Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pregnant in Forties equals High Risk Pregnancy (so they say)

I've spent days working on a particular post that isn't ready yet, and in the meantime, the baby is growing.

It seems like just yesterday that I noticed the hardness of my uterus creeping up past my belly button. Now it's half-way to my diaphragm. I've gotten used to that constantly-bloated feeling now. I go in for a growth ultrasound on Thursday to make sure he's the right size for his age. I don't think that's going to be a problem.

Since I'm in my Forties, this is considered a high-risk pregnancy. So far, at 27 weeks, I'm not retaining any water. No puffiness in my face or extremities. My breathing is good -- I only feel winded when I try to keep up with M when we're walking together. My blood pressure is good. Soon I'll be monitoring my urine for signs of stress on my kidneys (toxemia), and I'll go in for another blood glucose test soon to make sure I'm not getting gestational diabetes. My mood is good, especially now that M is over his shock and talking more openly about the baby. For a while there I had dark spells in which I felt very alone and stuck.

I've either gotten used to the soreness on my knees that has plagued me since the First Trimester, or it's let up for some reason. They still hurt, but not as much. Getting up from the couch and even out of bed is more work these days. I used to sleep mostly in the middle of my bed, but I've changed to sleeping on the right side of my bed, leaving the entire left side clear, which gives me lots of room to sleep on my left side and none on my right. Sleeping on my back makes my legs tingle and sleeping on my right puts pressure on the superior vena cava, and as the baby grows it will only get worse, so I'm using pillows to keep me from sleeping any direction but left. Thank God M and I have separate beds!

I'm wearing a bra to bed at night, have been for a while. My breasts tend to wake me with aches and burning if I don't. So far they haven't grown drastically in cup size... they've just filled-in, back to the firmness I remember in my 20s. If they fill in much more, though, I'm going to have to step up another cup size.

Laughing, coughing, sneezing, hiccuping, vomiting -- these things put pressure on my bladder and often result in a change of clothing. I may resort to wearing panty-liners soon.

I'm fidgety. I'm constantly changing positions. Switching between couch and chair. Laying on the water bed once in a while instead of my tempurpedic. Standing I like, so long as there is movement involved. If I'm standing in a line for more than 15 minutes my low back starts to hurt. I try to finish what I start, but I find that I'm over-estimating my stamina. I really have to pace myself, especially with regards to exertion like digging things up in the garden, etc. I get cramps and feel sore low under my belly when I over do it.

I find that I'm hungry a lot more often these days. I'm trying to keep the noshing under control by stocking the fridge with greek yogurt and snap peas and sticks of cheese, and by navigating around certain shops when I'm on my walks. I'm two and three blocks from a Cold Stone Creamery, Beard Papa's Desserts, and Fletch's Footlongs for example. A couple of blocks more and there's bubble tea places, chinese, thai, and indian restaurants, two hot pot places (one chinese and one japanese), a dozen sushi and bento places, several pizza shops, two donut shops, gelato and coffee shops, four italian places, and two organic gourmet burger joints in addition to KFC, Taco Bell, and Burger King. Yeah -- I live in a pregnant woman's food paradise -- or nightmare, depending on perspective.

On the up side, my hair and skin and nails look great. I have a good excuse to nap whenever I want to. M is more solicitous with regards to my comfort, and more zealous about my physical exertion. I get to intersperse my activities with "just being" down-time. This works well with the whole pregnancy-brain thing. I find that if I give myself time to zone-out and just be, I feel less stressed and am less likely to experience those pregnancy-brain blank-outs at inconvenient moments.

So far, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed, this high-risk pregnancy has been pretty low-key. 12 more weeks to go, and we'll be bringing a little one home. Which reminds me... I should start thinking about buying some nursery furniture and figuring out how to incorporate a newborn's paraphernalia into my bedroom.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Letter #2 to my unborn son

Darling boy,

We are in week 26 of our journey together, the start of the third trimester, and you will arrive in 12 to 13 weeks.  For silly reasons of my own I am hoping that you arrive after May 20th, though that may change as you grow larger and the rigors of pregnancy take their toll.

In the past three weeks my body has changed significantly. I definitely have a belly now, and I notice it most when I'm out for a walk. I have to ask your father to slow down now, because when I try to keep up with him I get a cramp :) As each day goes by I am able to exert myself less without cramps or aches. I notice it most when I'm working in the garden. Even with tools I'm having to take things easy, and I can't assume that I'll be able to do as much from one day to the next. I'm staying as active as I can without risking our safety.

Most days it feels like Spring, which is good, because I'm not feeling as chilled as I was just a few weeks ago. The primroses I planted last year are re-blooming, and the red cyclamen are still growing strong. They are the same color of red as the front door. I've noticed that the wisteria has dozens of flower buds that seem to be swelling a little bit every day. The jasmine are really growing, and the scented rose is leafing out. The plum tree in back is just starting to show it's white blossoms, and in a few weeks, so will the peach tree. The lemon verbena is putting out some leaves now. I'd feared it died in last month's unusual chill. I love the lemon smell and once it is strong again, I'll transplant it into the same flower bed as the rosemary and lavender bushes. I've also got a bird-of-paradise plant to put in between the bottle-brush tree and the mandarin tree at the edge of the patio. In a few years it's orange and red and blue flowers will tie-in the colors of the two trees, and fill the space between them with beautiful foliage. I hope you'll inherit my love of plants, and help me in the garden as you grow.

Hopefully by the end of February the work at the front of the house will be done. We're putting in irrigation and replacing the 60 year old lawn. When that work is done I'll be planting hostas, ferns and astilbe in the flowerbed under the living room windows, and the weeping cherry blossom trees will be planted at the yard's edge, near the sidewalk. In late March your grandfather on your father's side will be coming to stay for a bit, and we'll work on the side yard together. The gravel that was put in by the previous owners is black with sharp edges--pretty enough, but it's not safe for you--and we'll replace it with pavers, thus extending the patio area into a space that will be cool and shady on warm summer afternoons.

