Sunday, June 29, 2008

Brand New Niece!

My brother and sister-in-law, M and A, had their baby yesterday -- a little girl. Last fall, after trying to conceive for more than 2 years, as S and I were newly navigating infertility waters and quietly undergoing all the various tests, M called to tell me that he and A had decided their lives were not complete with only 2 happy children, and were going off birth control that month to try to conceive #3. Three weeks later, as we were mourning yet another failed cycle, M called back to announce that A was pregnant. (Yes, that's right -- child #1 and child #3 were both conceived during their first month trying; child #2 was the frustrating one -- she took them two cycles.) At the time, I was barely able to congratulate them without bursting into tears. It became easier once I got pregnant, even easier as my pregnancy has progressed so uneventfully.

So, I am happy to report that I am now, without any conflicting emotions at all, 100% happy for them. Surprised that it was a little girl (my money was on boy) but happy nonetheless. Not the least because them having a little girl means that they can't steal the name that S and I picked out for baby Barack, which M has been threatening to do for the last several months. And, true to form, the labor went as smoothly for them as the conception had gone. A's water broke at midnight, the baby was born at 7am, no interventions required, weighing 7 ounces and change. All just one day before the official due date, so right on time. Neat and tidy. The only "sad" part is that, since they live several thousand miles away, we won't be able to visit and meet the new addition until after I give birth. The plan, at the moment, is for everyone (me and S and Barack, and M and A and all 3 of their kids) to all visit my parents around Chanukah for a week-long visit to acquaint all the cousins, and introduce the babies to the extended family. (For M and A et. al, that will be a 7-hour drive with 3 kids; for me and S, a 2-legged flight with a 3-month old -- who do you pity more?)

In other news: for the past week, I've been feeling increasingly short of breath, which is having the unfortunate psychological side effect of making me feel constantly anxious. I had been blaming it on Barack pushing upwards and compressing my lungs, but couldn't explain why it had suddenly gotten so much worse. As I stood outside gasping for air after a fairly short walk, I noticed that S wasn't doing much better, despite being in excellent health. When I asked him what was wrong, he looked at me like I was completely nuts and pointed to the sky.

Remember how I mentioned that we've had no rain and intensely high heat for the past few weeks? I forgot to mention the huge numbers of wild fires that resulted from that combination. None of them are too out of control, as these things go, and none are threatening any homes, so they're not really making news. But, they are fairly close to us, surrounding us on several sides. The result is incredibly bad air quality for the last week. As in, the sky has been perpetually grayish-yellow. The mountains usually visible from the street have quietly disappeared in the haze. The air has an odd pungent smell. The sunsets glow an unnatural orange. And just about everyone, pregnant or not, has been having difficulty breathing normally, because of all the particles in the air.

The odd part, of course, is how I failed to put together my shortness of breath and chest-tightening anxiety with the fact that the air was noticeably visible and smelly. Apparently, I'm just that stupid. Now that I've been avoiding doing much outside, and using the re-circ feature when in my car, I'm starting to feel better. And as the fires are extinguished one by one, the air quality is slowly improving. I'm also feeling sorry for the poor saps who live in cities like LA that have bad air quality all the time. Seriously -- I don't know how they do it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Butternut Squash

Things are great here at 29 weeks. S is home safe and sound, in time so that we could celebrate our 5-year wedding anniversary on Sunday with a nice dinner and a stay in a fancy hotel. Most importantly, the hotel had air conditioning, so I was able to escape the heat for a bit. (The high here on Friday was 99 degrees. Our house doesn't have air conditioning, because it never gets that hot here. At 1am, as I was still unable to sleep, the temperature inside the house was still above 90. I can barely describe how much it sucked.) The weather has now returned to normal (temps in the high 60s to low 70s, right where I like them). Barack is kicking up a storm, but isn't making me quite as seasick as he was last week. While in Israel, S bought a mezuzah for the baby's room, as requested, along with a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle) in Hebrew, which is very cute. Life is good.

