Friday, May 30, 2008

Name Constraints

This whole name-a-kid-for-the-rest-of-his-life thing is tricky. I wrote a little bit about our quest to pick a name while avoiding family taboos here. Basically, we are working under a number of naming constraints (some religious, some cultural, some self-imposed, ...). They include:

1. In traditional Jewish custom, you name children with either a first name or a middle name (or both) that honors a dead relative. When I say "honors," I mean that the name typically starts with the same first initial as the person you're honoring. So, if you're honoring someone named Shlomo, you don't need to name your helpless infant Shlomo, but you would typically choose a name starting with "S." And when I say "dead," I mean that the person you're honoring really does need to have passed away, or else it's really rude (kinda like wishing they were already dead). In our case, we're planning to honor my maternal grandmother.

2. It is also traditional in Jewish culture that you not pick a name that anyone in your family already has, which is also considered rude, not to mention bad luck. So, if poor dead Shlomo was extremely beloved, leading to a run of cousins named Steve, Saul, Sadie, Simon, and Samantha, you have to find something new that hasn't been used yet. In our case, the letter of the alphabet that we're working with is great for girls names, but a bit lacking in good boy options, hence the conflict with my brother, who is trying to honor the same grandmother. We're also limited by the fact that a whole lot of our cousins had children before us, so the limited number of boy names for this particular letter has already been diminished some.

3. In Japanese-American tradition, children born in the U.S. are given good ole American first names, and Japanese middle names. The middle name typically honors a relative. Here, "honors" means "given the exact same name" -- none of this single-letter stuff. There's usually no restriction on who is honored, but see constraint (1) above. This combination of constraints is causing us some problems because the people we would normally like to honor (eg, S's paternal grandfather) was already honored, while he was still alive, by giving his name to be S's middle name, which would then violate constraint (2). So, we need to find someone to honor who nobody else wanted to honor until now. Tricky.

4. A lot of Japanese names are a bit awkward for English speakers to pronounce. Note here that "English speakers" includes S and most of his family, since the family has been in the U.S. for several generations and none of them actually speak more than a few words of Japanese. So, we're trying to find an ancestral Japanese name that is also fairly short. (For example, if it were a girl, we'd be thinking something like Yoko, but without the breaking-up-the-band connotations.)

5. The letter that we need to use for constraint (1) doesn't exist in Japanese. So, it's impossible to fulfill (1) and (3) with the same name. Thus, constraint (1) will need to be the first name, leaving (3) to fill the middle name.

6. Our last name is a bit unusual -- see constraint (4) on pronouncing Japanese names in English, and then add that the last name is unusual even in Japan. We've been calling our in-utero baby Barack mainly because our last name more or less rhymes with Obama, and we're fans of puns. We're not truly going to saddle the kid with a name in common with a presidential candidate, regardless of party affiliations, but the point here is that not very many names "go" with our last name.

7. Another implication of us being Jewish: we'd prefer to pick a Jewish-sounding first name, particularly since the middle name and last name are obviously Japanese. It doesn't necessarily have to be Hebrew, but names that sound too "waspy" or New Testament are out. No offense here, because I do like a lot of waspy names, but we just won't be going that direction. The ironic thing here is that Barack is actually a good Israeli name....

8. Regardless of how we meet constraint (7), we will need to pick a Hebrew name as well, for use on religious occasions. Usually, the Hebrew name sounds something like the English name. In our case, we will also need a Hebrew middle name that sounds something like the Japanese middle name. And let me tell you -- not a lot of shared linguistic roots between Hebrew and Japanese.

9. The final constraints are more personal preference. We don't want a name that is too common, but we also don't want to stick the kid with something too unusual. He's going to stand out enough being both Japanese and Jewish (an unusual combination that S has been dealing with for quite some time, but only as an adult). I'd also like a name that has nickname possibilities. I've always been Nicky -- it's not short for Nicole, nobody has ever called me Nick, and I was always a little sad that I didn't have a pet name. Same with S. So I'd like to find something that has a cute "short" form that Barack can choose to use or abandon later in life.