Sleeping is becoming more of a challenge, which isn't unexpected. It's a struggle to sleep on my side. I'm constantly waking up on my back with tingly nerve feelings in my legs. I am grateful for the tempurpedic bed, because otherwise I'd be sore and sleepless most of the time.

I'm trying not to obsess too much about the world you're being born into, and I'm trying not to let the sadness, anger, and despair I sometimes feel stick around for too long. I know that the biochemical soup you're swimming in can be affected by my stress, and thus affects you.

The world is in a sorry state, though. Carbon dioxide emissions have jumped tremendously, beyond the worst-case scenarios of many scientists. The oceans are acidifying because of carbon dioxide build-up, and the glaciers and polar ice are melting far more rapidly than predicted. When the rest of the world appears to be in agreement that we all need to limit CO2 emissions and wean off oil, the US, dominated as it is by oil-company-interests and lobbyists, seems determined to believe that we're the smart ones and the rest of the world has been suckered by a hoax (roll eyes). Here in the States we've picked up the pace of natural gas extraction using techniques called "fracking", techniques that pump millions of gallons of water and chemicals into the ground to liberate the gas. The problem is, it's polluting ground-water, and drinking water is already in short supply world-wide. How terribly short-sighted of us.

Southern Europe is in a financial crises, and seeing as Italy accounts for nearly 20% of the GDP for the EU, it cannot be allowed to fail. However, the corrupt politicians and even more corrupt mafia are making people extremely reluctant to co-operate with austerity measures. Greece is on fire, literally. The people of Greece are protesting the way the world banks and the European Union are handling that nation's debt crisis -- a problem created with the help of Goldman Sachs, who helped Greece's politicians conceal it's debts so it could get into the EU in the first place.

I'm not sure what the Internet is going to look like for you when you're old enough to use it. Powerful lobbies are at work to make it easier to monetize media traffic and invade people's privacy in the name of copyright and IP protection. Between that and the increasing amount of money that corporations are pouring into PACs which influence the political landscape, I half-fear that Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash will be far more prophetic than any of us will like. Will you come into adulthood living in a corporate enclave in a corporate town policed by corporate security in an America in which the line between the haves and have-nots is sharply delineated?  Or will you grow up in Canada, your father's homeland, because we had to flee the insanity here in the US?  I don't know, but more and more it is looking like it may be a necessary option.

Everywhere in the world there is ideological oppression of one sort or another. Right now in the US women's rights are being targeted by politicians on the Right, hoping somehow to invigorate their conservative Christian base to get out and vote in November. The Republicans are having their primaries and caucuses right now, and it looks like less than 5% of eligible voters are actually showing up at the polls. I think all the negative super-PAC ads and attacks are alienating all voters, regardless of party. And I'm not sure this is accidental. It is in corporate interests to keep voter participation to a minimum. It is easier to control for a smaller electorate than a large, active one. It costs them less money to buy votes and politicians that way, and they've a much better chance of making sure things go their way.

Currently we're embroiled in a health care debate over whether or not employers should be required to provide health insurance that covers prescription contraceptives. The argument is it violates the freedom of religion in this country. The irony is that the Founding Fathers weren't concerned with preserving religious freedom from government interference. They were concerned about keeping religion OUT of government. Most of them were Deists, and most of them were appalled by the control that the various religious sects exerted over their congregations, cities, counties, and even states.  The Christians of a couple of hundred years ago were not shy about running people out of town if they weren't of the same denomination, and weren't shy about trying to expand theocracy, which the Founding Fathers considered antithetical to their Enlightenment-Period beliefs and values. But most Americans are woefully ignorant of what happened yesterday, never mind what happened 200 or 300 years ago. Most are sheeple who are willing to believe what someone else spoon-feeds them, as long as it is dressed up to suit their ideological bent. It's sad, and discouraging, and frankly, disgusting.

But for all that, I am hopeful. I'm looking for ways to make the world a better place for you.  I'm working on developing community in our neighborhood. I'm planting fruits and vegetables on our property and helping in Rachel's community garden. I'm looking at ways to develop and expand the Green Economy. I envision a world in which people live in harmony with the planet. A world in which every person lives a sustainable lifestyle and every company does business in a sustainable way. I believe it is possible for humanity to leap toward a new level of consciousness that unites, rather than divides us. If I didn't think it was possible to turn the tide of the world toward such things, I could not bring you into it. I hope when the time comes that you're self-aware and world-aware that you won't hate the older generations for what we've done, and what we've failed to do. I hope, I really hope, to make this a better world for you.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pregnancy and Emotions. Arrgghhhh!

Pregnancy and emotions go together like peas and carrots or corned beef and cabbage. Combinations I do not care for, I must admit. I'm finding myself overly-sensitive to things being said to me. I'm hearing "tone" that isn't there, and quite often I'm reacting before it occurs to me to stop and evaluate. I'm reading something, or listening to a program, or having a conversation and suddenly I'm in tears.

Most of the women I know have taken this escalation in stride, but I'm having real difficulties with it. I'm not normally an emotionally reactive person. I worked hard to put filters in place between impulse and action, and I usually do a good job of examining both my emotional responses, and the appropriateness of the actions I want to take. I understand that my thoughts and attitudes are causal forces in my life, and that while I may not have control over how I feel about something, I do have control over how I react. And how I react creates my life.

Enter pregnancy.

