Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Day

At night before bed, the girls enjoy sharing one rose and one thorn each. (Ellie learned the habit of sharing one good thing/one bad thing about your week at bible study and they've adapted the practice for daily home use.) This week all three of us had the same thorn - we missed Daddy who was away on a business trip. Tonight Ellie was eager to share her rose: Daddy's home! (I considered the cookie bouquet a lovely salve on Valentine's Day!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Ways in which my younger daughter helps control my ego.
Subtitle: and why I should consider locking the bathroom door.

1) Ada likes to keep me company as I sit on the toilet. Perhaps this is purely altruistic; she does like to have company when she's in there. (As for me, I prefer solitude but as a parent one must make sacrifices.) She observes the way I look on the seat them keeps up a running commentary.

"Wow, Mommy, your bottom is so huge. So huge! I think you don't fit on that toilet seat, Mommy. I think it's too small for you. Ellie, come look at Mommy's bottom; it's huMONgous!"

She then proceeds to follow me around as I get dressed for the day, keeping up her feel-good patter.

"Mommy, your stomach is enormous."

"Yes, it is, and you know why my belly is so large right now."

"Because of baby Teddy. But look! It jiggles!"

2) I hurriedly finished the preparation of two large casseroles, one for now and one to freeze for after the baby comes. I'm a bit frazzled from all the extra "help" I've had in the kitchen, the fact that I'm heavily pregnant and uncomfortable, the fact that I have a tiny, over-stuffed kitchen, and the fact that dinner will now almost certainly be late. I trip over the dog as I step backwards and drop the aluminum foil, which unrolls all the way into the dining room. "Drat drat drattedy drat!" I am extremely frustrated but also secretly pleased that I haven't started shrieking like a banshee while hurling pots, wooden spoons, and curses.

"Mommy, you're not a very good cooker."

Thanks. "Do you like this food, honey?"

"Um. Yes."

"Then why do you say that I'm not a very good cook?"

"Because you tripped on the dog."

3) In a discussion about age, parent vs. grandparenthood, and death, Ada informed me that I will very soon have all white hair. And will be a grandma as soon as she becomes a Mommy.

Obviously she is part of the cause of my natural hair color's demise. But if I can control the age at which my daughter becomes a parent simply by controlling the color of my hair, well, that's a pretty good deal!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Professional Model

A couple of weeks ago a friend emailed me asking if I'd like to participate in a photoshoot for a massage therapy textbook. She was in need of a pregnant model for the maternity chapter.

I agreed and we went back and forth a little bit. I was thinking: I like this friend, I want to help out, I like to maintain connections with my former employer (the textbook publisher), photoshoots are fun and it would be neat to be on the other side of one (rather than as the organizer), I like being pregnant, and, hey, cool, someone wants to take pictures of me! Plus, it was a paid gig.

Then I got a follow-up email that included information for all the models, including instructions on attire. "Female: Dark colored sports tank or bra and fitted shorts, or Tankini, without huge logos." Hah hah hah, she obviously didn't mean me; that's for the other (non-maternity) models. I emailed to verify, then packed an assortment of clothes. I figured I'd be in yoga pants or leggings with a tank top.

All those seasons I've watched of America's Next Top Model really came in handy. I knew what to expect and was prepared. I was on time, I had a variety of clothing options in various colors, I had a ponytail holder and comb in case those were needed (and they were). I enjoyed hanging out in the back of the room chatting with the other models, editors, massage therapists, and the author's son. I enjoyed the craft table. I liked the green room just fine. And I certainly didn't mind watching the model ahead of me as he worked (he was a very very fit young man).

The photoshoot was in a professional studio. We were set up in a large, concrete room, dimly lit with tables and cords stretched out all over the place, people clustered around the outside edges (mostly at the back near the door). One corner of the room contained a raised wooden floor with a massage table, a folding screen, and lots of bright lights. The photographer stood nearby, perched on a ladder overlooking the set.

All too soon, it was my turn to model. The author (and massage therapist) scanned through my clothing and then selected a plain black sports bra and maternity swim suit bottoms (basically, large shiny underpants). !!!


I changed in the green room, wrapped myself in a tablecloth, and headed out to the stage, still thinking that I'd mainly be on the table, "draped modestly."

Not so much. The author wanted a series of shots of the massage therapist greeting the pregnant lady then helping her up onto the massage table. Without the wrap. Are you imagining this scene?!


I had a moment to decide. I could walk out and leave them without a model. I could be a prima donna and argue for more clothing. Or I could just go with it and be a good sport. Again America's Next Top Model came to my rescue and that's exactly what I did. I dropped my drape, apologized for my cellulite, and cracked wise as I posed in front of friends and strangers in little more than my underwear.

The shoot went well, I think. I hope. And then . . .