The search continues....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Another Tuesday, another week to tick off the pregnancy counter. I'm now at 25 weeks (nice round number) and I'm told that the baby is the size of a rutabaga. Don't know about you, but this is another one of those totally unhelpful comparisons, since I couldn't identify a rutabaga if I ran into one on the street.

A few "milestones" this week: first, we bought our first baby gear -- finally placed an order for a crib. I was told it would take 60-90 days to come in, which at first seemed great, until I realized that 90 days would actually be cutting it a bit close. I'm hoping for closer to 60, to give poor S some time to puzzle over the assembly instructions before he's too sleep deprived.

Second, I went up another bra size. I actually had to ask someone what size came next. I'm still kind of in shock about this one. Yikes.

Third, some non-baby news. I've started to gather signatures to finalize my doctoral thesis committee. The goal is to have my committee squared away and a potential workable thesis timetable agreed upon before my maternity leave.

And fourth, tying the baby and non-baby news together: I was yet again mistaken for a secretary. Several factors are working against me here. (1) My field is 90% male, so yes, if you run into a woman, she is more likely to be a secretary than a scientist. (2) There are only ~4 female professors in my department, so everybody knows who they are. That leaves students, of which I am (I think) the oldest female student. (Most PhD students are 5-10 years younger than me.) So, I look older than the students, but they know I'm not a professor.... (3) It's perhaps funny for me to say this while complaining about being stereotyped, but ... most of the female students match your typical "nerd" image. A bit unkempt. Uncombed hair. A little greasy. Pale skin. Most of them aren't going on a whole lot of dates (almost every female student I know is single). So the thought of one of them being pregnant, meaning that they've actually had sex recently? Not so likely. So yes, you run into an unknown thirtysomething pregnant woman walking through the halls, the odds are that she's a secretary. Still -- please stop asking me for photocopies and coffee. The whole experience has also given me an extra dollop of respect for secretaries because wow -- I thought grad students got very little respect, but when guys think I'm a secretary, they're downright RUDE.

Finally, on the topic of sex before pregnancy: when I told one of my cousins that I was pregnant, she told me that she hated announcing her pregnancy, because she felt like it was equivalent to walking up to coworkers / managers / acquaintances and saying "Guess what! I had unprotected sex a few months ago!" I thought this was odd, but now, every time someone on the street looks at my baby bump, I can't help but feel like I'm wearing a giant sign, Scarlet Letter style. My husband points out that, you know, I'm married, but I really don't think that's the point.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Things I Didn't Know about Being Pregnant

I didn't know that, eventually, you feel kicks a lot of the time. I thought that feeling kicks was like a once-a-day thing, if that. On TV, they always show a women exclaim and touch her belly, and everyone comes over to feel it, like it was something unusual. I didn't realize that I would feel little kicks constantly. I like it; it's comforting. (But, maybe ask me again once the kicks get hard enough to bruise.)

I didn't know that the exhaustion would be so constant. I always assumed pregnant women were tired just from carrying around extra weight, but I haven't really gained much weight yet, so that's not really the cause. It's more the hormones and the lack of sleep and the constant daydreaming interspersed with intense stress that I'm not getting enough things done. The exhaustion is much deeper than just from physical exertion.

I didn't realize that there were so many physical changes, at the same time. This one is odd, because as I tick off the various changes (thicker hair, faster-growing nails, appetite changes, swollen feet and ankles, etc., etc., etc.) it occurs to me that, individually, I knew that these were all side effects of pregnancy. But I never really contemplated them all at the same time, in total. And I certainly didn't think about how they interact with each other. Longer nails sound cool, and itchy skin sounds extremely manageable, but when you put them together, I find myself accidentally gouging myself with my ridiculous nails when I absentmindedly scratch. Awkward physical movements sound amusing on their own, and swollen ankles and feet sound mildly annoying, but when you put them together, you realize that you when you can't bend in half to easily to massage those ankles, they hurt a lot more.

