Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Is this your first child?"

This isn't an easy question to answer. In a medical situation, the relevant answer is "Yes" since they need to know I've never been pregnant before, but I refuse not to claim my first daughter, and if I don't mention her, I miss out on all of the great bonding conversation over how cute and infuriating 2 1/2-year-olds are, or maybe some unsolicited advice on preparing the big sister (I actually like unsolicited advice of that sort, I'm kind of weird that way). So usually I say something like "This is my first pregnancy but our second child." If I feel like coming out, I'll clarify that "my wife gave birth to our first." If I don't, I'll leave it at that, and let whoever is asking puzzle out the situation. That all works great if I'm alone. But the last two days, as we've interacted more with the hospital and Gail has been with me, it's not working as well.

Prior to this whole liver thing, Gail was coming to all midwife appts but I was handling the OB appts on my own, since we considered them secondary. She hadn't actually even been to the hospital until our appointment on Monday. Our plan is now for her to come to pretty much everything, since she needs to get really comfortable at the hospital ASAP and it would be good for the various staff/nurses/OBs to see her around. We certainly have plenty of appointments so she should catch up quickly.

We've now had two slightly disturbing incidents where I was asked if this was my first child (once by the PA who does the initial BP check, and today by the very nice nurse who did the non-stress-test that the baby passed quickly with flying colors). I gave my standard answer and indicated that Gail had given birth to our first daughter. In both interactions, the person inquiring immediately turned to Gail and asked her how old the first is (one may have even said "how old is your daughter" to Gail, but I'm not certain), even though they had previously been talking directly to me. The first time, we thought maybe this was just a one-off thing. But the second time, we realized it is probably a pattern, at least in an institutional setting where you have lots of interactions with lots of people who don't necessarily know you very well (this was never an issue with our midwife, but she already knew us, so that makes sense).

In both cases, we did our standard thing where Gail tried to quickly punt questions back my direction, but it was kind of tricky and didn't go all that smoothly (we got in this habit when Leigh was a baby and we had the rule that "whoever isn't holding the baby answers the questions." It was a great trick to make sure we were perceived as a family). This automatic assumption that Gail would answer about Leigh, presumably since she had birthed Leigh almost three years ago, rankled both of us, and Gail proposed that she simply not answering at all next time. It will make for an awkward silence, but might get the point accross. I think we'll try that. Since we're at appointments about this baby, and she's the "note-taker" and "researcher" (she's reading up on all of this, not me) she is automatically doing great public parental interaction re: baby two, so I think we'll be covered on that front.

I also think that, particularly at the NST today, when we were booking about a million monitoring appointments, and quickly talking back and forth in shorthand about what to do for childcare for the various appointment times (certain days necessitate sending Leigh to a neighbor, some times necessitate a grandma daycare pick-up, it gets a little complicated), it probably became very clear that we are both parents to both kids. It is those kinds of interactions that help to break down some of the assumptions that rub us the wrong way, but it is interesting to be reminded, precisely because we are now interacting with so many people who don't know us as a family already, that the assumptions really are there.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The other shoe

While neglecting this blog the last couple weeks, what we haven't been writing about is how this pregnancy has now shifted from extremely healthy and extremely low-risk (although not necessarily easy, see the nose incident and that persistent morning sickness) to a moderately risky one necessitating pretty vigorous medical management. Great. We all know how much I love doctors.

The short story is that over about the last two weeks we've determined that I have developed a not-so-common (but not necessarily so uncommon) liver problem specific to pregnancy, with relatively conclusive labs coming back yesterday morning. I'm not going to name it, because expectant parents read here and you have enough to worry about; you don't a new tempting scary link. I promise, if you really need it, you can find out more than you ever wanted to know starting with the info here, but really, don't look it up unless you have good cause.

In addition to the most insane skin itching I've ever felt in my entire life, which was our tipoff that something was really wrong, this condition comes with substantial increases in scary stuff like pre-term labor, stillbirth, fetal distress and some other stuff. As near as we can tell, the real risk is to the baby, while the risk on my end is primarily completely losing my mind due to being up all night itching and itching and itching. The risks to the baby are minimized (to the point of being nearly eliminated) with medication, sufficient monitoring to make sure things are OK in there, and most effectively, early delivery at about 37 weeks.

Especially given that we've been earnestly planning our home birth, encouraged in our plans by that super-healthy pregnancy I was having, this is extremely unwelcome news. I'm at 34 weeks now. We will most likely have a baby in 3 weeks if not sooner. We had thought we were on more like the 6 to 8 weeks schedule, especially since for first pregnancies, the babies like to come a little late.

Obviously there are plenty of worse late-term complications out there. Even though moderately risky and unpleasant, this one doesn't seem to represent a huge hazard to the baby as long as we do what we need to do. I get that. I really do. But I'm still not happy about it.

