Blog a la Cart

Category: Maternity

Knits for Baby Cart #3

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Given how uncomfortable I find life vertical (not that seated or horizontal is discomfort-free, but it’s a vast improvement), I spend much of my free-time, particularly these cold winter weekends, curled up on the couch knitting for this little one while listening to audiobooks or podcasts (I highly recommend experiencing The Red Tent as an audiobook, btdubs).

It’s only been since the New Year that I’ve turned focus to knitting for “our baby” (as Courtland refers to her/him). I finished up this romper for our Year of the Monkey babe, and well, for the newest addition to Cartwheel Farm, I couldn’t resist creating this rooster cardigan. Can you tell that I’m a sucker for animal buttons?

I’ve completed a blanket, hand mitts, ribbed pants, and two hats (those are trickier to photograph well and may just need to wait for our babe’s arrival to properly model their cuteness), and have booties, socks, a vest, and two more sweaters in my queue. We’ll see how much is accomplished in these final six weeks (assuming s/he stays put until D day).

Oh, I am so looking forward to infant snugs in these cozy knits.

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Knit romper details in my Ravelry projects.

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Rooster Cardigan details in my Ravelry projects.

Portrait of Life with a Third Pregnancy

James slides into bed after an evening of scraping and sanding and painting, and aligns himself along the curve of my back. His hands find my belly, home to the moving and shaking and rumbling of our furtive, energetic youngest.

Always wide awake and busy at midnight, huh?

Yup. Like clockwork. This does not bode well for when s/he’s on the outside. At least now I’m the only one disrupted by her evening exercise.

It’s pretty amazing. I know it’s a pain, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the day. 

We lie in silence, focused intently on the waves and ripples and jolts. The few moments of our day where our attention is ever fully fixed on this newest life.

S/he’ll be here in 7 weeks. We really need to find that bin of baby clothes. Though, I fear its contents are only appropriate for LA or summer-born infants. We should probably buy some stuff.

Yeah, and we need to launder them right? Dreft. We should buy some Dreft. And where is all the cloth diapering stuff. Are we cloth diapering this time?

I dunno. I hadn’t even thought about it. Sure. Yes. If we find the stuff… but we’re stopping after we go back to work and this kid goes to daycare.

Another solid jab. A reminder that yes, there is a human being in there. And yes, s/he will be entering our family very soon. And yes, we are sending her to daycare at 6 months unlike either of her siblings.

Gosh, when we were seven weeks from Addison’s arrival her entire nursery was completely finished

We scraped wallpaper, installed molding, and painted WALL MURALS for that kid. Not to mention fully stocked her closet with an unnecessary amount of Dreft-laundered clothing. The changing table was already brimming with diapers at the ready. And that ridiculous round crib. All assembled, with an array of blankets and stuffed animals and mobiles.

This kid gets a closet, with no crib. But let’s be honest. S/he’ll sleep in our bed for awhile. And we now have an Amazon Prime account.

Thank the sweet baby Cheez-Its for free 2-day shipping.

We can let this child know that mere weeks prior to her arrival, we invested all of our time and energy in redesigning our living room. Sunny got cow-themed wall murals, this kid got freshly painted window sills and a sectional sofa. You’re welcome, Third Child.

Thud! Thud! Thump!

Well, it’s clear s/he won’t let us entirely forget about her. I’ll find that bin of clothes tomorrow.

And I’ll finally order that infant car seat…


While this baby may not have the newest clothes or the most fashionable and expertly designed nursery, s/he will be so very loved, by her parents who fully understand how fleeting and precious those early stages of life really are and siblings who already bestow kisses and hugs and “gentle high fives” ubiquitously and unprompted. A home that is busy and loud and filled with dog hair and laughter and (occasional) Cheerios for dinner and dance parties and love. While we have prepared next to nothing for his/her arrival, we’re ready.

How are you feeling?

Now that I am squarely in the home stretch to baby (2 months from Sunday is babe’s due date!), I’ve been receiving the age-old question of mother’s in the Third Trimester, “How are you feeling?”