Context, contemplation, and understanding of the subjective nature of personal reality have taken a back seat to impulse. No more taking a moment to check-in and ask myself if that person really meant to say what I think I heard. Nope. I'm just going with whatever I'm feeling in the moment. And while that feels perfectly natural in that moment, the moments following whatever outburst occurs are pretty surreal. Some days I know I'm being unreasonable and irrational and I warn my partner in advance. But much of the time I'm apologizing to him after the fact. When I get upset and agitated, he gets upset and agitated -- mainly because until recently, I rarely ever got upset and agitated, and when I did, it was usually for a very obvious reason, and now all of a sudden I'm getting all worked-up and he has no idea why, which makes him feel attacked and/or anxious.

In some ways it is comical. I'm being what he considers a typical female right now -- so maybe I've not gone as far off my rocker as I think. He's mentioned how my emotional reactivity during pregnancy makes him appreciate just how even-tempered I normally am. And of course he's looking forward to the day I return to my normal self. I had to warn him last night that it may be a while, since breastfeeding will almost certainly prolong the duration of hormone-related emotions. I'm hoping I'll have developed a new strategy for coping with it before the baby is born. I'm probably being overly optimistic, though.

Bottom line, being in control of myself is very important to me, and I'm feeling powerless to control myself. Fortunately, my partner is being understanding. For now, anyway ;)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Controlling Food Cravings & Using Artificial Sweeteners

A friend read my Weight management during pregnancy post and commented that "everybody could use advice on how to curb cravings. What do you mean by "redirect and relent?" This is a good question and as I was writing my response to him I realized that it would make a good blog topic, especially for women who are pregnant.

The content in my previous post that prompted his query was:
I've also got the weight-maintenance tools I've picked up the past few years. I've learned how to handle cravings, for example. I know when to re-direct and when to relent. I know when to stop indulging (most of the time) and I know when to get rid of something tasty because I can't resist the temptation to keep indulging.

Redirect: This strategy starts with a question: Am I really hungry, or am I bored/nervous/upset?  If the answer is yes, I really am hungry, then I try to redirect focus from the death-by-chocolate cake I am craving to a protein or granola bar or a piece of fresh fruit--ie, to something healthier that tastes good, too. If the answer is no, I'm not hungry, I'm bored/anxious/whatever, then I redirect to an activity that gets my mind and/or body off the comfort-food focus. Depending on the craving and the reason, I may meditate to calm myself, or take a 5-minute yoga break, or go for a walk, do some weeding/chores, take a bath, masturbate, or take a time-out to touch base with what is really going on inside me (ie administer some emotional first aid).

Relent: Relent, for me, comes after multiple attempts to redirect. If I've eaten my healthy mandarin and I've done my chores and I've finished writing an email or whatever other tasks I've put to myself to in order to get my mind off the craving and I still want that cake (especially if I've craved it for a few days), I'll go buy a single-serving cupcake or something, both as acceptance of the craving, and as reward for the work I've done to earn it. If I absolutely have to have a slice of that $20 death-by-chocolate cake and they don't sell it by the slice, I'll buy it at the bakery, ask them to slice me a piece, and then give the rest away to the people working there, or as samples for their customers. (Yes, it raises eyebrows, but no one has refused me yet.) Then I relish my $20 piece of cake, eating it slowly, savoring every bite. I don't bring home more than one serving of a craved food anymore. It's too easy to say to myself, "Oh, I'll bring this whole cake home and share it with my family" and then end up eating more than one serving because I don't want it to go to waste or because it is just that good.

I suppose I should have the self-discipline to be able to eat just one serving of something I crave and leave the rest alone for others or for another time, but I don't. And I am self-aware enough to accept that. I'm also self-loving enough to get over the whole self-sabotage / self-punishing thing for my supposed lack of will-power, no longer hating myself even as I am rewarding myself with a tasty treat. Today, I allow myself to eat that thing I really want, but just one small serving. And I give away or toss away the rest. I may feel a little foolish for eating what amounts to a $20 slice of cake -but- I figure that it's $18 worth of extra calories I'm not adding to my waistline, and given the work I have to do to take off just one pound, it's f-ing worth it.

So--this is how I've learned to deal with food cravings over the years, and how I'm managing not to gain weight during my pregnancy. I practice self-awareness and self-acceptance, a bit of self-discipline, and a lot of self-love. I'm as flawed, outrageous, and complex as the next person, and what works for me may not work for others. Still, it's worth sharing if even just one person benefits from it.

Artificial Sweeteners, and why you might want to reconsider using them:
I do not use diet products with artificial sweeteners, even natural substitutes like stevia, for three reasons.

One, when we taste something sweet, our bodies begin to produce insulin, the hormone that helps the body to absorb sugars (glucose) and fats. When the anticipated glucose does not appear, the insulin continues to cycle through our bloodstream, stimulating the synthesis of fats and glycogen. This causes the body to stockpile fats and can also cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) because the insulin is acting on the sources of sugar that were pre-existing in the blood, rather than on new sugars entering via the digestive system. Excess insulin can also cause insulin resistance (pre-cursor to Type 2 Diabetes) and metabolic syndrome. It also appears to be tied to or may amplify the endocrine disorder PCOS (poly-cystic ovary syndrome),  because whatever insulin doesn't dock with your cells is cleared out of your system by your liver and kidneys, and when scavenged by the liver, may be re-synthesized into the excess androgens, testosterone, and estrogen characteristic of PCOS.

Two, as artificially-synthesized sweeteners are metabolized by the body, they produce by-products that can negatively impact your health. We know, for example, that saccharine can cause cancer, but most people do not know that aspartame (NutraSweet) is broken down into amino acids, methanol, formaldehyde, and formic acid, all of which can be harmful to people depending on the amount ingested and their individual sensitivities to them. Aspartame aggravates phenylketonuria, is thought to aggravate mood disorders due to possible effects on neurotransmitters, and produces side effects like headaches. Read the Aspartame Controversy for more information, and read up on the next-generation of aspartame, called Neotame here. Sucralose (Splenda) while perhaps less alarming and more natural seeming with its "made from sugar" advertising, is still potentially harmful. It is basically chlorinated sugar, and chlorine isn't good for you (think bleach). Sucralose has been shown to reduce pH in the bowels and thus the beneficial bacteria existing there, and impact levels of P-glycoprotein which is an important transporter protein for ATP and other compounds used by the brain, adrenal glands, and intestines.