I didn't realize how often other people would want to ask me about the baby. I used to watch other pregnant women who were constantly talking about their pregnancies, and I'd think, that's not going to be me. But a lot of it is out of my control, because it seems to be the only thing that other people want to talk about. It's nice that people care, but holy cow, I am willing to talk about other things! That may make some of you laugh, because I know that this blog is entirely on-topic, but that was kind of its purpose. Believe me, in real life, I'd much rather be spending my time discussing my research, or the Red Sox, or the unending Democratic primary, or the ridiculously stupid "gas tax holiday," or how much I can't wait to see the new Indiana Jones movie. Because truly, once I've said, "Yes, feeling kicks. It's a boy! I'm tired but feeling pretty good. Due in September. Yep, we're excited. Nope, haven't bought stuff for the nursery yet" I'm kind of out of things to say, at least to most people. My advisor doesn't need to know the kind of pregnancy details that I write here. In fact, a lot of the purpose of this blog is so that I can get that stuff off my chest without inflicting it on inappropriate audiences. (One of my fellow students asked me yesterday when babies start swallowing and peeing, and when I said that the baby was doing both those things already, in the amniotic fluid, right now, it grossed everybody out. Probably didn't need to be discussing those details with that particular crowd.)

Perhaps the biggest thing that I didn't realize about being pregnant is also the biggest surprise to me, particularly given my reluctance to discuss the pregnancy out loud. I didn't realize that I would be constantly aware that I'm pregnant. I though that while I was at work, for instance, I could focus on work and basically ignore the fact that I'm pregnant. I thought that I could finish everything I wanted to do around the house (shopping for supplies, setting up a nursery) over a few short weeks, and then spend my weekends much as I used to. It didn't occur to me that I would be constantly reminded of the pregnancy. At work, I'm daydreaming about the baby, and the nursery, and making checklists and plans. On weekeneds, I want to be working on getting the house ready, and doing endless research into what we need to buy. Every time I'm hungry, I run through lists of what I can or should be eating, given my "delicate condition." Even when I'm sitting quietly somewhere, working or reading or watching TV, those little kicks (and the annoyingly swollen ankles) keep the pregnancy in the front of my mind.

Just to be clear: I think that the all-consuming nature of it is more good than bad. Thinking about the pregnancy and little Barack makes me extremely happy, even when the thing that made me think about it was my swollen ankles or my need to pass on the sushi. I just never realized, two years ago, or even 6 months ago, that this is what pregnancy would be like for me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ear of Corn

Ah, 24 weeks, the beginning of that all-so-important possibly-viable stage. Amazing. I'm feeling Barack kick even more, and the other night I could feel it with my hand on my belly for the first time (though of course he stopped as soon as S put his hand there). I also think that I felt baby hiccups for the first time yesterday (I can't be sure, but it felt like regular little thumps for several minutes, which I hear is what they're like).

Nesting is kicking more into high gear -- we've done a ton of work, and S did several tasks involving heavy lifting and moving while I was out of town last weekend. Now that there's more room in the nursery, I plan to order the crib and changing table this weekend. And my cousin dropped off a huge collection of little boy clothing and infant gear (eg, bouncy seat) that her boys have outgrown, so I'm looking forward to sorting through that. Adding to the nesting: the fact that we have an actual bird nest on our front porch (a purple finch). Nothing quite like carrying armloads of stuff out of the future nursery just to see birds flying back and forth with branches, doing (apparently) much the same thing. Ah, spring is in the air!

This past weekend, I was out of town at a mini-reunion with several of my high school friends. Five of us flew in from all over the country (2 coming from the West Coast, 2 from the Midwest, and 1 East Coast). We hadn't all been in the same place together for several years. We shared a suite at a resort hotel on the beach, and the weekend was filled entirely with beach, pool lounging, music, and restaurants. Two of these friends have small children, two of us are in graduate school, and all 5 of us work, so I'm still kind of amazed that we pulled off the logistics of everyone being able to take a long weekend off at the same time. We had a fabulous time, catching up on each other's lives, providing support, reminiscing about high school (and earlier -- one of these friends I've known since 3rd grade). Just the relaxing weekend that I needed! Also, a bizarre coincidence: when I told my obstetrician about the trip at my last appointment, he informed me that the hotel where we were staying was also the site of his high school senior prom.

