Thursday, August 28, 2008

Another Anecdote

I've mentioned in the past that my PhD advisor, who is nearing 60, never been married, never had children, never had a pregnant student, and has actually rarely even had a female student (I think I'm the second or third one in his 30+ year career) falls into what I would call the "supportive but clueless" category when it comes to dealing with my pregnancy. He means well. He really does. He just doesn't quite fully understand the situation. And being a male computer scientist, he exhibits the usual stereotypical social awkwardness that is somewhat prevalent in my field. This week's anecdote to illustrate the point:

There's an event in my lab at school next week that my advisor wants me to try to attend. This isn't a totally unrealistic expectation, since (a) I really do want to attend it; and (b) let's be honest, I'm not exactly going into labor at the moment. Still, I warned him that, despite both his and my hope for me to be there, it might not happen. Less than 10 days before my due date? Entirely out of my control at this point. I reminded him that I could go into labor at any time, and if that happens before the event, then I would (obviously) not be able to attend. He responded by saying, "Or you could just hold it in until afterwards." At which point I said, "Yeah, right!" and I laughed. Wouldn't you? Because everybody in the world knows that's absurd, right?

At which point he launched into a story. Several years ago, he was on an airplane, and he drank a lot of water, but for some reason, he didn't get up during the flight to go to the bathroom. It got to the point where he really needed to pee, and as he started to get up, the seatbelt sign came on because they were approaching their destination. So, he stayed in his seat. But then the plane circled the airport for like half an hour or more! And he had to hold it in that whole time, even though he really had to go! It was "really painful," but somehow he managed to hold it in until the plane was safely on the ground. So he knows how tough it can be to hold it in, he totally gets it, but he knows I could do it if I really wanted to.

How do you respond to a story like this? I stared at him in bemused disbelief for several seconds before slowly saying, "Thanks for that gripping and completely relevant story." Several of my labmates were present for this entire encounter, and even the nerdiest and most oblivious among them had somewhat horrified expressions on their faces. (Probably not because of the ridiculousness of the suggestion that labor = needing to pee, but rather because of the ridiculousness of publicly sharing that story for any reason. That time you really needed to pee but didn't? That's a story that needs to be told?!)

My advisor shrugged and said, "Just something to consider." Several people present told me that they were amazed I didn't punch his lights out right there. I'm still shaking my head over the whole thing. He really had to pee, but he held it in! Truly inspiring.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Here we are at 38 weeks. Anywhere from 0 to 4 weeks left. Know how far dilated I am? Zip. Nada. Not a bit. I'm also not at all effaced. It took Dr. M several tries to find Barack's heartbeat today because he was looking waaay too low; turns out Barack is still happily swimming somewhere up around my throat. You getting the feeling that this kid isn't planning to make an appearance anytime soon? Dr. M mentioned that he's on call all day Saturday, and he ended the appointment by saying, "So maybe I'll see you then!" I snorted with laughter, at which point he grinned and said, "Yeah, okay, probably not. I'll see you at next week's appointment instead." Stranger things have happened -- apparently women go from "not even close" to "holy crap active labor!" in short order all the time. I just don't see it happening for me.

My last day of work was on Friday, so I am now officially on maternity leave (woo hoo!). I am now deep in organizing and cleaning mode. Last minute errands. Trying to rest. Trying to do some fun stuff like movies and reading and lunches with friends while I still have the flexibility to do them easily. That sort of stuff. I have also been able to make some progress on my to-do lists, knocking off a whole bunch of stuff yesterday. The house is actually in pretty good shape. S and I have made it a mission to go to sleep each night with the house in a presentable condition, in case we need to leave unexpectedly. It's working really well so far. As of last night, when we hung some pictures and put away our initial supply of cloth diapers, I feel comfortable saying for the first time: the nursery is ready. There are definitely still things on my to-do list that I'd like to get done before Barack makes his arrival, but they're things like "get oil change for car," not "buy essential item for baby" or "learn about that whole labor thing," so I think we're good.

We have a baby pool among family and friends (for a few bucks, guess Barack's arrival date and time, and maybe win fabulous cash prizes!). The earliest entry in the pool (from S's mom) was yesterday. She emailed me in the morning to encourage me to go out jogging or something to induce labor. Instead, we continue to wait. Lots of other people have weighed in on when they would prefer we have the baby as well. My mom, a teacher, has an opinion relative to the upcoming start of her school year. My brother would prefer sometime this week, so that his visit would coincide with his favorite baseball team playing a series in our city. My dad has asked that we wait until the end of the week, so that he doesn't have to reschedule a contractor doing some work on the house. Everybody has an opinion.