Three, using artificial sweeteners as a tool for weight-reduction is an epic failure. They do exactly the opposite of what we're told to expect. There are many, many studies out there which demonstrate that people who use sugar substitutes actually gain more weight than people who stick with sugar. Why? There are several schools of thought on this. The most plausible is that because artificial sweeteners are sweeter than sugar, people routinely ingesting the uber-sweetness become used to it, so that when they do eat sugar-sweetened things, they eat more sugary stuff to satisfy that sweetness-craving. Another likely possibility is that sweet-taste-to-insulin-production link I mentioned above. More insulin in the body equals more fat uptake and more sugar uptake. An increase in sugar uptake results in low-blood sugar, which means people eat more sugar or sugar substitute to get rid of that shaky feeling. Which leads to yet another reason why artificial sweeteners lead to weight gain: because the body needs sugar and if it doesn't get it, it keeps prompting us to eat until it gets what it needs. And finally, sweeteners, like salt and MSG, are flavor-enhancers that stimulate people's food-enjoyment and this encourages them to eat more. So basically, however you look at it, people are eating excess calories because they are trying to reduce excess calories through low-calorie sugar-substitutes. It works on livestock. Lots of artificial sweeteners are being added to cattle-feed because they are known to fatten the animals up (The link goes to a .pdf article from 2000 by a German company). Really. It sounds pretty bizarre, but it also makes sense, doesn't it?

I've made the above information as un-wonky as I possibly can. I'm fortunate to have a background in biochemistry and genetics, so I understand the technical-jargon and try to translate it into common-speech.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

On being Pro-life and Pro-choice

I am an ordained minister and I advocate for women's rights. I consider myself both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice.

Allow me to explain this seeming paradox:

I believe in a woman's right to exercise control over her own body, and to determine for herself and her unborn child if the pregnancy should proceed or not. I believe -- no, I know -- that such a decision is not an easy one... I know this not only from conversations with women who have wrestled with this, but from my own personal experiences these past couple of months.

Finding myself unexpectedly pregnant in my 40s was very difficult. It felt like a mixed-blessing. My background in genetics made me all too aware of the higher risks of genetic abnormalities in the fetus: 40 year old eggs just don't recombine and transcribe DNA as well as 20 year old eggs do.  Additionally, I'm not economically self-supporting right now. I've given up trying to find work in my previous profession while trying to build up an e-commerce business and a web content development consultancy. I'm not married to the father of the baby, and he's much younger than I am. The planet is full of wars and too many people and inhumanity and hypocrisy and indifference and environmental degradation and I really had to consider whether or not it was responsible of me to bring a child into such a heavily-burdened world.

I'm grateful I had the choice whether or not to proceed with the pregnancy if the genetic testing came back with bad news, or the baby's father didn't want the child, or I was completely destitute, or the world seemed poised on the edge of catastrophic meltdown. I'm grateful that people who think I shouldn't have that choice -- a choice exercised by women for tens of thousands of years, by the way -- don't have the power to enforce their personal preferences on me. At least for now.

I believe that life is a wondrous thing, be it a single-celled bacterium, a seedling, or a fetus. I cherish it. I see God in it. I understand that even as this planet seems to be teeming with life, life as we recognize it is incredibly rare in this universe. I believe that if a pregnant woman has the ability and resources to raise a child in a safe, healthy environment, that she should proceed with the pregnancy. But in contrast with most people who self-identify as Pro-Life, my advocacy doesn't begin at conception and end at birth.

The born need Pro-Life advocacy as well, and it is my belief that if we focus on seeing that the basic needs of all born persons are met from birth forward, we'll have a world in which women won't see abortion as a necessary evil. I believe it is near-sighted and irresponsible to focus on preventing women from being able to choose whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy while ignoring the reasons why so many women see abortion as a necessity.

Simply put, I believe that people who are truly Pro-Life dedicate themselves to finding solutions to the reasons behind the perceived need for abortion instead of targeting the procedure and the women who consider it. Otherwise we're at best treating the symptoms of social ills while perpetuating the cycle we're trying to break. We need to get off our self-righteous soapboxes and hold out our hands to those in need of hope, means, and improved circumstances. We must not only recognize the need to change the world for the better, but to actually work at making it a better place to live and raise children. Anyone who does less isn't really Pro-Life -- he or she is just a small-souled hypocrite looking for a way to feel better about himself and his inaction by making others 'wrong.' And that isn't going to win anyone points Heaven -- In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against such hypocrisy, stating there would be no reward from the Father who is in Heaven for self-righteous posturing (Matthew 6:1-6).

To my Evangelical Pro-Life counterparts
We live in a world in which women are routinely raped, abused, condescended to, economically disadvantaged, and politically disempowered. Telling women they're going to burn in hell for aborting a pregnancy when they're already living in difficult -- if not hellish -- circumstances is not the way to inspire unfortunate women to bring a new life into the world.

Jesus was a radical advocate in the fair treatment of women, especially for his time. He trusted women. He accepted women into his inner circle, he taught women (even prostitutes!), he treated them as equals, and perhaps most importantly, the first people he revealed himself to after the Resurrection were women (Matthew 28:9-10). Do you think he forgot that when most of his male followers had fled the scene, it was women who held steadfast to bear witness to his crucifixion? Be careful in your thoughts and attitudes and actions towards women, pregnant or not. I've a feeling come Judgement Day many millions of Christians are in for an unpleasant surprise.