"OK, we're ready for the husband, now."

Say what?

My "husband" came out of the green room, took off his boots, and climbed up onto the massage table behind me. The author placed a pillow between us to support my back (loved her a little bit right then) and asked me to lean back against him, relaxing. He reached around to rest his hands on my belly and both of our shiny silver "wedding bands" shone in the floodlights. The baby kicked at him and probably freaked the guy out.

We practiced relaxing and he "learned" how to position his hands to help me with backache in labor. Very soon, it was all over.

I never did catch his name.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where We've Been

Last week's ice storm:

(In case it's not clear, the girls are playing ice hockey in boots on the surface formerly known as "our driveway.")

Ada's (labeled!) drawing of our family:

("D's" still sometimes flip upside down.)

Paul's marathon training:

(He's in the beard and orange gloves.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

One Born Every Minute

So there's a new Lifetime show called "One Born Every Minute" in which Labor-Delivery-Recovery (LDR) rooms at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio are fitted with fancy cameras to catch every moment and film is edited to fit specific episodes. There's no camera crew in the room, just the family and hospital staff plus a ceiling-mounted camera. I watched an episode entitled "To Medicate or Not? That Is the Question." The episode follows 3 patients from admission through delivery.

1) Woman comes into the hospital in early labor. Nurse hangs an IV of pitocin and promises an epidural when the pain kicks in. All just a matter of course, no requests from the patient for anything and no discussion of why pitocin might be needed for someone already in labor with unbroken waters and no apparent fetal distress. This is a medically managed birth.

But you know what? Pitocin is a serious drug. It can be seriously helpful at times. But it also has serious risks and potential side effects. It's really strange to me to see it just given routinely, without specific indication.

The nurse says, "Not that many women want to have a natural birth anymore, about 90% choose an epidural. It's a choice between feeling the worst pain of your entire life and not feeling anything, so it's pretty obvious what most women are going to choose . . . I guess it's just a personal preference."

Oh, sure, when you put it like that . . .

With the rest of this case, it's obvious that the mom is very comfortable with a managed birth experience. She wants IV narcotics and an epidural. She does not want to hold the baby until after she's been cleaned up. Her nurse asks her preferences and is supportive of the mother's requests. Healthy 9 pounds, 2 ounces baby girl.

2) Woman comes in who has had a previous large baby and is being induced because her physician is worried the second will be large, too. The (different) nurse questions the mother's decision not to have an elective cesarean section! But the mother does not want to have a surgical birth. The nurse says they'll break her bag of waters right away (this increases the pain of contractions and has other risks as well - including infection - but might speed labor) and asks about an epidural. The mother says she'd prefer to try to go without and expresses concerns about the drug's known side effects ("last time it really slowed down my labor"). The nurse replies, "Really?! Alright..." to the woman's request for no needle into the spine and says there's no problem with slowing down labor "if you time it right."

No implied judgment there . . .

The nurse continues to cast doubt on the mother's ability to birth this baby, saying things like, "unless he's too big..." and threatening that if her contractions stall out she'll have a c-section. I was happy when the second shift nurse came in; she was much more supportive.

But after a narcotics shot mom doesn't feel like she can do it without an epidural (no shame in that but it's too bad there was no one there reassuring her and telling her what a great job she's doing, etc.).

Unfortunately, after narcotics + epidural and lying flat on her back the baby's heart rate slows. Mom is too drugged and out of it to move over onto her side. She is freezing cold with chattering teeth and it is nearly time to push but she's pretty out of it. The doctor calls in for a c-section, saying, "I know it's scary and it's not what you want but I think it's probably safer for the baby." Healthy 9 pounds, 12 ounces baby boy.

3) Finally we have the "deliberate" couple who bring their birth plan (and a doula) and want a natural child birth. They sound really prepared, talking about cascading interventions, what's best for the baby, and mom wanting to challenge herself to see what she can do. (The parents met doing endurance sports.)

The nurses and admins at the main desk share many raised eyebrows and smirks at the mom and dad with their birth plan and shared moaning. "Oooopen..." The LDR nurse really wants to run the show and the couple (along with their doula) want time to make their own decisions. The nurse does push quite a bit, saying things like, "the longer you labor, the harder this is going to be," which probably puts unnecessary stress on the mother. The nurse wants continuous fetal monitoring and an internal contractions monitor (the former does not prove advantageous over intermittent monitoring and the latter increases risk of infection).

While offering his wife a drink of water the dad asks the nurse to be more positive (rather than saying things like, "well, she's probably dehydrated, which could be part of the problem"). (My question: what problem?!) The specially trained and very professional nurse midwife (which this couple has instead of an OB/GYN) is very supportive (though she's not in the room most of the time) even as the LDR nurse is pushy. "I'm really glad this shift is over," she says as she walks out, frustrated that the couple did not want her to "teach" them.