And, oh, what a tricky question that is to answer.

What I want to say, even to strangers in the check out aisle at the grocery store, is that my vagina is experiencing so much dang pressure from baby that I constantly feel like I’m waddling around with a watermelon armed with spears in my underpants. And it’s been that way, sadly, since 20 weeks hashtagthirdpregnancyrealities. As my midwife explained, my body has fallen back on old habits and readily adapted, expanded, settled in for baby, so everything is loose and low. And with it, all the discomforts.

Extended walks are impossible. Spinning went out the window months ago. I waddle, I groan, I move at a snail’s pace. It is comically in line with what one expects of a mother a few weeks from her due date (not months!). I visit the chiropractor weekly. I struggle through pre-natal yoga even though I often feel like my pelvic floor is going to be ripped asunder. I’ve scheduled pre-natal massages with my doula for every other week from now until baby arrives to try to keep me functional during these final 9 weeks.

I am laughably pitiful.

Side story to fully capture my children’s perception of their mother in this state:

The other night, Sunny slept in bed with me as she was fitful and having trouble falling asleep (our totally blown schedule over winter break largely to blame). Ever the person to struggle with sleep in the family, I took her on as my bedtime compatriot. We lay side by side, whispering loudly, tossing and turning, every once and awhile checking in to see if the other had knocked out. It was reminiscent of two middle school girls at a slumber party – and I admittedly delighted in the sweetness of it, despite the impending sleep deprivation.

The next morning over breakfast, Sunny explained the evening’s proceedings to James, namely that I kept whining about needing to pee, but then not getting out of bed.

“Mama kept saying, UGGGGGHHHHH, I have to pee again! But it’s so hard to get up! Maybe I’ll just pee the bed! She did this over and over and over and then finally rolled out of bed but it took her forever to get up.”

Now, I don’t know if I was THAT mellow-dramatic, though I did threaten to wet the bed to get a righteous giggle out of her, but her description of my current state very accurately captures my pathetic-ness and my whininess. James is largely the one that suffers through my whining, but dang it, if I have to carry our baby, he can put up with my moans and groans (and he does so very graciously, with a nightly foot rub for good measure).

But despite the pelvic pressure and the resulting waddle and slow pace, I generally can’t complain. I’ve had an uneventful pregnancy, with normal test result after normal test result. I’m healthy. Baby is healthy. I am all too aware of what a gift it is to have pregnancy move along with normal, and average, and healthy as the buzzwords of the day. I can only hope that we continue at this pace, and while I know my discomfort will increase, that it will all fall within the boundaries of normal and expected.

Now that the New Year has begun, and we’ve fully packed away the holidays, I am ready to turn my focus more deliberately to baby. In the preparation of our home and his/her “stuff.” Of which I think we actually need very little – my ideas of what a baby requires have changed dramatically since navigating two prior infancies. Less is more. But we should still probably invest in a crib, an infant car seat, and find and launder the diapers, blankets, burp cloths and baby clothes we’ve got stashed away in our basement. And in revisiting my birth “plan” (which really isn’t the right word because nothing ever goes as “planned” when it comes to labor and birth, but captures my values and hopes for L&D). And spending quiet time connecting with body and baby as I prepare for birth and nursing and all the biological madness that happens postpartum.

The girls are counting down the days until they meet their baby brother or sister. They are so eager and excited to have a new friend and playmate, and it makes the whole process all the more thrilling and wonderful to share the anticipation with them.

There’s lots to do before s/he makes her entrance, but I know s/he’ll be here before we know it. And here’s hoping that the shooting pain in my vagina doesn’t turn me into too much of an inappropriate dinner/check-out aisle/water cooler/party-conversationalist.

Week 30

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I was feeling super self-conscious about my lack of maternity bathing suits and thus my selection of ill-fitting attire for this trip to South Carolina. I put this one on and immediately started bemoaning the stretch marks, and outie belly button, and saggy boobs when James stopped me mid-pity party: “That body is going to bring a human being into the world in 10 weeks. You should feel proud and awed by how badass that is.”