If you are truly Christian, you will be loving toward those who are poor or troubled in spirit, and even those whom you consider your enemies and evil-doers. For even as Christ's blood washed away the sins of humanity, he passed down a new and very simple law: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return; and your reward in heaven will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." (Luke 6:35)

Christians do not condemn nor judge. It is not our place. We are told this time and again in the scriptures. ("He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her." John 8:7) We are told to forgive, lest we be denied forgiveness ourselves. "But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:15) How can we condemn others (ie abortionists) and expect that we will be forgiven for that when Jesus unequivocally states that he will not do so?

And lastly, ignore Matthew 25:31-46 at your peril. Remember, Jesus proclaimed that how you treat the unfortunate is how you treat Jesus himself, and if you fail to help the least of these, he promises to send you to the place of eternal fire where the devil dwells. We can interpret "the least of these" to include the unborn (though Jesus never explicitly spoke of children not born) but to exclude the born in your powerful concern is a willful denial of Jesus instruction that does lead straight to Hell. The Bible tells us so.

A final bit of food for thought: When it comes to reproductive organs, there are equivalencies between men and women: penis and clitoris, testicles and ovaries. But with regards to the uterus, God entrusted only women with wombs. He must have had His reasons for this trust in women, and I do not think that what women do with their wombs or His Trust should be questioned. It is between Woman and God.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weight management during pregnancy

Late in the week I really started to feel pregnant. I can feel the rounded hardness of my uterus, see it protruding a bit (though not past my breasts), and notice that it's starting to affect the way I walk.  I can't stabilize my torso/core using my abdominal muscles the way I normally do, so I'm holding my back and shoulders differently, and trying not to do the side-to-side waddle. At least, not yet.

Oh, and I feel really bloated. When I went in to see the obstetrician Friday I thought for sure she'd tell me I'd gained 10 pounds this month, that is how bloated I feel. But I've actually dropped two pounds. I'm about a 1/2 pound from my weight prior to going to Bali in October, and on target for a zero to 10 lbs net weight gain for my pregnancy.

Some people are really bothered that I'm trying not to gain any weight during this pregnancy, especially my friends and family who are nurses. They're worried I'm letting vanity get in the way of a healthy baby. It's not about vanity though, it's about having a healthy pregnancy. I worked really hard last year to lose weight and I dropped over 40 pounds. I could stand to lose 40 more -- in fact, that was my goal for 2012, before I found out I was pregnant in mid-December. I don't want to regain that weight and then have to lose it all over again, and I know that in my 40's the extra weight (and the extra calories and carbohydrates that cause the extra weight) can cause complications (such as gestational diabetes) that I'm desperate to avoid.

So I'm working with my obstetrician and my perinatologist and a dietician and a medical nutritionist to make sure I'm meeting my nutritional needs. I'm getting growth ultrasounds to make sure the baby is the right size for his age. I'm getting monthly blood and urine tests. I'm doing everything I can to make sure we're having a healthy baby -- I'm even avoiding 'diet' products that contain artificial sweeteners because of the metabolic byproducts. (For more on the subject of artificial sweeteners, see the last half of this Unintentional Mother post.)

I've also got the weight-maintenance tools I've picked up the past few years. I've learned how to handle cravings, for example. I know when to re-direct and when to relent. I know when to stop indulging (most of the time) and I know when to get rid of something tasty because I can't resist the temptation to keep indulging.

I think a lot of women gain 30+ pounds during pregnancy because they aren't in the habit of fighting cravings, and helpless under the hormonal and hunger-pang onslaught, they indulge, and indulge, and indulge. And that's ok. My sisters gained 50+ pounds with their first pregnancies. They lost it all, eventually, but one of them developed toxemia in all three of her pregnancies. They were also 20 years younger than I am now -- and I can't afford to wallow in a pint of ice cream a day, as tempting as that sounds ;)

I fully expect to put on some weight in my last trimester (which begins in a couple of weeks) because that is when the baby starts building subcutaneous fat and putting on his weight. But I'm doing everything I can to keep it under 10 pounds. For both the baby and me.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is it responsible to bring a child into this world?

I'm working to resolve my pregnancy ambivalency. On the one hand, it's a wonderful, exciting, and beautiful gift to grow a new life within my own body. On the other hand, I'm concerned about what happens to that new life once he's born. What kind of future is he being born into? Is it responsible to bring a child into this world?

One of my serious reservations about bringing more children into the world is my awareness of the unsustainability of the American lifestyle and the effect that over-population and resource depletion is having on the planet.

I worked for nearly 7 years with inner-city kids. They amazed me very day, and broke my heart every day. I knew that for some, the meals we gave them were the only meals they'd have that day. I knew that for others, the attention we gave them was the only healthy adult interaction they had. I saw desperate parents working two and three jobs, single mothers going to school to try to provide better lives for their children, and, yes, I saw the crack-addicted parents, and the pimps and exploited women, and the drug-dealing teen gangers. It broke my heart, knowing what my kids went home to every night. And it gave me hope, seeing how much those children wanted to thrive, how hard some of them worked at school, and how readily they responded to positive feedback and influences. Many of my kids finished high school. Some died before they were 18 due to accidents, neglect, and violence. Some went on to college and climbed out of the ghetto. Some ended up as parents before their mid-teens.

Scarcity of resources and opportunity had a lot to do with the conditions in that inner-city --  has a lot to do with what is going on in the world today. As more and more people in developing countries come to enjoy non-subsistence lifestyles, the pressure on the planet grows. And I'm not just talking about things like scarcity of food and water and energy sources. I'm talking about things like the acidification of the oceans.