A little pitocin after 23 hours of natural labor to push the baby down the rest of the way work wonders and mom quickly delivers a healthy 9 pounds 2 ounces baby girl. She gleefully holds her baby right away and both parents clearly feel great about having the birth experience they wanted (annoying passive aggressive LDR nurse aside).

Disclosures. I've had two babies. My first birth experience was pretty natural in that my water broke in early labor, I labored at home all night, and went to the hospital less than two hours before giving birth. I was not given any pitocin, narcotics, local anesthetia, or an epidural. I did not have an episiotomy, forceps, or vacuum extraction. On the other hand, despite being completely healthy, hydrated, and in transition (almost ready to push) by the time I was admitted, by the time I started pushing I had an IV in my hand (just fluids, no meds), an oxygen mask over my face, a pulse oximeter clipped to my finger, and an internal fetal monitor in Ellie's scalp. It was a low-risk, routine delivery; neither of us had any complications or problems before, during, or after the birth.

My second baby was almost two weeks "late" so I was induced (at a different hospital, one closer to home). The pitocin contractions were indeed very different from the natural contractions I experienced with my first labor. I fought them for hours before asking for an epidural. (By that point I didn't care about ANY side effects, I just needed a break from the pain that never really went away, even during the "rest" period between contractions.) The epidural was awesome and I enjoyed the birth of my second child despite lying flat on my back with my legs strapped into stirrups. I had an IV, etc. etc. and the side effects of that were easily my least favorite parts of the experience. It was a low-risk, routine delivery; neither of us had any complications or problems before, during, or after the birth.

Both of my birth experiences were positive and had happy outcomes. But evidence does not support improved outcomes from so many of the routinely administered medical interventions in hospital labor and delivery. In Missouri there is only one free-standing birth center and it's across the state from me. (A local center is said to be coming soon.) Evidence supports the fact that freestanding birth centers are safe and have outcomes for mother and baby that are at least as good as births in hospitals (with much lower intervention rates). They're close to hospitals and can get patients in for surgery very quickly in the rare case of true emergency.

The U.S. has unusually high intervention rates and is behind 29 other countries in infant mortality. I feel so fortunate that the nurses I had at both of the hospitals where I delivered my first two babies were supportive of me and all my choices, unlike some of the clearly judgmental and prejudicial nurses I saw on One Born Every Minute.

Other quotes from the episode:

"You wouldn't go to the dentist to have a tooth pulled without being numb; why would you go and have a baby without an epidural?" (from a mom)

"No point in being miserable." (from a nurse)

Well, labor feels different for every woman (and every birth experience). For me, the natural contractions (as opposed to the pitocin ones) were hard work but far from the "worst pain I've ever felt in my life." Working with and through them was enormously rewarding and the endorphin rush afterward was incredible. Why do people run marathons? Why do people do anything that's challenging but also rewarding? It really is a "personal preference."

And - even more importantly - epidurals are also serious drugs (and a serious procedure) with risks and side effects for both mom and baby.

The show's editing and voice over (Sigourney Weaver) make the first labor - the most medically managed one - seem like the smoothest, quickest choice. (Obviously this is not always the case.) The tone with the "natural child birth couple" suggests that showering in labor is weird (no way; it's great!) and that thirteen hours of labor for a first child is crazy long. (Nope, not even average.)

But in the end - all happy parents, all healthy babies. So hooray for that. I've got lots more to say, but good grief I've been typing forever and I can't imagine anyone actually read this whole piece!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

33 Weeks

In lieu of the post I was planning to write tonight about parenting a child with a disability, I will instead post an excuse.

I was clipping along through this pregnancy, measuring right on dates until 31 weeks when, bam! my belly suddenly measured in at 34 weeks. (This wasn't a huge surprise, I was well aware of my growth spurt.)

This week I'm at 33 weeks and am curious to hear what the doctor says.

Also, hooray for prenatal yoga!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Ada's Field Trip

A couple of weeks ago, Ada turned four. It's no big deal that I didn't mention it at the time; you haven't missed the party. She's still celebrating! In fact, she preemptively walks around holding up four fingers in hopes that someone will ask about her age. But we did celebrate her birthday in grand style, with a trip to a Very Special Destination.

Shortly before Christmas I decided that I deserved a treat so after a busy morning of running errands I skipped lunch and drove Ada and myself over to the county library headquarters (not our usual branch) to pick up a Richard K. Morgan novel.

As we entered the main building, Ada immediately peeled off to head for the children's section. I trailed at a respectful distance, curious about what she was seeking. Would she go straight for the picture books sitting at the child-sized reading tables? Would the large stuffed animals draw her interest? When did they remove the cool play structure?