Touché feminist spouse. Keeping shit in perspective and reminding me of what I want my daughters and all women to feel about their bodies, in all of their many shapes, sizes, and stages.

Appropriate that Courtland (age 4) nabbed this image on my phone as we were getting ready to head out to the pool. She was once again the mirror that I needed.

Welcoming Maisie

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It took us over four months, but James and I finally finished compiling the video of our sweet Fairy Goddaughter’s birth in time to gift to Courtland’s FGPs for Christmas. This labor was so quick and smooth that the video required only one song to capture the labor, delivery and wonderful postpartum bonding. In fact, I think James’ timing of the delivery in the video is actually longer than the IRL version.

Regardless, I was humbled and awed and inspired to be with people I consider family during these precious, vulnerable, life-altering moments. And I’m so happy to share a piece of the magic with all of you.

Giving Birth in America

The U.S. is the only developed nation in the world whose maternal mortality rate has been on the rise since 1990. This is B-A-N-A-N-A-S. And truly unacceptable (slash unnecessary).

Semi-tangential – bear with me: Addison’s first Thanksgiving, while we were still living in Los Angeles, we spent the day after the holiday making turkey BLTs with James’ extended family who all live in the LA area. It was during this post-Thanksgiving fete that I met James’ cousin who works for Every Mother Counts, a non-profit whose mission it is to make pregnancy and childbirth safe to every mother, everywhere. She had just finished filming the documentary, No Woman, No Cry, addressing global maternal health and the shocking reality that nearly 1,000 women die each day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, nearly all of which are preventable.

While acknowledging that maternity in many developing nations needs more medical support and training to help prevent these maternal complications, I relayed my concern that we were “overdoing it” here in the US and over-medicalizing and controlling a process for which only 15% of women really needed that extra intervention and medicalization. I began discussing my own birth experience just four months prior at a fancy pants hospital in Beverly Hills, and my frustrations and concerns with how I was treated by the nurses and medical staff during the experience. Clancy nodded along knowingly. We talked about the wonder and significance of doulas to help cut down on this over-intervention (you can revisit my dear friend’s very data-driven analysis in support of doula support for more information on that front) and how outrageous it was that doulas were not covered by insurance. Every woman should have access to a doula for her birth experience. Pregnancy and childbirth should be treated as a normal biological process by health care providers. For instance, the mission of the midwives with whom I’ve consulted for my subsequent pregnancies is, “We honor the normalcy of women’s lifecycle events.  We believe in watchful waiting and non-intervention in normal processes. We will utilize appropriate interventions and technology for current or potential health problems.” Yes, yes, yes.

Why is maternal mortality on the rise in the U.S.? Because instead of taking a woman-centered, normalcy-based approach to pregnancy and childbirth, we face medical-legal, hospital and insurance barriers that are out of sync with women’s needs, like lack of support for vaginal births after C-sections (or VBACs) and mandatory C-sections for conditions that can often be managed safely by vaginal birth. It’s also important to acknowledge the racial, cultural and systemic impediments that leave women of color and low-income women with lower quality care or no care at all in this country.

I write all this to encourage you to watch a new film series created by Every Mother Counts titled Giving Birth in America. The series follows four pregnant women and their healthcare providers in Florida, Montana and New York in the days leading up to delivery. Together, they navigate the challenges of race, poverty, chronic illness, overuse of medical interventions and other inequalities.

I also encourage you to sign this Change.org petition to cover midwife and doula services for all women in America. I have benefitted from the care and support of doulas and midwives and know that they made a tangible, significant impact on the positive outcomes of my birth experiences. All women deserve access to that level of care and support.

This morning, I revisited Addison’s birth story as thinking about #GivingBirthInAmerica, I can’t help but reflect on my own personal experiences.