My main update for this week isn't so much a change in me as it is a change in everyone around me. (Okay, maybe it's a little about me, too, but I'd prefer to blame everyone else.) During the second trimester, as we were announcing the pregnancy to friends and family, everyone was excited and friendly. Yes, some people offered us advice, but it was mainly of the "hey, this worked for me, if you want to try it" variety. (Cures for morning sickness, lotions that helped with itchy skin, books that were particularly helpful, that sort of thing.) Nothing too overbearing, nothing too obnoxious, nothing that I didn't mind ignoring if it didn't sound right for me. Everything was very upbeat and well intentioned.

Lately, though, the comments and advice have taken a decidedly darker turn. Instead of happy suggestions of things I might like to try, everyone seems to be focused on dire warnings of horrible things that might happen. I'm a pretty independent person, fairly level-headed, so I don't really believe half of what people are saying, and I seriously doubt the degree of doom being predicted if I don't listen to the advice, but I have been more hormonally emotional lately, so I have to admit: it's starting to get to me. A few things of late:

1. A looooong tirade from J. about the horrors of circumcision, and how much she absolutely hated doing post-circumcision care, and how the entire circumcision experience was the most horrific thing she's ever had to do. Keep in mind here a few things: (a) we're Jewish, we're going to have a bris, so this is a done deal for us. Statements about the horror of it all are absolutely not going to change our minds, it's only going to add anxiety about the event itself. Also (b) J. herself (also Jewish) has not one but TWO sons. Both are circumcised. So, even experiencing the "horror" for the first one didn't actually stop her from having a bris for the second one, and she doesn't actually expect it to stop us, either. So the whole point of the tirade, I think, was just to make me dread it. Thanks.

2. A discussion with my boss about maternity leave somehow morphed into a speech about exactly how excruciatingly painful each of her labors was. In graphic detail. The milder parts of the speech included the phrase "worst pain imaginable" several times. It's not like "labor is painful" is headline news or anything, but do you really need to beat me over the head with it? At work?

3. An innocent comment to L. over dinner about how we've pretty much decided on a pediatrician left me with almost an hour of warnings about the horrible things that can happen if we choose a bad one. I could sum up what I took away from the discussion with one sentence: don't choose a grossly incompetent pediatrician. What L. clearly wanted me to take away from the discussion was: if you don't choose the absolute best possible pediatrician, based on criteria that was important to L. and therefore should be of utmost importance to everyone, and which would clearly lead me to pick the exact same pediatrician that L. chose... our baby might die. Variations on exactly how the baby could die were sprinkled throughout the discussion, with an emphasis on how I, personally, am in a position to prevent it, if I only choose the correct doctor.

4. I ran into M, a former coworker who is now a respected professor at an excellent university. He congratulated me on my pregnancy. Then he went into detail about how his first child was born while he was in grad school finishing his PhD, and the baby completely derailed all progress on his research for 2 years, until his wife quit her job to stay home full-time with the child, thus allowing M. to ignore his family for a while to buckle down and finish his dissertation. He assured me several times that, if my husband was going to keep his job, he could all but promise me that I would never graduate. Ever. As I tried to explain my plan for balancing family and school, he kept shaking his head and calling me naive.

I have lots more examples, but this last one sums up why they're starting to get to me: it is actually possible that all these people are right, and I'm just being naive. Maybe things really are going to suck for a while, and maybe a lot of that will end up being my fault because I make crappy decisions. As much as I don't think they will; as much as I believe that it's possible to find a happy balance; to make an occasional sub-optimal decision without it ruining anyone's life; to make a mistake and then be able to move on from it... the overall message seems to be this: I only believe that now because I'm naive. (Of course I'm naive -- every first-time parent, by definition, has never done this before.)

It's just a lot easier to smile, and to look forward to the next several months, and to maintain my optimism, when everyone around me isn't trying to convince me of something else.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Household Chores

I recently read an odd article in the New York Times (linked here) about couples who work really really hard to divide all housework and parenting duties exactly in half. The article explains that, while a majority of Americans agree theoretically to the concept of equal sharing of household responsibilities, the reality is that almost no one actually splits things that way. Study after study shows that, in households where both husband and wife have jobs outside of the home, the woman does approximately twice as much work around the house as the man does. It's been that way for decades, and the ratios haven't budged at all, feminism be damned. The article then describes the theory of "equally shared parenting," where a couple designs a careful regimen of responsibilities, designed to be exactly equal, to guarantee an even split. I found the whole thing odd because it seemed so formal. These people carefully track everything they do, to make sure that perfect equality is reached. It felt like listening to a bunch of 6-year-olds dividing things up. Bizarre.

