income cut in half. (There may have to be less afternoon tea. This is sad).

Anyway, all of this is to say that I am grateful for my good fortune (especially the asparagus) and that I’m very happy that I’m a mother today.

May 25, 2009

What life has been like lately…

Because I am a very lucky lady. And now we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.

I’ll be back when I’m ready. I’ll miss you until then.

May 19, 2009


Now reading Trauma by Patrick McGrath, because Emily Perkins mentioned him in her interview last year. I reread Perkins’ Novel About My Wife yesterday, because Tessa McWatt’s puzzler put me in the mood to go back to it, plus Perkins writes about first pregnancy as a really bewildering, terrifying and tender time in a marriage, and I wanted to revisit that. Having the time and space to read voraciously is something I’ve not experienced in a while, and I’m really enjoying it.

And on the internet too– Jessica Westhead has a story up at, “Todd and Belinda Rivers of 780 Strathcona“. Katia Grubisic in praise of difficult writing at the Descant blog. Seen Reading goes from sea to shining sea (or from Vancouver to Wolfville at least). The wondrous Meli-Mello responds to my post about Mommy blogging. And Marnie Woodrow guest-posting on Sesame Street turning 40 (plus she writes about loving Rita Celli, and who doesn’t love Rita Celli?). From The Walrus, “Water Everywhere, 1982”, which is an excerpt from Lisa Moore’s new novel February (out in June).

And we’re just back from our final midwife’s appointment, which is so strange to consider. And moreover, that in just a week, our Baby will be here. This little person we’ve known so long and haven’t even met yet– I am very excited for that moment to come. (Besides, the reusable baby wipes– I actually sewed them! We’re all ready now.) Link

May 15, 2009

On mommy blogs, maternal ambivalence, and my worst tendencies

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and motherhood lately, as I put one on the back burner and prepare for the other. I reread Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work yesterday, which is such a complicated, dark and beautiful book. And two ideas glared at me from her introduction– first, the inevitable backlash to any mother who dares to put her experiences down on paper (or blog). Cusk found herself taken aback, but reasoned the response with that “in writing about motherhood, I inevitably attracted a readership too diverse to be satisfied from a single source. The world has many more mothers than an author generally has readers.” So many people read her book because they were interested in motherhood, because of “the desire to see it reflected, to have it explained, all that love and terror and strangeness, even if it is immediately repressed by the far stronger desire for authority and consensus, for ‘normality’ to be restored: to me, the childcare manual is the emblem of the new mother’s psychic loneliness.” But more on this in a minute.

Second, Cusk writes “with the gloomy suspicion that a book about motherhood is of no real interest to anyone except other mothers.” Which I’ve been conscious of also here, as babies have become such a preoccupation of mine lately. As my personal experiences, the books I’ve read, the way I’ve been reading, and everything I’ve been doing have been so framed within the context of our baby’s imminent arrival. Though Pickle Me This has never been a particularly serious literary blog, it’s certainly become even less so lately. I’m not saying my hard-hitting criticisms of picture books aren’t worth noting, but there are some readers, I’m sure, who are less than enthralled. And I really don’t want to alienate any of my five readers.

Here’s the thing: I have read mommy blogs. (Note, I didn’t say “I read (present tense) mommy blogs”. But now I’m getting all Brian Mulroney pedantic.) The term mommy blog is a slur, as is “chick lit”, neither “genre” (let’s say) helping itself by mainly comprising compost. Stephany Aulenback recently remarked on the ubiquity of parents chronicling their children’s lives online: “I think when our children are grown up, they’re going to have different notions of “public” than we do now.”

My derision of women writing about their domestic lives (“compost”) sits uncomfortably with me, because it’s so easy to deride women’s domestic lives– everybody does it. By existing within the domestic sphere, these stories really serve to undermine themselves, which certainly bothers me when it comes to fiction. When with aesthetics as an excuse, fiction about women’s lives is so often deemed less than literary, as craft is less than art, etc.

The problem I have with mommy blogs, however, is that I watch them in the same way I’d watch a train wreck– even the incredibly well-written ones. I don’t necessarily admire these women’s “honesty” and how they “put themselves out there”, but sometimes I really do have to tear my eyes away. Their deliberate provocations are often horrifying, my knee-jerk response is catty, and I’m not the only one. As Cusk says, “The world has many more mothers…”, each one with her own opinions, and then fights break out in the comments section, commenters accusing other bloggers’ “followers” of being sheep, and then baa-ing themselves. Controversial topics include diapers, breastfeeding, reproductive rights, between working moms who work at home or out, and these are controversial topics, but it’s all handled a bit grade five. No one ever shows up to have their minds changed or expanded. My problem with these blogs is less with the blogs themselves, but how they feed on my worst tendencies.