I’m re-sharing the full story below. As I think about confronting another birth experience in less than three months (HELLO THIRD TRIMESTER!), I’m finding my voice and my strength and revisiting my past experiences to help remind me of the awesome responsibility and process it is to bring life into this world. I am grateful that I have a team of care-providers who I know will support and trust me throughout, and will have my (and my baby’s) best interests and health at the fore of their thoughts as they participate in that process with us. I wish that for all pregnant women.

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The day that I awoke to my abdomen constricting in the rhythmic, consistent way that all expecting women anticipate began with such eagerness and excitement.

I remember sinking into the tub, belly floating above the water like a bleached watermelon, relaxing into what I presumed would be the final moment to myself in quite some time.

I remember the sand between my toes and the way the ocean breeze rushed through my hair as I paused every few minutes to breath through the beginnings of a pain that I had no basis for comparison. Thinking it wasn’t so bad. Thinking I could do this. No problem. Having no understanding how much more my body would endure before I’d be able to breath a sigh of relief and completion. Realizing now, that nothing could have prepared me for what I was to confront only hours later.

I remember filling that round, full belly with my father’s carbonara, carbo-loading for the intensity ahead. Sitting around the table with my sister and husband, with my dog at my feet. My favorite beings all around me, as we prepared to welcome a new one to those ranks.

I remember the anxiety creeping in as the hours passed, and the pain increased, and yet the time between the pain remained constant.

I remember the earth shaking under my feet as I sat perched on the toilet, willing my body to get going, to do what it was supposed to do. My propensity for instant gratification trumped by biology.

I remember rocking on all fours atop our bed as Kimmy shuttled hot water bottles between the microwave and our room to try to ease the increasing pain in my back. The panic taking hold as I realized I had no real preparation for the road ahead.

Despite all my reading. All my knowledge. Nothing could have prepared me. There is no comparison for the pain and intensity of childbirth. I did my best to recall the words of my doula, the images of other mothers in labor from the videos we’d watched together, and yet none of it eased the growing uncertainty I felt toward my own body. About my own ability to do what billions of women had done before me.

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If I knew then what I know now I would never have left for the hospital in the middle of the night, hugging my furry beast, my “first born,” to my chest as I headed out the door, knowing that our relationship would never be the same after this day. I would never have driven to that fancy hospital all those miles away. Had insurance allowed, I would have stayed exactly where I was, at home, surrounded by the familiarity and comfort that that word implies. And if insurance had not allowed a home birth, I would have stayed where I was, for as long as possible, before going around the corner from our home to a tiny, modest hospital. There, I may have been the only laboring woman in the hospital. There, I may have gotten the attention, respect, and patience that all laboring women deserve. There, my experience may have been different. I still would have had the same outcome, and yet my feelings about my first born’s birth, about the medical care-providers, about labor and delivery, may have been 180 degrees different. I am grateful everyday for the experience I had with my second born. She redeemed something that I feared might be irredeemable on that day three and a half years ago.

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I remember the devastating disappointment and frustration I felt when I learned upon checking in to the hospital that I was only 2 cm dilated. And the confusion I felt when my doctor and the nurses all strongly urged me to start pitocin to move things along.

Everything I had read had told me to trust my body to do what it was supposed to do. And yet here was the medical industry telling me otherwise. I remember nervous phone calls to my doula, my parents, my doctor, and around again in an attempt to decide the best course of action. I ultimately caved under the weight of my doctor’s opinion. I rarely talk about that moment. I’ve blocked that moment of weakness from the story I tell when I talk about Addison’s birth. And yet, there I was, hooked up to an IV of pitocin, angry, confused, disappointed and uncertain, in a room the size of a closet, at the start of my birthing experience.

Not a very great place to begin.

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Fortunately, quite quickly, the pitocin did indeed dilate me to 4, the magic number needed to admit me to a proper birthing suite, a gorgeous, sunlit room overlooking Beverly Hills. I demanded the pitocin be stopped as soon as I arrived to the room where I was to meet my daughter. The nurse refused, concerned that labor would stop or slow if she removed the drip. I angrily called my doctor and she spoke to the nurse, instructing her to do as I’d asked. The pitocin was removed, my doula, sister and birth photographer arrived (now that there was room for their presence), and I began laboring as I’d envisioned: Slow dancing with James, rocking on the birthing ball, showering.