My flight back home Sunday night confirmed for me that this was my last airplane trip until after I give birth. Even though I'm supposed to be okay to fly for a few more weeks, Barack clearly did not enjoy the experience. When we started our final descent, as soon as I felt the pressure change (eg, my ears popped) he immediately started squirming like I've never felt before. The increased activity continued for several hours after we landed. I can just imagine: he's got some tight quarters to begin with, so having them squeezed by outside pressure couldn't have been very pleasant. So, no more flights for me.

Update on names: thanks for the suggestions of just using the name anyway, even if it matches the middle name that my brother M wants to use. Sadly, that approach really won't work for us. We're Jewish, and Jewish culture is very, very, very opposed to choosing names in common with living relatives (it's considered rude and bad luck for both the baby and the person who first had the name). M gave his daughter the same middle name as our second cousin's wife's name (yes, that's right, same name as our father's mother's sister's daughter's son's wife, if you can follow that reasoning in a family tree) and it caused quite the family uproar. The good news is that M is starting to soften his position, and has thrown a few other names back into consideration. M and his wife seem to be changing opinions on names so frequently that we figure if we just wait them out, they'll probably settle on something different. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Today was another doctor's appointment, to mark 23 weeks, and everything continues to be fine (thank goodness!). No protein or sugar in my urine, totally normal amount of weight gain, blood pressure even lower than last time but still good (better too low than too high). Dr. M. asked how the migraines are going, and it occurred to me that I haven't had one in more than a week. Woo hoo! And I got some tips on bringing down the swelling in my ankles (besides the obvious of avoiding high-sodium Chinese food -- honestly, what was I thinking?!?). I have one more set of bloodwork to do sometime in the next few weeks, including another go at the glucose screening (I passed one in week 8, but it's time to make sure nothing's changed) which is the one thing I'm not looking forward to. Actually, the screening wasn't so bad; what I'm dreading is the results, because the odds are really not in my favor (family history of diabetes, overweight pre-pregnancy, cravings for ice cream, ... you do the math).

I also want to bring you up-to-date on our naming "saga." About a month ago, when we found out Barack's sex, S and I finally got around to discussing names. We had a lot of (self-imposed) restrictions, which made the task both non-trivial and, in some ways, easier. When you have a lot of constraints, it can be hard to find a name that fits all the requirements, but it also means you can rule out a lot of things right away. I thought that it would take a long time, but as it turns out, we hit upon a first name pretty quickly that we both love. The name is in honor of my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago, it's a cultural name from my heritage, it's a well-known name but not very common (definitely out of the top 100), it lends itself to a great nickname that we also love, and it actually goes well with our hard-to-fit last name. And, we're not too worried about finding a middle name that goes with it. (The plan there is to pick something from S's heritage, in honor of one of his grandparents.)

Even after finding the name, we kept looking, but nothing we've come across comes close to how much we love this name. So, I should have seen this coming, but somehow, I didn't: my brother and sister-in-law, M and A, who are due with their third child 10 weeks before us, chose the exact same name, as a middle name for their baby, if they have a boy. M has been keeping me up-to-date on their name picks for several months, so that we'd know to avoid even considering anything that they chose. Their list started out rather long, and they've been winnowing it down little by little, but they've never added anything to it. Until now -- this name just suddenly came out of the blue, bam!, as their definite middle name. I've tried every argument I can think of to try to convince them to let us have it (first and foremost: we want it for a FIRST name, which is both harder to find and more important than a middle name, so we should get precedence) but so far, M is digging in his heels. And there's nothing I can do about it, since he will most likely be naming his kid first.