S and I had a totally pointless conversation last night about when WE think it would be ideal for me to go into labor. Leaving aside that our opinion matters not at all, coming up with a hypothetical date is a delicate balancing act. On one hand, we want to have time to finish the few remaining things that we really want to get done, and take into account which events scheduled in the next few weeks we do or do not want to miss. On the other hand, I am growing increasingly uncomfortable day by day, so neither one of us wants to extend this thing indefinitely. We decided on Friday. Friday would be fine. Hear that, Barack? Friday works well for us. So maybe try swimming downwards a bit one of these days.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Swiss Chard

Full term, baby! 37 weeks! Though, anybody else think it's weird that after several weeks of comparisons to melons, we seem to have taken a giant leap backwards to leafy vegetable?

My appointment today was every bit as uneventful as I hoped it would be. Blood pressure lower than last week, weight up a respectable amount, urine still clear. Baby Barack is still head down, and is now officially engaged in my pelvis (ie, he's dropped enough that his head is now "locked in." At least, that's how we've been talking about it... turns out that "locked" is probably the wrong word, since we know at least one baby that managed to dis-engage right before labor, which is apparently no fun at all).

I haven't had more than 3 hours of consecutive sleep all week. I keep waking up from a number of factors: (a) needing to pee; (b) intense pain in my hips, legs, and hands; and (c) hot flashes. I had thought that I'd be finished with the hot flashes, at least for the next few decades, when I stopped the fertility treatment, but apparently not. They're no fun at all. When I wake up, I'm usually up for an hour or more, if I'm able to fall asleep again at all, so I am now seriously sleep deprived. I'm working from home today in the hope that I can take a nap this afternoon.

On the topic of work... I've heard from a lot of people about how they were incredibly efficient at work for the last few weeks before their maternity leave. How they were so anxious to leave things in a good place before disappearing from work for several months that they had a huge burst of productivity. They accomplished more during those last few weeks than they normally do in twice the time. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound! That sort of thing. I image it's tied a bit to the nesting instinct -- wanting to get everything arranged for the baby at home isn't that far from wanting to finish everything possible at work so that it can all be safely ignored during maternity leave.

My problem: I've had no such work-related energy boost. In fact, I am now in the position where finishing the project that I desperately wanted to finish before my maternity leave is an impossible goal. And by "impossible" I don't just mean "unlikely that I can finish it in time." I mean "my last day of work is Friday, and there are enough outside dependencies for this project that it cannot be completed in one week, even if I had superhuman endurance and strength." Some of this isn't totally my fault -- some of those outside dependencies were, um, less than dependable lately. And even if I had been 100% focused on this project for the last month, the terrible state of my hands and wrists due to pregnancy carpel tunnel would have prevented me from being very efficient. But if I'm totally honest with myself, I have to admit that a large part of why the project isn't finished is that I've been finding it impossible to focus on work lately. I've been less efficient than I have ever been in my entire professional career. I just cannot seem to focus on anything. It sucks. I go to work each day with the best of intentions, and by the end of the day, I find that I've accomplished very little. Blame my painful wrists. Blame my lack of sleep. Blame the frequent interruptions for doctor visits and delivery guys and baby-related phone calls. Blame my sudden inability to multitask. Whatever it is, it's killing my work life.

So, who are these people who get so much accomplished before their maternity leave, and how do they do it? Because I have three days left to get everything in order at work, spread across both my university and my two outside jobs. My goal has switched from "get everything done" to "get everything in a state where I won't feel TOO guilty about it for the next four months." And maybe that was a more realistic goal all along, but for someone whose main identity has been related to work and study for a long long time now, in a lot of ways, that goal also seems like a harder one.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reading List

I know that this is probably typical for first-time moms, but I've started frantically reading so many baby-related books these days that I feel a bit like I'm cramming for a test. Or perhaps more accurately, a pop quiz, since I don't know how many days or weeks away the exam is....

For your reading pleasure, a list of what I've been reading, complete with mini-reviews. Note that I skipped even mentioning the books that were really bad. Also, I haven't quite finished reading all of these, but have seen enough to at least give a short summary and opinion.

What to Expect When You're Expecting (Murkoff, Eisenberg, Hathaway) -- Everyone buys a copy, so why fight it? I liked it more than most people, it seems. Yes, they go a bit overboard listing everything that could go wrong, but I just skipped those parts. Sticking to the basic month-by-month stuff was useful for me; each month, I read ahead to see what to expect the following month. Worked great.

The Mother of All Pregnancy Books (Douglas) -- More friendly, but also less useful, than What to Expect. I used it as a reference occasionally, but I could probably have skipped it. Nothing wrong with it, just not as much my style.

From First Kicks to First Steps (Greene) -- What a cool book! I loved this one. Rather than just the same old "Your baby now weighs this many ounces" stuff, this one focuses on sensory development. When does your baby start tasting? Distinguishing noises? Seeing lights? Exploring your uterus with his hands? All backed up with fascinating studies. For instance, if you read a picture book out loud to your baby starting in the third trimester, that book will be able to calm your baby after birth better than anything else. Or how singing to your baby in-utero will affect his heart rate. Really neat stuff.