The nurse was negative and confrontational throughout the experience. She didn’t want me in the shower. She wanted to monitor every contraction, despite my request to be monitored as minimally as possible. She continually mumbled, “It doesn’t have to be this hard,” and “Most women don’t do it this way.” She routinely suggested an epidural despite my clearly stated disinterest.

As the hours passed, the pain increased, and I tired, my mental and emotional outlook grew dimmer and dimmer. Thank god for my amazing doula, sister, and husband that kept the nurse at bay and kept me going despite my growing fears and doubts. While I am still resentful of how I was treated by that nurse, it only enhances my appreciation and respect for the rest of my birthing team.

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The pain reached its zenith when I stopped being able to move around the room and insisted on lying on my side in bed. I hummed and buzzed my way through each contraction, and decried my ability to survive it during periods of rest. After six hours stuck at 6cm, I was ready to give up. I wanted an epidural. And I wanted my doctor to cut me open and remove the baby from my belly so that this would end. So that this nightmare would be over.

After a screaming fit of “I can’t do this. I hate this. My body is failing. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I want it over. I need this to be over!” My doula quietly pulled her face to mine and softly urged me to ask for an IV of fluids to provide some much needed hydration. I hadn’t been drinking water at all, and she reasoned that after such a long period of hard labor, I was severely dehydrated and that that was only adding to the delay. She also suggested that since my membranes had not yet ruptured, I might want to reconsider my request to not have my water broken. Better have a doctor break the bag than have the unwanted epidural, she reasoned.

I listened to this calm, reassuring older woman, a woman who had been down this road personally four times and had held the hands of women in my shoes over 300 times prior. She knew what I wanted from my birth experience, and was there, still fighting for it, adapting to the way the situation was playing out, with my best interests at heart.

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What happened after I was hydrated and the bag was ruptured moved at lightening speed. Suddenly I was at 10cm, my doctor had arrived, as had a team of other nurses, and there was great cheering and urgings and words of encouragement that the end was near, and yet so much was about to begin.

I was taken aback by the pain of pushing. By the physical screaming and burning of my body and the immense, gut-wrenching effort I had to throw behind that pain. Between pushes, when the contractions would relent, I remember laying my head back and the room falling silent, as though in prayer-like repose, awaiting my next move. I felt as though everyone around me was holding their breath in quiet respect, while I attempted to catch my own. Those 30 seconds of rest felt like hours. I fell into a peaceful slumber, convinced that the work was behind me, that I could finally relax and breath. But then biology would surge from the depths of that quiet, throwing me headlong back into the ring of fire.

I am grateful that pushing was short, relatively speaking, and before I knew it, I felt my daughter exit my body, and the pain ceased, and I lay back, eyes closed, taking in that moment of relief before opening my eyes to meet my first born child.

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I distinctly remember my doctor asking me if I’d do an unmedicated birth again before she left the room that day, and I meant it, with every fiber of my being, when I told her that I would never EVER EVER put myself through that kind of pain ever again. I believed those words vehemently. Despite that beautiful, healthy baby on my chest, despite my ability to walk around the room mere minutes after her birth, despite ultimately having accomplished what I’d wanted, I felt completely beaten down and disempowered by so much of the process. I never wanted to feel that kind of disappointment and uncertainty with my body ever again. And so in that moment, I truly believed that I would never go through birth again. I loved that newborn body pressed against my own more than anything I had ever loved in this world, but I absolutely could not suppress the feelings of anxiety, and fear, and doubt that had been so much a part of the process of her arrival.