My daughter headed straight for nonfiction, then turned to catch my eye and said, "Mommy, I can't find the books about dinosaurs." Actually, she was standing in the right place, just looking one shelf too high. I directed her attention to the correct area, then headed for the back room where St. Louis County Library sequesters its science fiction.

I grabbed my novel and strode back out into the main room, meeting Ada near the circulation desk so we could both present our choices to the librarian. Adelaide chose A Dinosaur Named Sue about explorer Sue Hendrickson's discovery of the world's largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossilized skeleton in South Dakota, the restoration of the fossil, and its acquisition by The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. We read that book over and over. Once she realized that Grandma and Grandpa live not too far away and a visit to see Sue was a possibility, her birthday plans were set.

(My younger sister had a daughter the day after Ada was born and we frequently hold a joint birthday celebration at Grandpa and Grandma's house. Fortunately, my niece was willing to go along with Ada's idea. She was a dinosaur for Halloween this year.)

So. Friday of the weekend of Ada's birthday we caravanned up to my parents' house with Paul's sister, her husband, and their three-year-old daughter. We met my parents and my sister's family there, then all took the train into Chicago on Saturday morning. Saturday evening was the family birthday party. Sunday we returned home.

And if you give Ada the slightest opening, she'll tell you all about Sue the T-Rex.

Ada pretending to be afraid of Sue's head. (She was afraid of the balcony but not the dinosaur. Apparently Ada's in a fear-of-heights stage.)

Ada's picture of a pteranodon - taken well back from the edge of the scary balcony.

Ada in front of the Chicago skyline from the museum restaurant.

With souvenir Sue, waiting for the train back.

All five girls (including the three not celebrating birthdays) received pillow pets and this was another huge highlight. Ada had been coveting the purple unicorn pillow pet for weeks.

That's my kid. Penguins, dinosaurs, and orcas (nonfiction!) but also: My Little Pony and unicorns (pure fantasy). This is the stuff childhood is made of.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

This month for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club I'm discussing The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. My sister gave this novel to my husband a few years ago, insisting that he had to read it. He didn't. Eventually, I did. Now he has, too, and my book club was supposed to discuss it tonight. We didn't. In fact, we didn't even meet because of the thick sheet of ice dusted with new-fallen snow blanketing our corner of the Midwest.

So rather than discussing The Sparrow with friends over food and wine at my house (visual enjoyment only, in my case with the wine) instead I'm sitting in my pajamas - which I've been in for 24 hours straight - on my couch in my warm, clean house, writing about the book.

Some of the women in my book club don't read a lot of science fiction, so I tried to sell them on the idea of this book. "I'd like to suggest something speculative, if you're up for a bit of a journey. The genre for this one I'd call literary sci fi, though it's fairly near future and not too far out there." If we amend "literary sci fi" to "literary Jesuit sci fi," does that pique your interest?

The idea is this: when new lands and people are discovered, one of the first groups to get there, every time, have been the Jesuits. Why should space be any different?

I also linked to a reading group guide and this review:
"In clean, effortless prose and with captivating flashes of wit, Russell creates memorable characters who navigate a world of exciting ideas and disturbing moral issues without ever losing their humanity or humor. Both heartbreaking and triumphant, and rich in literary pleasures great and small, The Sparrow is a powerful and haunting book. It is a magical novel, as literate as The Name of the Rose, as farsighted as The Handmaid's Tale and as readable as The Thorn Birds."
to prove that the book is absolutely appropriate for a serious book club read.

Not that we only take on serious reads. After all, this group has read Twilight and Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!). But mostly we do read upmarket fiction, the kinds of new novels that come with discussion questions printed on the last pages and require long waits at the library.

Back to The Sparrow. It's a smart book, meaning that it's a book about smart people who don't try to pretend not to be smart. I like that. The characters aren't pretentious, they're just interested in learning stuff. And it's a book that pulls off that amazing storytelling trick of describing something horrific and then making it understandable and a lot harder to judge than you'd assume.

I'm generally not a fan of books that jump around in time, but this book is told in alternating chapters from the "present" (near future) and the future (slightly further near future). This structure works well for the novel because both time lines proceed chronologically and eventually meet. Needing to know how we could possibly get there from here drives the story.

I don't want to give too much away, especially since I went on to read the sequel (Children of God) which picks up where The Sparrow leaves off and almost feels like Part II of the same book. So I will close with this: The characters from Russell's novel felt real to me, and I wish that I knew some of them. The situations felt perfectly plausible - no mean feat in speculative fiction. The moral questions felt absolutely current and relevant and important. I love talking about this book with people (which is why I twisted arms to get my husband and one of my book clubs to read it).

Have you read it? What did you think?

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