Infant Calming & Sleep:
The Happiest Baby on the Block (Karp) -- Popular classic for a reason. I obviously haven't tried the techniques yet, but many of my friends swear by them. I usually hate self-help-type books (the repetitiveness annoys me no end) but this one was still a very quick read. And made a lot of intuitive sense (though I did have to nit-pick some of his "logical scientific reasoning" which was full of Buick-sized holes). But hey -- if it works, it works.

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (Hogg & Blau) -- I'm having more problems with this one. The ideas appeal to me in a lot of ways, but it also seems unrealistic to adhere 100% to the plan, and the author constantly makes the point that any variation will lead to disaster. I'm just not enough of a blind follower to buy into that kind of faith. I'll probably give some of these suggestions a try, but I'm skeptical.

General Infant Care:
Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads (Greenberg & Hayden) -- Some friends bought this for S. As far as I can tell, it's aimed at new dads who used to be committed Boy Scouts (S was an Eagle Scout, so he's spot on for this demographic). I skimmed it for the humor (eg, how to change a diaper in a sports stadium; why reggae music is best for calming babies) but S swears it also has useful parts, and kept him entertained enough to finish reading it. I particularly love the list of reasons why babies cry -- besides the obvious hungry, tired, dirty diaper reasons, they also list "general angst."

The Baby Owner's Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance (Borgenicht & Borgenicht) -- Complete book of infant care, in the style of a VCR manual. The illustrations are great. Fun book, in particular, for anyone who works in a technical field. And all of the information is spot-on correct.

Caring for Your Baby and Young Child (American Academy of Pediatrics) -- This one was recommended by our pediatrician as the one medical trouble-shooting book to have on hand as a reference. It's huge and dense, so I haven't done anything other than casually flip through it, but it looks useful.

The New Jewish Baby Book (Diamant) -- I totally love Anita Diamant. Her discussion of options for bris ceremonies was invaluable for me. Her section on Hebrew names was a bit skimpy, but still useful. Overall, just a good read.

The Baby Name Wizard (Wattenberg) -- Without a doubt, the most useful of the baby name books we looked through. Particularly helpful: each and every name has an associated graph of its popularity in the US over the past century or so, and data on its current and peak ranking among names reported to the Social Security Administration. Also includes origins, meanings, nicknames, similarly styled names.... Excellent resource. So much better than just the lists that most books have.

The Nursing Mother's Companion (Huggins) -- Haven't finished reading it yet, but so far it seems like a good, practical book on the ins and outs of breastfeeding, without the heavy-handed propaganda found in many such books. Includes sections on trouble-shooting, and an appendix on how hundreds of drugs are metabolized and cross into breastmilk, so you can make informed decisions on what medications are safe to take and when. Excellent reference.

Baby Bargains (Fields) -- This book was indispensable for me. It's basically like Consumer Reports for baby gear. Ratings on brands and specific items for everything you can think of, based on thousands of submitted reader reviews. Unbelievably helpful as we decided what to buy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Crenshaw Melon

Today is 36 weeks, which means that we are under the 1-month-to-go mark, theoretically approaching that "could be any day now" point. At my appointment today (which I now will have every week until Barack makes his appearance) everything looked good. Blood pressure is holding steady, baby heartbeat is strong and solid. In the past two weeks, I gained just half a pound, bringing my total 36-week weight gain to 22 pounds. I'm really happy with that total, since that puts me right on target to stay around the 25 lb mark I was hoping for. But 1/2 lb in two weeks this late in the game? How did that happen?

Today's appointment also included my first cervical check -- not my favorite way to pass the time. Dr. M poked at Barack's head a bit, which was really uncomfortable, but I feel weird complaining about it, because if that hurt, I'm in for a world of trouble in actual labor. Anyway, Barack is head-down, but his head is not yet "engaged" in my pelvis, but rather is still freely bopping up and down in there. (Explains the thumping that my bladder takes when I walk around.) I'm also not at all dilated, so we may be here for the long haul.

We asked Dr. M several going-into-labor questions, all of which he dismissed rather easily. For the first time ever, he also seemed almost annoyed that we were asking such silly questions. He came around, though, when we had this exchange:

Me: I did have several contractions after finding out that the Packers had traded Brett Favre....

Dr. M: I don't think it's anything to worry about, because the Aaron Rodgers [the Packers new QB] looked pretty good in last night's preseason game.

Me: True. I'm nervous, though, because their first regular season game is the day before my due date.

Dr. M: Again, it's really nothing to worry about. The hospital maternity wing has giant flat screen TVs in the rooms. ESPN is on channel 30. But at least now you're asking important questions!