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Thank goodness that we forget. That while in the throes of labor with my second born I was reminded, but ultimately cannot recall, the exact sensation of what it feels like to be in the process of bringing life into this world. Thank goodness I got the chance to do it again. And in such a way that I felt completely invigorated, and proud, and empowered by the entire process. In such a way that reinforces why it is not just having a child that is life-changing, but that the very act and process of having that child makes all the difference.

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I could not know what I know now. And looking back, I am in awe of that woman that fought through all that incertitude and achieved what she’d dreamed was possible despite less than ideal conditions. I admire that woman I was three and a half years ago and am inspired by a strength she doubted and a body she questioned. I know that I am more sure of myself today having been tested by that birth. And I am more grateful for that experience than any other in my life.

Currently Watching

I began my morning watching this TED talk, “The US needs paid family leave – for the sake of its future,” and I urge you too to watch it and pass along.

As I contemplate my family’s upcoming parental leave, I recognize that I am one of those 12% of families in this country that have the luxury of paid leave. But it shouldn’t be a luxury. I shouldn’t feel lucky that my husband and I get paid time off from work to heal and bond and nurture postpartum. In fact, though I recognize that by US standards my four months of paid leave, and my husband’s four months of leave (2 months paid, 2 months unpaid) are unbelievably generous, I am still critical of how limited this time is during such a fleeting yet crucial stage in a person’s life (mother, baby and partner alike). An investment and commitment to breastfeeding alone is enough to warrant a minimum of 6 months paid leave for all mothers given that solid food isn’t introduced until that time.

One of my dearest friends welcomed her first child into the world last month, and because she lives in Stockholm, she and her partner each receive 285 days of fully paid leave from work to be used however, and in whatever arrangement, they deem best for their family and their careers over the course of the baby’s first five years of life. Talk about empowering families and providing a work/life balance! And once they return to work, their child will have fully subsidized (read: free) childcare, so economics does not have to be the primary driver of their family’s decision-making.

As conveyed in this talk, the US is one of only 9 nations (all the rest of which are countries with fewer than 8 million people, as compared to the US’s 320 million) that do not offer paid family leave. If the rest of the world can figure out how to support new families, we sure as hell better be able to come up with a reasonable solution for our country.

It is long since time for the most powerful country on Earth to offer national paid leave to the people doing the work of the future of this country and to the babies who represent that future. Childbirth is a public good. This leave should be state-subsidized. It should have no exceptions for small businesses, length of employment or entrepreneurs. It should be able to be shared between partners.

Week 24 (and some body talk)

I began writing this post earlier this fall, and an unsolicited comment on my burgeoning baby belly by an acquaintance this morning at drop-off has prompted me to pick up the conversation and finish the post.

Thoughts from August…

The kids have been commenting that I already have a big belly because of the baby. At seven weeks gestation. I explained that mama has always had a bit of belly bulge since carrying two prior pregnancies. And that my belly is actually pretty much the same size it’s been since I stopped breastfeeding Courtland back in 2012.

I relayed this story to a friend, and she responded, “Well, at least now you have an excuse! You are pregnant, so it’s okay to have some belly bulge.”

Sigh. It’s always “okay” to have some belly bulge.

I don’t need an excuse (although creating two prior humans is certainly one) and am perfectly comfortable with my belly that reflects this fact. My friend’s comment was truly intended as harmless… nay supportive! Because we are so conditioned to assume that a woman would be embarrassed by her body if it were anything but rail thin, that we leap into protective mode to help justify or explain a body that falls outside that parameters so as not to feel guilty.

And more recently, two examples of the broader cultural problem of people feeling like it’s acceptable and a-okay to blithely comment on another person’s body (most frequently, female bodies, especially when they’re making life)…

Back in late September/early October, I strolled into a work meeting with six or seven other colleagues and one woman blurted out, “Oh my goodness! Ashley! You’re HUGE! You really ARE pregnant.”

Why yes. Yes I am. I was not lying.

I responded, red-faced and flustered by such aggressive and unwelcome statements about my body in a room full of people, “Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I’ve got a long way to go.” I didn’t know what else to say! I wanted to crawl under the table and cry.