Ocean acidification is a serious problem no one seems to know about. Current pH levels are already interfering with the ability of corals and mollusks and crustaceans to calcify -- ie, to generate their shells and exoskeletons. It is quite possible that shellfish could become extinct in my son's lifetime -- or at least so rare that they're no longer a foodstuff. Which affects the entire food-chain in unimaginable ways. Humans have used the oceans for waste disposal and now the huge amounts of CO2 that the oceans are absorbing are affecting the basic chemistry of life in those oceans. Combine that with rising temperatures and we're sitting on a time-bomb -- and passing it like a hot-potato down the line for later generations to deal with.

The breakdown of social systems and social responsibility, the breakdown of families and communities, also have a lot to do with the conditions in the inner-city, and the problems in the world today.  With the scarcity and hoarding of resources, people and corporations become numb to social ramifications. We become concerned not just with having enough to meet our needs, but more than enough. We want excess. We become obsessed with ourselves and our needs and put them before the needs of our families, communities, and society at large. People not "us" become "other." We dehumanize them so we can see them as little more than bothersome competitors for the better things in life, or worse, tools to be exploited in pursuit of the better things in life. And when enough people do that, we experience what is known as The Tragedy of the Commons. Not to mention wars and human rights violations and famines.

I'm an optimist and a pragmatist, and while I believe in the possibility that humanity will do what we need to do before it is too late, the pragmatist in me recognizes that we're already in a Global Tragedy of the Commons situation. And I'm knowingly bringing a child into this mess.

At this point, I'm choosing to be an optimist, and actively so. I'm re-committing myself to being a responsible consumer. Cloth diapers, not disposable. Recycling and re-purposing. Growing more of my own food. Using renewable, clean energy. Sharing with neighbors. Walking more and driving less.

If I don't, the future just seems too grim, especially for my unborn son, and I'd feel wrong about my decision to bring him into the world.

Monday, February 6, 2012


A lot of people don't seem to get just how weird this whole pregnancy thing is for me.

They think its about being a parent, but that isn't it. I've been assured often over the years that I'd make a good parent, and I always figured that if I felt the urge to raise a child, I'd adopt or foster.  That's not it.

It's the being pregnant part.

As I told a friend of mine, it's like waking up one day to find I have blue eyes, or extra fingers. Or a man discovering he was pregnant, or something like that. It has that "It can't happen" kind of feel to it. The assumption of my infertility withstood two decades of sexual intercourse without issue. It's weird :)

For most women, being told they're infertile affects their mental and emotional schemas.  Some develop an "I'm less than a woman" or "I'm not a whole woman" kind of psychological problem, but not me. I was never particularly interested in making babies, so when I got the news I was thrilled. I felt freed up to be the woman I wanted to be, without that one important thing to worry about.

So now something very foreign to me has happened and I'm pretty weirded-out.  Getting over it, sure, but still going through those "damn this is weird!" moments.

All that said, it's also kind of cool. The baby moving around is pretty neat. Being more mindful of my body and what is happening to it is also pretty cool. The process of letting go of my preconceived notions of how the rest of my life was going to be is also an interesting thing. Beginning to imagine what it is going to be like is an adventure. For most women, babies are something they eventually plan on getting around to, so, consciously or not, they've created that possibility and that psychological schematic much earlier in life than I have. In my case, it's a more conscious process -- and there isn't anything to challenge or disappoint my underlying assumptions. It's more of a "Whoa, I'm pregnant! Time to think about what I want all this to look like" kind of thing than a "I always pictured my nursery like this and my home like that..."

The scariness is slowly fading for me, but it's just starting to sink in for M, I think. He mentioned last night that he's realizing just how much his various relationships are going to change. Fortunately, we're pretty solid in our relationship right now. We've been working extremely well together on the various projects -- we make a good team. Communication is good. And he's doing a good job of reminding me that he's there for me with hugs and touches and squeezes. The latter is most important to me. I was feeling alone in this pregnancy for a while, but we had a long talk and he's reaching out more.

So yeah, this pregnancy thing still feels weird, but I've a feeling I'll get used to it -- just in time for delivery. Heh :)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Subscribing to this blog

Hello! If you have subscribed to the RSS feed or subscribed to receive emails for this blog, please re-enter your information or re-subscribe.

I changed the name of the blog a day after I'd set it up and forgot to update the feed links to point to the new blog data.

Nesting with trees

Nesting, or preparing a home for the arrival of a child, takes many forms. In our case, it's accelerating the outdoor projects we originally planned to do later this Spring / Summer.  When you buy a house, you really need to live there for a year, through all the seasons, and pay attention to the micro-climates around the home, before making long-term planting decisions, like trees. Sick or mis-planted trees make me very sad, and the leaf-curl on the espaliered peach tree influenced our choice of this house. M and I both felt sorry for it, silly as that sounds. But anyway, we've been involved with the house since March of last year, and I've been observing the patterns of light and temperature and water-flow, so I'm fairly comfortable making planting choices now.

We have a large patio area on the east side of the house that gets really good east-west sun along the fence-line for most of the day. There is a peach tree and a bottle brush tree planted there already, and then a big empty air-space above the fence through which we can see onto our neighbor's front stoop. We discussed planting something there, and M really wanted an almond tree, but I explained that almonds are drupes (like peaches) and can be rather messy for patios. They also lose their leaves in the winter like peaches, which means such a tree won't provide the privacy screening we desire.

I'm a big fan of trees that provide edibles, and being a native Californian, I know that citrus trees are in-leaf year-round, and have flowers and/or fruit for most of the year. M doesn't care for citrus fruits because they're too sour and have so many seeds, but mandarins / satsumas are an exception since they are sweet and seedless. When I told him that I wanted to plant a mandarin and why, he readily agreed. For some reason he didn't think they could grow here in the Bay Area, so from that point it was a matter of waiting for planting season.