My kind of doctor.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dangerous News

Know how to almost send an 8-months-pregnant Wisconsin gal into early labor? Announce that Brett Favre has been traded to the New York Jets. I seriously did have several contractions in a row upon hearing the news. (But no, nothing serious.)

I'll admit that I'm glad, if he was going to be traded, that at least he'll be playing for an AFC team that the Packers will likely never have to face. Which means that I can cheer both for the Packers as a team, and individually for Favre, without there being any conflict of interest. And, after weeks of uncertainty, I'm happy that at least the situation is resolved.

But still, it hurts. A lot.

On a related note: the first game of the season is the Packers vs. the Vikings in Green Bay on September 8, with the game being aired on ESPN. Those of you who are really paying attention will note that this is only one day before my September 9 due date. I'm excited to see the game, but well aware that I might be, um, otherwise occupied that evening. My parents helpfully volunteered that, even if I'm in labor, I could still watch the game, which would be an excellent distraction from the pain, as long as the hospital gets ESPN. So, when we took our hospital tour, S helpfully piped up and asked the nurse giving the tour whether the rooms got ESPN. And, as would be predicted when a husband asks such a question, all 30 people on the tour immediately made fun of him. S protested that he was asking for ME, not for himself, which is very much true (he was never much of a sports fan; I taught him everything he knows about football, and he only cheers for the Packers to avoid marital discord). But really, who's gonna believe that the red-blooded American husband is asking about ESPN not for himself, but for his pregnant wife? Nobody believed him. And I was too entertained by the entire situation to speak up on his behalf.

PS -- yes, the hospital does get ESPN. So as long as the site of Brett Favre in a Jets uniform doesn't seriously send me into an early labor in the next few weeks, we're covered.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Honeydew Melon

Today marks 35 weeks. Five weeks to go, give or take the 2-3 week error bars. I can't believe I'm actually far enough along now that those error bars are starting to effect my perception of things. Weird.

In a completely practical sense, we're ready. As in, if the baby were born today, we'd be okay. We have just about everything that we want to have on hand for the first couple of weeks, barring a few things that I've ordered online that are currently on their way to us. The only big thing missing is the crib, and we have a workable substitute for that now, so as pissed as I am about the situation, it's nothing we can't work around. We have a mohel, we've discussed the bris ceremony with the rabbi, we've discussed travel plans with the family, we've finished our baby prep classes. We're good to go.

Understand, however, that I'm not actually saying that we're totally ready in all senses of the word. Leaving aside the "Oh my G-d we're about to become parents!" emotional readiness that I don't think anyone has before the big day, there's still a ton of stuff that I want to get done before baby Barack makes his appearance. I have a big project at work that I'm frantically trying to get done before my maternity leave. We haven't packed our bag for the hospital. We haven't installed the car seat in the car. I have a sewing project that I'd like to finish before I go into labor. We haven't quite agreed on a name. (We have a front runner, which we'd probably just go with if forced to make a decision today, but we'd like to keep looking around some more.) I've done several loads of baby laundry, but there's still a few more loads of wash and sterilizing that I'd like to do in advance. I haven't quite finished the paperwork for my state-sponsored maternity leave benefits. There's still some nursery decorating that I'd like to finish. I'd like to have a nursing bra or two on hand right away, but I'm having a hell of a time finding any that fit. Oh, and the house looks like a tornado disaster area -- I'd like to get it presentable before it gets hit by Hurricane Barack. Nonetheless, these are all things that could be thrown together if need be, or done after the birth, so overall, not too bad.

That's the status. Physically, my hands and wrists are killing me (worst carpel tunnel I've ever had) which is making it difficult to finish that project at work. My feet are swollen beyond recognition. I'm peeing constantly, and often finding it hard to breathe. Overall, though, this all seems pretty mild compared to how bad other women I know have had it during the final month or so. And I'm actually sleeping better than I had been, which is helping.

My advice for comfortable sleep during the third trimester: pillows and a husband to support your belly and back. I am always warm these days, thanks to the built-in radiator that is my unborn child. Despite the heat we've been having lately, I still pile pillows in front of me and under me, to support my stomach as I lay on my side. This tends to heat me even more, though, causing S to retreat far onto his side of the bed, complaining that I am so unbelievably warm that he would burn himself if he touched me. This left me with nothing to support my back (pillows were of limited help there). Now, I super-cool our bedroom every night to near-frozen temperatures. I still feel pleasantly warm, but the frigid air freezes poor S. When we get into bed, he naturally snuggles towards any heat source, which means that he stays put firmly against my back, providing awesome back support for me all night long. Breathing the cold air is giving him a bit of a sore throat, but the decent night's sleep puts me in such better spirits that we've decided it's worth the trade-off. Way to go, S -- taking one for the team! (Not that cuddling with his wife is such a big sacrifice....)