S and I are both pretty upset about the whole thing. I've cried more in the past week than any other point in my pregnancy, mostly for this irrational but still upsetting reason: if it hadn't taken us so long to get pregnant, we'd be due first, and could pick any name we wanted. Score another point for our infertility struggle. With the pregnancy progressing so perfectly, and the chance of bringing home a real live baby increasing day by day, I thought that I had gotten past the emotional scars of dealing with infertility. Turns out, not so much.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Domestic Abuse?

I've learned another lesson. If you're getting kicked by your in-utero child in public, and you're with someone who somehow doesn't know that you're pregnant but sees you rubbing your stomach, and he asks with some concern if you're feeling okay, and you answer, "Yeah, I'm just not used to getting kicked in the gut," there are all sorts of interpretations other than the one involving a fetus. In this case, it was a coworker who somehow missed the announcement (and rather cluelessly hadn't noticed the maternity clothes). He figured it out eventually, but only after some sputtering and obvious internal debate on offering help vs. not getting involved. It's a little mean, perhaps, but I never realized that messing with people would be this much fun.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Spaghetti Squash

Holy cow, I've reached the winter squash stage! Bananas and carrots seemed kinda substantial, but here at 22 weeks, we're talking hefty -- not even a wimpy summer squash, like a zucchini or something. We're up to spaghetti squash. That's really something.

At the moment, my little spaghetti squash is busy kicking the living daylights out of my belly button, and it's clear that he's got some muscle now. After weeks of having no appetite, I've spent the last 4 days constantly ravenously hungry, corresponding (I believe) to Barack's latest growth spurt. Over these 4 days, my uterus has noticeably expanded upwards, my stomach has noticeably been pushed outwards, and my in-utero son has begun kicking me with such regularity and ferocity that he's actually keeping me up at night. (But sadly, S still hasn't been able to feel him. So a few weeks from now, I may regret using "ferocious" to describe these kicks, because I'll have to hunt for something even bigger and grander to describe the harder kicks yet to come.)

Progress on the nursery this week: the little old bookshelf that was lovingly refinished and painted a nice glossy white by S's father and my grandfather a few weeks ago was moved into the nursery and stocked with picture books and stuffed animals (and the complete set of Harry Potter books -- sure, they're a bit advanced for a 22-week-old fetus, but it's good for the kid to strive for something). One (out of four) of the giant 7-foot deathtrap-in-an-earthquake bookshelves was finally empty enough to move out to the garage. (Note to self: don't volunteer to help S move the other three. I was fine helping to carry it the first several feet, but going down a few stairs and lowering it to the ground was a huge mistake. The "don't lift heavy things" prohibition is apparently really truly for my own good.) And we bought a glider, which was delivered today and is waiting patiently in the empty space left by the bookshelf for S to come home to help me to assemble it. (See previous note about me not lifting heavy things.)

This weekend, my friend C (who is due the day before I am) organized a lunch at her house for new mothers. The idea was that C and I could ask lots of questions and gather hard-earned wisdom from the other women. Picture the scene: 2 tired pregnant women, 4 tired lactating women, 4 infants ranging in age from 8 months to 18 months, and 1 hyper puppy. Total chaos. The babies and puppy had a grand old time, especially once the babies learned that throwing food to the puppy was enormous fun, and even more so when the puppy discovered that his tongue could reach a good portion of the high chair trays. C and I were able to get very little useful information. (Example: what stroller do you really like? Each of the 4 mothers admitted to owning 4 strollers each, none of which were the same, for a total of 16 different strollers among them. And from what we can tell, none of them particularly liked any of them.) The rest of the luncheon turned into a bitching session for the mothers, as they complained about everything they hated about labor and, most notably, breast feeding. I'm sure they were being very honest, but wow, hardly inspiring.

After all the mothers left to get the kiddies to long-overdue naps, I stuck around to help C clean up, and we talked about how, at this stage, we really didn't need to hear about all the breast feeding problems. Oh well. Ultimately, the big lesson of the day: everybody has different opinions about everything, and ultimately, you pick something, go with it, and don't look back. As frustrating as the afternoon was, it's kind of liberating to know that even if I spent the months doing research that each of the other mothers did, the decisions still end up pretty random. It really takes some of the pressure off.