But now I'm thinking, maybe I dismissed such a formal arrangement because, relative to your average stuck-with-all-the-housework American wife, I'm rather spoiled. S and I have naturally split things fairly evenly, without the need for charts and timers. Some of our splits are gender-stereotyped (I cook; he takes out the trash) but not all of them (I mow the lawn; he scrubs toilets). Most of them just play off our likes and our strengths (I pay all the bills, because arithmetic soothes me -- I'm weird that way. He does all the ironing because it soothes him -- he's weird, too). Basically, it comes down to this: S is an awesome husband. He does more work around the house than any other husband I know. We complement each other well -- the tasks that I hate tend to be the ones that he likes doing, and vice versa.

Last fall, when S had knee surgery and was laid up for several weeks, I took over most of his usual tasks, even though at the time, I was undergoing fertility treatments and was hardly in top shape myself. (Did I mention how much last September and October, in particular, really sucked?) Even though it was hardly his fault (nobody plans to seriously tear their ACL), I think he still felt a bit guilty about dumping everything on me at the worst possible time. So, once I was pregnant, he made up for it. I was exhausted and nauseous, and he totally stepped up, took all of his tasks back, as well as many of mine. And I was happy to let him do it, because holy cow I was tired.

So, I've been pregnant now for more than 6 months. And it didn't occur to me until just this past week, but he's been doing just about everything that entire time. After the first trimester, when I wasn't quite as tired and I wasn't really sick and I was feeling pretty darn close to normal, a good wife would have taken back her share of the housework. But me? I blithely let him keep doing it. And he never complained.

I only noticed it this past week because S has been gone for ~10 days, and I looked around the house and realized that almost nothing was getting done, because he wasn't here doing it. That's not to say that I've been doing nothing for 6 months. Just not nearly as much as I used to, without really even realizing it. Every once in a while I would offer to do something, and S's stock reply was, "Don't worry about it -- you're busy gestating."

So, while S has been gone, I've continued to do the things I normally do (grocery shopping, for instance, and cooking. I'm certainly very careful that I don't starve, I guess). The jobs that S has always done have been completely neglected (for instance, laundry -- for years, S has done all of our laundry, to the point that I never even think about it until yesterday, when I realized that I was out of clean underwear). But even the things that I normally do, but haven't done lately, haven't been done for more than a week. For instance, six months ago, S quietly and efficiently took over watering all of our plants, which I hadn't noticed until yesterday, when I suddenly saw the completely pathetic state of my favorite peace lily, not to mention several sadly drooping philodendron. Oops. Doesn't say much for my nurturing instincts, eh?

Bottom line: having no husband for two weeks has made me so much more appreciative of how much I rely on him as we run our household together. And he needs to come home soon and take over watering the plants again, because apparently, there are some things that I just suck at right now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chinese Cabbage

Third trimester! Woo hoo! That's right, I've hit 28 weeks. Kind of in shock about that. Over the last week or two, this kid has grown downright violent. Several times a day, he gets into this groove where my whole abdomen is quaking with movement. It is kind of cool, but it's also starting to make me feel a bit ill. And my heartburn returned yesterday, after kindly taking several weeks off, and the heartburn really doesn't mix well with the kicking.

It's been an odd week. S is still in Israel, and having a grand time. He's been good about calling me almost every day, though our conversations tend to be only 2-3 minutes long, because using his cell phone internationally is very expensive. Also, because of the time difference, it's usually very late at night for him when he calls, so he's exhausted. So, that's ~20 minutes total that we've spoken in the past week. Is it odd that, in that very limited amount of time, he's mentioned not once but twice that it might be cool to move to Israel? Not that it wouldn't be kind of neat to work in Haifa for a while.... It's just, you know, the timing is probably a little off.....