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from the garden center a few blocks away that the Owari Mandarin trees were in, and there were two 10-gallon pots to choose from (as well as numerous 5-gallon pots). Since he was working from home and getting antsy anyway, M and I walked over (yes, walked!) and inspected the trees. I liked what I saw. Good growth, proper pruning, dark, glossy leaves, and fruit still on the trees. I preferred the one with the most fruit on it because I felt that it was an indicator that the tree would keep fruit longer. M picked it because he likes satsumas, and more fruit on the tree means more fruit he can eat :)

We then walked back home and drove my GMC to the garden center to pick up the tree. Once we got it home we tackled the next step: locating exactly where and how to plant it. M admits to very little experience with growing things, never mind planting them, so with my background in plant biology, he usually defers to my judgement.

We measured. We visualized. We placed it and moved it. And then, when M felt certain that the tree, once grown, would provide the visual screening we desire, we dug. Most people don't realize that when you're planting something like a tree, that you don't dig a deep hole. You dig a wide one, twice as wide as the pot. A wide hole encourages lateral root growth, which better supports the tree, and prevents a tree from getting root-bound. Many trees fail because the root system never branches out, it just knots in on itself, strangling the tree.

We've got great soil for citrus trees, and I know that because I can see twenty of them just walking around the block. Sandy and well-draining, with just the right amount of humus (decomposed plant matter). The digging was very easy. Even digging a foot down took very little effort. We dug a trench about a foot deep and 30 inches wide, placed the tree, mixed some commercial garden soil in with the soil from the hole, and back-filled around the tree, tamping the soil fairly lightly. We soaked the soil, which drained as quickly as expected, and later this morning I'll tamp more soil in and build a little earth ring around the tree to make watering easier.

Yesterday we actually ended up picking up three other trees. Two white double-flowering weeping cherries, and one pink single-flowering tree with the same weeping habit. I was very excited to find a Prunus pendula rosaea (pink single-flowering cherry), and to find one that was 6 feet tall was a real score. None of them are flowering yet, so we can't be absolutely certain that the trees we bought are as-marked, but they're beautiful and healthy and already producing buds. We'll plant them out in front of the house once the landscaping is done in a few weeks, but in the meantime they're sitting on the patio basking in the sun, and I'll give M some lessons on the care and pruning of top-grafted trees, which is what all three cherries are.

Looking out the patio windows, I can see bluebirds and hummingbirds flitting around. The sunlight is catching on a new web some enterprising spider built on the trellis we moved in order to plant the tree. The branches of the weeping cherries are moving ever so slightly in the morning breeze. Everything is quiet and peaceful, for now. I am savoring moments like this as often and as long as I can, because I know that in four months everything will change.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Observations on being 23 weeks pregnant at 43

I suppose it's just as well that I don't have a 9-to-5 job, because I find myself needing a nap every afternoon. My OB was very clear with me that since this is a high-risk pregnancy I should rest when my body tells me I need to rest. So afternoon naps it is. Sleeping is an interesting experience now, because I am normally a back sleeper and now the baby is getting big enough for my uterus to press against the nerves that run down my legs, making them tingle. I'm mostly sleeping on my side now -- until my bladder decides it's time to void it.

I've also started wearing a bra to bed so my breasts don't hurt -- which they do when I sleep on my side for any length of time. Catch-22.

I'm having vivid dreams. I often lay half-awake under the influence of a dream, thinking about something or someone. This morning it was a "Children of Men" type of dream. War-torn environment, holed up in a room feeling frightened and big with child... M got up to intercept someone coming our direction and he was dragged off, fighting. My terror spiked and I knew I needed to stay calm, but I couldn't, so I found myself screaming for Dato -- he has a very deep calm. I woke up with his name right there on the front of my brain. I was worried that my psychic scream might have woken him up where he was sleeping 700 miles away, it was that strong.
I can't suck-in my stomach anymore, either. There just isn't any place for it to go. No more sit-ups, so I'm doing reverse ones -- raising my knees toward my torso as close as I can. I'm hating lap belts when I drive, too. I don't like that pressure low on my pelvis. It feels... off. It also seems to contribute to the "I need to pee" feeling. I'm tempted to just go with the shoulder restraint only.

My hair is growing fast, which I like, but so are my nails, which I'm not so keen about. I'm clipping them daily, it seems. The best news is that I'm not getting any of the acne some women get when they're pregnant. I think it helps that I don't wear make-up.

I find that I'm walking slower, and more carefully. I can feel the baby-weight in front of me a bit, and when I go for long walks I can feel the muscles / ligaments are getting tender -- stretching. My joints are loosening up and my knees hurt much of the time. Curling up on the couch with a heated throw blanket really seems to help, though.

My libido is also raging. I think I'd have sex all day if I could, but as it is, I'm masturbating almost daily. Multiple orgasms are a breeze right now. An old lover of mine told me that when his ex-wife was pregnant he made it his mission to give her an orgasm every day. He said a happy mommy makes a happy baby. Smart man!

Food cravings are ranging from CPK chopped salads to candied ginger to dark chocolate with sea salt. I picked up some frozen greek yogurt bars at Costco to deal with the ice cream cravings. They're 70 calories and 9 grams of protein, so I feel pretty good about having one.

That nesting-instinct thing is hitting me pretty hard these days. I have this urge to get things done -now-. I just hired a landscaper to come in and re-sod the front yard later this month. I had the fruit trees sprayed yesterday. I've been using the weed-eater and the hedge trimmer and the hula hoe in daily binges -- part exercise, part OCD. I've ordered some trees, even. Two flowering cherries and an Owari mandarin. The flowering cherries (Prunus pendula) will go out front at end of the month, and when the mandarin comes in from Monrovia we'll plant it near the patio, next to the lemon bottlebrush tree (Callistemon citrinus). We'll plant pear trees next year, I think, to compliment the peach and plum we already have, and to give some shade to the back yard, which faces south.