We do at least now get some payoff for my putting up with those pesky back-up OB appointments. I was able to get labs through quickly without having to futz around to find a doctor willing to take me this late in the game, and even though I have a general distrust of doctors (oh, except my father, sorry Dad), for a host of reasons, some good and some not, I do at least like this OB, and count her among the "good ones." She was willing to be unofficial back-up for my midwife at a time when that is really not at all politically expedient in this area. She also seems to have a good grasp of what actually is and isn't evidence based in obstetrics. At my appointment this morning, she was extremely reassuring and is handling the transfer of care appropriately and respectfully. I feel like we're in good hands, even if it's not where we want to be.

We had been considering switching from this local back-up hospital to one a long drive south with a better c-section rate, but with our midwife's encouragement, we'll be staying with the local hospital, not only for continuity of care and to avoid the stress of traveling so far for monitoring, but also for the safety of having the hospital close in case of pre-term labor. Our midwife will also be continuing to work with us, but now in a labor support role. We trust her. She's been smart about all of this, encouraging testing at the right time and supporting appropriate transfer of care to a more medical approach. We'll be glad to have her there.

I suppose now we have to figure out what to do with those nice boxes of birth supplies out on our porch. Does anyone need a lot of chux, vinyl table cloths or drinking straws?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Three Years Ago: Looking Forward to Being an Onlooker

The last time Lyn and I were having a baby, we started to keep a joint journal in order to record and remember our experiences. We sent the journal back and forth on the computer, each of us writing in it when inspiration struck. Today I opened up that file and rummaged around in the past, trying to reconstruct the pregnancy and reconcile my thoughts then with my feelings now. We’re going to be posting some findings from this journal from time to time over the next few weeks.

January 2006. (Background: When I was pregnant with Leigh, Lyn was a graduate student and I was a full-time instructor of mathematics at a big-name university. After Leigh was born, Lyn and I had a summer in which we were both on leave. In the fall, I returned to work and Lyn stayed home with Leigh. I was able to take a partial day at home each week while Lyn went into work.)

I've been reading a book about how mothers get the shaft economically, and today I came across a passage in the book that stated something to the effect of that mothers are economically penalized because they are unwilling to be benevolent onlookers while their children are growing up unlike men who don't seem to mind that role. A number of things happened to me all at the same time when I read this. First, I felt a sudden sympathy for men. Perhaps some men don't mind it, but I suspect that many are trapped in the role. This thought led immediately to the second thing that happened to me which was thinking, "Wait, she's talking about me. I'm the benevolent onlooker!" I don't want to be a benevolent onlooker, but how is my family going to thrive if I don't keep working to make sure that we have enough money to live (and even have the "perks" in life like health insurance)?

At the same time I was struck by something Lyn had said a few days earlier -- we're both going to be mothers, so we're both going to be economically disadvantaged by having children. And, I thought, we're also both going to be emotionally damaged by having to make choices that take us away from our children. Next year we are wrestling with the decision of what do to about child care. I'll be working full time and we both think that it is best if Lyn finishes her PhD. So we are likely going to get half-time child care at a daycare center [Note: We ended up choosing full-time care at home, mostly done by Lyn]. Resting on top of all of these thoughts was an anticipation of loss. Earlier this week I said to Lyn that while I thought we are making the best and most logical choice that we can, I don't think that we're going to be emotionally prepared for what it's going to be like to go to work and leave the child in daycare. I'm pretty sure that I thought meant that she wasn't going to be prepared. Because right now Lyn is sitting in the traditional woman's roll. She's the one with the "choice" of being at home with the baby or working outside of the home. This morning I realized that I really meant that I'm not prepared. I know that the only way we can really move forward is for me to go back to work. But while I might be in the traditional "male" roll of breadwinner here, the fact is that my writing right is peppered by the wiggling of a tiny baby inside of me and I will bring that baby into the world just three months before I go back to being the breadwinner.

Lesbians are lucky in many ways when it comes to having children. We have the "spare womb." We also have a spare mom. If I can't be the mom because I have to work, then Lyn can. How great! No one has to give up anything. Except that right now our spare womb, Lyn, is struggling to figure out how she can be a "real mom" when the child grew in my belly and will come out of my vagina and suck at my breast, while I am starting to realize that things might not be so rosy for me after I fall in love with our baby and then have to leave it with another mother for eight hours a day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Do those hormones really make you hog the baby?

I have been thinking some about what oneofhismoms wrote about having more empathy for how hard it is to really back off and let one's partner get the time they really need to parent, now that she's been on both sides of the bio-vs-non-bio-mom fence. She writes:
"There are so many things about being a gestational mom that I overlooked before. Being the one who did not give birth was mostly awesome (and not in a valley girl way, in a full-of-awe way) but also difficult emotionally. Being the one who gave birth was difficult mostly physically. But because it is also hormonal and at least for the first year or so, so tied to my mammary glands, it was also emotional in a way over which I feel I have no control. Now I understand how hard it is to give your partner the time and space she needs with the baby. I do it. But I also see why some women have a hard time with it."
This word from the frontlines, from someone in shoes nearly identical to mine (even down to spacing of the kids, and the near-religious advocacy for non-bio-moms everywhere), has me wondering how I will feel about "sharing" this baby come birth time. I have long said that even though it was sort of an accident, given our personalities, it is a really good thing that Gail carried first, placing me on the less traveled parental path. Gail is generally less territorial than I am, and this really helped her to be comfortable supporting my relationship with Leigh early on, and I was also so strongly motivated to jump in and build that relationship right away, perhaps more motivated than Gail would have been since she's a little more "go-with-the-flow." But here we are, just a couple months from welcoming this next baby, and it is still true that I'm more territorial than Gail. So I find myself wondering, which will carry more weight, my enthusiasm for Gail to connect with our new baby, as informed by my experience the last time, or a possible (probable?) hormone driven possessiveness that leads me to be reluctant to share the parenting time and mothering turf?