Our power went out yesterday morning, and stayed out for the entire day. I had to throw out almost everything in the fridge. It doesn't even make sense that it went out -- I don't live in one of the areas of the country that's been hit by storms and flooding lately. Rather, I live in one of the areas that was 90+ degrees for the past week, with no rain in weeks. It's normally very mild here, rarely gets that hot, so we don't have air conditioning. I hate heat that high under normal conditions; experiencing it while pregnant sucked.

The earliest I've fallen asleep all week is 2:30am.

The class I was TAing is finally officially over. I am much relieved. I can now turn my full focus back to my own research, at least for a couple of weeks. And by "full focus," I mean, "as much focus as I can muster, given the kicking and the debilitating lack of sleep."

My nesting instinct seems to occur in odd hyper-focused obsessive bursts. I'll get a particular topic in mind, and then I'll work on just that one thing to a ridiculous extent, neglecting almost everything else. For a while, it was cleaning off the bookshelves that needed to be moved out of the nursery. Then it was researching car seats. The past two days, it's been music. While fiddling with the electronic controls on a bouncy seat, I discovered that I have no patience for the tinny electronic music that seems to accompany all infant gear (swings, toys, mobiles, etc.). It's really annoying. And obnoxiously repetitive. So the obvious question came to mind: why do I have to listen to it? I understand that music can be an important brain development tool for infants. I'm not questioning the importance of exposing a child to music. Rather, I'm questioning the need to expose my child to really BAD music. My mother-in-law has acquired a huge collection of CDs with perfectly pleasant and appropriate music (lullabies for soothing times, nursery rhymes and kid jingles for play times, etc.). I'm leaning towards buying baby Barack his first iPod, loading it with non-insanity-inducing children's music, hooking it up to a home speaker system, and calling it a day. Want to play music while Barack is merrily swinging? Choose a nice playlist and have at it. Want some soothing music for Barack to fall asleep to? Put the speaker system on the built-in sleep timer. The system I'm looking at even has a remote control, so I don't have to walk into the nursery to change tunes or turn it off. To me, other than being a bit expensive (and even then, I have a gift certificate that's been gathering dust for a while and will cover almost the entire thing), this seems like the perfect setup. Now if I could just get myself to obsess about something more important for a change....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Head Of Cauliflower

I'm at 27 weeks today, and I'm exhausted. It could be because my bloodwork from last week shows that I'm a bit anemic. It could be because I haven't had a decent night's sleep in weeks, due to a certain in-utero baby kicking me all night long. It could be because the class I'm TAing this quarter had its final exam yesterday, so I've been dealing all week with ridiculous grade-grubbing undergraduates who didn't do enough work all semester and are suddenly panicking about the class. It could be because my husband, who has been sent on ONE business trip in 10 years, found out last week that he needs to go to Israel for business, and he decided that as long as the trip was paid for, he'd go early and do some site-seeing, and that's not exactly the kind of trip that's easy to throw together at the last minute.

So, what do you think? Is the exhaustion a chemical side-effect, sleep deprivation, over-work, or just stress? Any thoughts?

My doctor's appointment this morning went well. I shocked everyone, myself most of all, by passing the glucose screening with flying colors. Other than the slight anemia, which is officially "not a big deal," I'm doing great, medically. I also found out that Dr. M. is going to be on vacation for the next 6 weeks, which shouldn't matter much at all, but has me slightly irrationally freaked out.

S. left this morning for Israel. He and another coworker are staying in Jerusalem for several days, then moving on to Haifa for a series of business meetings. In all, he'll be gone for almost two weeks. I'm very excited for him, because he's never been to Israel before and has wanted to go for a long time. I just always imagined that his first trip there would be with me, so I'm a little sad that I couldn't go with him (here in Week 27, I'm no longer cleared to fly long distances). He's in good hands -- we have a distantly-related-by-marriage friend who lives in West Jerusalem who has invited him over for Shabbat dinner, and to give him a bit of a driving tour -- but I'm still nervous. Mainly, I'm nervous that he'll be so far away for so long, with a huge time difference that will make it difficult for us to talk at all while he's gone. But also, I'll admit to being a little nervous about him being in a somewhat volatile region without any experience (and without speaking the language).