Inside, I've torn up my bedroom. I'm going through anything still in boxes and deciding what to keep and what to donate. I might just have a garage sale, actually. I have so many boxes of my grandmother's things -- china and silver and other things I'm unlikely to ever use but can't seem to part with, so they're being stacked up in the big closet in the room we've taken over as an office.  I've never been much of a hoarder, except for books, and fortunately I found homes for about 2000 books last year. The ones I have left are things like signed first editions and out-of-print books that I may just pack up to keep safe from baby-fingers. And to make room for storing baby things. My Ikea Expedit bookshelf fits most baskets so it converts easily to other uses.

I've looked at the courses that Kaiser offers for new parents and I'll take them in March and April I think -- Labor and Delivery tours, newborn care, and breastfeeding. I think M will do the first two with me. That is my preference at least, and since I rarely state preferences, he usually pays attention when I do.

I'm getting a bit anxious about the whole birthing thing, not the pain so much as things like tearing versus episiotomy, the possibility of C-section if there is fetal distress, and choosing a birthing partner with both of my sisters out of the picture. M's empathy and sensitivities are likely to make him unsuitable as a partner for the entire process. He's confessed to a preference for  the 1950's cigar-in-hand waiting room level of involvement, and I'm ok with that :) We've only known about the baby for 6 or 7 weeks now, so there is still so much adjusting to do, unintentional parents that we are.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Boycotting the Susan Komen For The Cure Foundation

I support the organization Planned Parenthood, and am deeply disturbed by the choice made by the Susan B Komen Race For The Cure Foundation to cut ties with Planned Parenthood due to political pressure from Right-To-Life activists.

I first used Planned Parenthood's services when I was 18. I had a basic knowledge of my reproductive system through my parents and my schooling, but I'd recently become sexually active and I was concerned about STDs, pregnancy, testing for both, etc, not to mention privacy and costs. I had my first pelvic exam at Planned Parenthood in 1986, for free. I received compassionate counseling on reproductive care, birth control, and AIDS infection prevention. AIDS had just started making the news and no one I knew had any definitive answers in those pre-information age days, so Planned Parenthood was a blessing.

I worked for years at an inner-city boys and girls club, and we had a problem in that city: Pre-teen girls were getting pregnant. So we put together a program to teach girls in the 9 to 13 age bracket about self-esteem and saying 'No' and about reproductive health. Planned Parenthood was an invaluable resource to us.

Until January, I supported the Susan B Komen Foundation, even despite the organization's uncharitable legal action against other cancer-related fundraising groups using the "For The Cure" phrase that they've apparently copyrighted. Cancer has blighted my family for generations and I was delighted to donate to an organization that focused on both cancer and women's health. But their choice to bow to political pressure from people who do not support women's reproductive rights has turned me from a supporter to an active anti-Komen activist. Planned Parenthood is one of the few organizations that provides no-strings-attached (ie apolitical, non-religious) women's health -- and thus women's breast health -- care to poor and young women. And for the Komen Foundation to cut off funding for breast-health services at Planned Parenthood is inexcusable.

I'm doing my best to raise awareness of how reproductive politics has invaded the Komen Foundation and which side they've chosen to take. I'm doing my best to raise awareness of how, in choosing sides on an issue tangential to it's stated cause, The Komen Foundation is no longer serving it's mission to bring universal screening and breast cancer treatment to all women.

While this controversy is still roaring, please re-consider your support of the Komen Foundation. Stop buying Breast Cancer Pink Ribbon products like these. Contact the Komen Foundation  and urge them to keep reproductive rights politics out of their funding practices (see the note I submitted below). And most of all, please donate to Planned Parenthood so they can continue to provide breast cancer education and screening services to women all over America.

Thank you for reading.

Dear Komen Foundation--Shame on you for failing in your mission to support universal screening and breast health care by cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood. It is sad to realize that you've bowed to reproductive rights political pressures and tried to hide it by disguising your decision as being caused by the specious allegations and inquiry by US Rep. Cliff Stearns. Planned Parenthood is regularly audited to ensure compliance with the Hyde Amendment, and these audits have never turned up any evidence of wrongdoing.  Please keep reproductive rights politics out of your funding practices. In making this choice you are failing women all over America. Shame on you!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Letter #1 to my unborn son

Dear Baby Boy,

In this, our 23rd week together, you are making your presence known, even though I am not obviously pregnant-looking yet. I can feel you moving around, though at this point I can't tell if you are contra-dancing or taiko drumming -- it feels like both sometimes.

It seems like you are going to have your father's sweet-tooth, based on all the sweets-related cravings I'm experiencing right now.  In the interests of keeping both of us healthy, however, I'm doing my best to resist. I want to keep my weight and blood-sugar levels down so there's no gestational diabetes or toxemia -- so help me out here and crave chopped salads again, ok?

Gifts from the baby registry have already started arriving. In less than four months you'll be wearing some of these things. They look so tiny, these clothes, which makes the thought of giving birth to you a little less scary, but also makes me fear my natural clumsiness, which is in full-force these days. Babies don't bounce when dropped ;)

I'm avoiding chemicals as much as I can, eating organic as much as I can afford. No artificial sweeteners, no foods nuked in plastic containers, no drinks from plastic bottles. The geneticist and biochemist in me is wary of the possible effects of man-made chemicals on you. Your father has taken over the chemical-related yard duties and even some of the cleaning, too.

Soon we'll start setting up the nursery-zone in my bedroom. I know it seems a bit late in the game to some people, but I've only known you were coming for about 6 weeks now. I want to keep you near for at least the first year, so it will be a while before you get a room of your own.


PS: Thanks for letting me sleep through the night last night.