(Though I also hate the smugness. The current trend is to embrace your inner bad-mom, and let her all hang out, but at the root of this is the sense that badness is in fact best. That anyone embracing domesticity has something up her ass, that liberation lies in the anti-domestic after all, but I’m really not so sure. I think a lot of these people might be misled. For all they’re anti-mom, they not beyond-mom, and they certainly define themselves in relation to their [albeit messy] homes. And this is a bit dangerous, can all go very wrong– I read one blog by a defiantly proud bad mom, and then her baby died.)

Which is not to say that maternal ambivalence, the experience of which these women are trying to project, is not real, or a subject deeply worth pursuing. It’s just not very often expressed in a particularly thoughtful way within these forums. Whereas I’ve found the idea explored well elsewhere, in the experiences of women artists in particular. Perhaps because these women have a medium with which to convey their experiences, because they are well-accustomed to expressing themselves. Because it’s a complicated issue requiring a high level of articulateness. We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Divided Heart, Who Does She Think She Is, Cusk’s A Life’s Work, Anne Enright’s Making Babies, and I was recently introduced to Marita Dachsel’s Motherhood and Writing Interviews (by writer Laisha Rosnau, who is the subject of one).

So somehow I find myself saying that inarticulate people have no business writing about their lives. Hmmm. (Or perhaps that they should, but I just shouldn’t read them because I’m not very nice). For your own interest, please do check in in about two weeks times to see how articulate I’ve become with a newborn, and then again six months later when my house is a mess and I’m smashing my head against the wall and the stove is on fire. When I’m just as bad a mom as any of them, reality sunk in. Don’t think I’m not aware of this, but it’s still scary to consider.

But it’s not simply black and white, good mom/bad mom and I appreciate the writing best that reflects this. How Rachel Power (author of The Divided Heart) wrote recently: “maternal ambivalence is not a state of being torn between love and hate for our children (meaning not them so much as what they’ve done to our lives) — but is a state entirely borne out of love. It is precisely this love for my children, being so excruciating, that I can feel has ruined me. This acute tenderness and sense of responsibility is something us mothers are never free of, and almost impossible to imagine until you’re in it.”

May 13, 2009

How the future's done

Lyrics from the baby’s current favourite song (or at least song that brings on the most squirms) suggests to me that he/she will fit in fine around here: “I got a man to stick it out/ And make a home from a rented house/ And we’ll collect the moments one by one/ I guess that’s how the future’s done.”

May 10, 2009

The Immovable Baby

Though we love our own mothers dearly, continental drift and late-pregnancy laziness meant they were sorely neglected today as Stuart and I enjoyed Afternoon Tea together, a Mother’s Day treat for me though I’m not quite a mother yet. I did earn a bit of mother cred yesterday, however, when a doctor spent twenty minutes or so inflicting great pain upon my abdomen in an attempt to get our determinedly sideways baby to turn. (All reports say I was very brave! and then after I got Dairy Queen). Baby didn’t budge, however, and I’ve got to respect that. And now, after about six weeks of trying to get Baby to move through a variety of means, I’m giving up. I was very much committed to having a natural birth, but this baby is very naturally sideways, and I’m just pleased it has a means to still get here safely. I could spend the next two weeks resorting to further measures, but I don’t think they’d work, and I’m also really tired. I am finished work now, and my sanity will be much more assured if I can spend this time relaxing, planting flowers in my garden, reading novels, writing while I still can, preparing food for the freezer, stocking the pantry, and taking plenty of naps. (This will also give me time to sew reusable baby wipes, which I have somehow been possessed to accomplish, even though I don’t know how to sew. It is unfortunate my “nesting” instinct has taken on such inconvenient forms.)

And who knows, Baby might turn on its own anyway? But short of that, and providing Baby doesn’t decide to come earlier, we are excited to know we will meet the wee one on the morning of May 26th. I’m not looking forward to a cesarean, which certainly wasn’t what I’d envisaged, and in fact I am very scared and upset by the idea of a long recovery when I’ll need my strength more than ever. But so many others have done it fine, we have a lot of support, and I am very fortunate that a) I’ve now met the surgeon and I love him and b) my midwives will be there to take care of the baby and me, and provide after-care (I love them too).

From our prenatal class manual: “Cesarean mothers… are courageous women who are willing to be cut apart for the lives of their infants. Perhaps it is time to congratulate yourself for your strength and courage.”

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