I am interested, though, to hear about his experience getting through Israeli security. He was warned by several Israelis not to tell the security guys that he converted to Judaism, because "it will just confuse them." (Judaism is, for the most part, anti-proselytizing, and there are very few converts; when hearing that somebody converted to Judaism, the reaction of most Jews is "Why?!") Those of you who have never traveled to Israel may think it's odd that this would even come up during an airport security screening, but trust me -- it will. Israeli security is an amazing thing, and just about everyone gets interrogated on religion and personal background as a matter of routine. It's not just a "Did you pack your own bags?" kind of place.

S. is under orders to buy a mezuzzah for the baby's room. I'm under orders to eat more iron-rich foods like red meat. Barack is under orders to stop kicking occasionally so that I can get some sleep. Progress on all three of these items to be reported on in a few days.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

English Hothouse Cucumber

Today is 26 weeks. That's half a year. I've been pregnant for 6 months. On the produce comparison front: I'm pretty happy with the English hothouse cucumber comparison. It has some length to it, but it's also skinny and smooth. Not to get too graphic or anything, but I looked ahead at the produce comparisons that I get to look forward to over the remaining 3 months, and this is pretty much the last one that doesn't make me wince at the thought of giving birth to it. I could imagine giving birth to something shaped like a cucumber, and I could even imagine doing it naturally. But 7 weeks from now, I'm going to be far less cheerful when I inform you all that Barack is being compared to a pineapple. (Who the hell thought that comparison was a good idea?!). That one's gonna haunt me until I'm safely past the pineapple stage and on to week 34.

Related random note: somebody found my blog this week by googling "what size is a rutabaga?" I'm guessing my page isn't what they had in mind, especially since I don't know either.

A few things of note:

The "days remaining until due date" count has dropped below 100, into the double (rather than triple) digits.

I completed what was hopefully my last big round of blood tests this past weekend, including the same glucose screening that I passed in week 8. Not to be overly pessimistic or anything, but is it bad that I've been telling everyone that they're giving me a second chance to fail it? I should get the results within the week. I'm guiltily eating ice cream in the meantime, convinced it's the last ice cream I'll be allowed to eat until after I deliver. (And yes, I'm fully aware that if I really do have gestational diabetes, it's no better for me to be eating ice cream this week than it will be to eat it next week. Bite me.)

My hair has become so ridiculously thick that my favorite barrette (and by "favorite," I mean "the only one I ever wear") no longer stays closed. I knew that pregnancy would make me too big for my jeans, and it's not terribly shocking to outgrow a bra. But seriously -- who has to shop for a maternity barrette?

Finally, some musings on "What does maternity leave mean to you?" (This is a bit roundabout, but bear with me.) A few weeks ago, I got into a discussion with my advisor and lab mates about Hollywood depictions of artificial intelligence. We're an AI lab, so this was a very detailed discussion. Artificial intelligence in movies is often evil ("2001"), often insidious ("The Matrix"), occasionally just misguided ("War Games"). Some of the movies are very well done (I do have a soft spot for "War Games," and it's not just because the young Matthew Broderick was just so darn cute), some totally suck ("Stealth"), and some try so hard to stretch the genre that you can't help but laugh ("Electric Dreams"). In this discussion, it came to my attention that I was the only one in the group who was watching "Battlestar Galactica" (BSG). I convinced them that it's awesome, they really should see it, and invited everyone over to my house to watch the miniseries that kicked off the show. (Note to self: I started it, so everything that follows is really my fault.) Bottom line: my advisor is now totally hooked on BSG. He keeps inviting the entire lab over to his house to watch more episodes. He sends me emails about the show. When he walks into my office, 9 times out of 10 it is to discuss BSG -- it's never about my research. And he's on a mission to get through all 4 seasons of episodes before I go into labor. It's ... odd. No?

When I informed him that there are a LOT of episodes, and we probably can't finish them all in the next 14 weeks, he responded, "So, when you have the baby, we'll take that week off." And I don't think he was kidding. I'm worried that the "You'll be back in the lab in one week" attitude isn't limited to cheesy sci fi viewing, and will extend to actual work. Time to have another discussion with him about what "maternity leave" really means?