I've heard of other families who alternated uteri, where the second time through the pregnant mom felt a little harangued by all of the pregnancy advice. In our family, I fear it is Gail who is harangued. I'm so damn proud of everything that we figured out the first time about how to get an NGP on solid footing ASAP, that I have to remind myself to back off, and that Gail will find her own relationship with this kiddo, and she may not find it by the same path that I did.

Gail and I really like the book Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies and Bargaining Power by Rhona Mahoney. It's about straight families, and written mostly to straight women (and is, unfortunately, unnecessarily harsh on guys), but she gets a lot of stuff right about the unspoken bartering and bargaining that happens around parenthood, often even before there is a kid in the picture. One thing she writes about is how having some sort of "commitment mechanism" can help to make sure you don't slip into a place as a family you'd rather not be. In her book, this would be about making sure all parenting doesn't fall solely to mom in a straight family, but I think it applies here too. Lord knows I've spouted off about "selfish GPs" (of all stripes) not letting their partners actually, say, parent their kids, that I'd damn well better be willing to put my money where my mouth is this go round, and there you have it, a bit of a commitment mechanism to make sure I don't hog the baby too much. We've also structured our parenting time to make sure Gail has substantial uninterrupted time with the new kid (3 days home for her, 2 days home for me once we start work in the Fall, both of us home for the summer), so that's another commitment mechanism. But I also get that I've never had this particular experience before, and I need to be willing to be surprised by it, and not interpret any pang of territorial feelings on my part as some sort of failure. I'd be curious to hear any experiences along these lines from readers who've been down similar paths, from either side.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Retail therapy

We've been short on deep thoughts here at FTST lately. For this I blame two things 1) My grant deadline on Wednesday and 2) Cleaning for Pesach. Why is it such a surprise every year?

However, there are three things that have made our lives a little better lately:
  • We are now proud owners of a dishwasher. It is the portable variety, and Gail did a masterful job of not only finding a great one (Energy Star even!) on Craigslist, but also arranging for delivery, since (a) pre-pregnancy I posessed the bulk of available upper body strength in our relationship and I'm not currently permitted to use it extensively and (b) we don't have a car, and renting a truck to pick things up is a giant pain, especially when we also have to rustle up muscle. After a week, we LOVE the dishwasher. Now we just have to figure out if it can be appropriately cleaned for passover.
  • After agonizing for months over the decision of what mattress to buy Leigh, in an attempt not to give her horrible diseases with off-gassing, I willy-nilly impulse purchased a presumably horribly toxic memory foam mattress pad for our bed, and couldn't be happier. It is very squishy and my hips are much much happier. It is still stinky of lots of chemicals and I don't care. I'll take the sleep.
  • I finally got one of those exercise balls that are cheap if you call them "yoga balls" but expensive if you call them "birth balls." My hips are liking that too. It does make dinner a little interesting (or actually, a little boring for everyone else), since I sit there rocking back and forth and spacing out.
And now for a Leigh update. She's really getting this baby thing, and informed me yesterday that the baby needed to come out of my belly button. Now. I took the opportunity to tell her where the baby was really going to come out, and she found that pretty interesting. We'll see what she repeats at daycare. She's also worried that the baby might be cold, and went to get one of her blankets for it, and says that I'd better rest after the baby comes out because I'll be tired. She's still thinking about whether or not the baby will be invited to her birthday.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Cellphone CIO

Contrary to popular belief, Gail and I are not complete luddites. OK, that's sort of a lie, but I in particular do lots of technological computer work during the day, and prefer to keep my interaction with gadgets to a minimum at home to balance.

Case in point: we didn't get cell phones until Leigh started daycare at 15 months, and the ones we got are prepaid and we hardly ever use them.

Last night, I remembered why I never wanted a cell phone in the first place. It requires caretaking. I have to think about this thing every morning, carry it with me, not lose it, and here's the clincher, keep it charged. In the middle of the night, a cell phone starts peeping plaintively from the living room every 15 minutes or so, letting us know it was almost out of batteries. OK. Fine. You need a charge. There are good reasons to be up in the middle of the night. Let's see, newborn care, a sick toddler, peeing 40,000 times because I'm pregnant, but taking care of a whiny cell phone is NOT a good reason to get dragged out of bed.

Makes me want to chuck the damn things out the window, but I suppose that would be the day there was a real emergency at day care.