And then this morning, while dropping Courtland off at school…

Morning, Ashley! Wow, how many weeks pregnant are you?

24 weeks today, actually.

Geez, you look WAY more pregnant than that!!

… oh… well, I’m not…

It didn’t feel great to be told that I look larger than I am “supposed” to look at this stage in the pregnancy, but it honestly would have been just as miserable to be told that I look smaller, because either statement is anxiety-inducing for an expecting mom. We carry enough self-imposed stress and worry when we’re pregnant about whether or not we’re “making” the baby right, that any comment that implies that our body is somehow outside “normal” expectations feels terrible.

Too small? Am I not nourishing the baby? Does she need more from me? What if baby isn’t thriving?

Too big? Am I on track for gestational diabetes? Am I going to be supremely overweight after having the baby? Is the baby going to be unhealthy? (Our cultural equations of weight with health are doubly-toxic for pregnant women).

It’s daunting to be responsible for creating another human being, particularly when we have absolutely no control of the process. Our body is doing it and we’re beholden to it 24/7 for 40 weeks, but while we can exercise, and sleep, and try to eat well-rounded meals, there’s very little control we have over what is happening inside and to our bodies and the living person that is growing inside.

Even through this third experience, I am floored by what is happening inside of my own person. It is mind-blowing and miraculous and uncomfortable and overwhelming and awe-inspiring and a giant pain in the ass and the most humbling experience I’ll ever know. Motherhood, from conception to a lifetime of parenting, is a deeply complex and contradictory experience. Adding fuel to that already muddled emotional terrain by infusing unsolicited commentary from seemingly well-meaning but a painfully insensitive public can feel maddening at best and debilitating at worst .

If you must comment, ask how the woman is feeling, or tell her that she is glowing, or that she’s doing a wonderful job. Affirming, empowering statements make a world of difference in a society that is so prone to lay judgement and inappropriate commentary on the experiences of women and their bodies.

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This afternoon, to get out of the negative head space about my body (annoyed that I even let those comments have that impact), I did a little self-portraiture. Just me and baby. And it was empowering, dare I say sensual (during a time when it can be VERY hard to feel that way), and uninhibited because I was completely unburdened of anyone’s gaze but my own. And it felt good to experiment and play and reconnect with this amazing process and my badass body that’s making it possible. However cheesy it may sound, it worked. And so here we are at Week 24.

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The Gummy Bear // Week 16

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And like that, there was a bump.

I “popped” this week. I woke up one morning and suddenly everyone was commenting on “that cute little bump.” I don’t remember this happening until Week 20 with Courtland, and like Month 7 with Sunny. But oh, my body is oh so comfortable with the transitions happening. It’s done this before and seems to be readily stretching and growing back into position. It’s made dressing this week a tad challenging as I’m not quite big enough for maternity pants, but my regular clothes just aren’t cutting it. If only I could live in yoga pants like I did during Addison’s pregnancy (the life of a grad student worked well with maternity in that regard), but I can’t get away with that look in my current day job.

I’m in the midst of a month-long work marathon and I am barely keeping my head above water. But we’re surviving, thanks to James taking over the majority of child and home duties, and a daily knitting therapy that keeps my head clear. By next month, we’ll all be breathing a sigh of relief and getting to enjoy and think about the exciting transitions to come for our family. For now, survival mode!

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GENDER IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT!

Say it with me now!

Gender. Is. A. Social. Construct.

I have been acutely aware this pregnancy of how quickly and readily the first question I receive upon hearing the news is related to the baby’s genitalia.

“Are you going to find out the gender?” (SEX! Gender is a social construct. And, no.)

Or, “A BOY! It has to be a boy!” (Yes, because I have complete and utter control over this process.)

Or “It’s because James needs a boy, huh?” (Yes, in fact, if it’s a girl, we’ll be giving her up for adoption. Or try experimental hormone treatments on her to correct this error.)

Sigh. I know these comments aren’t coming from an ill-intentioned place. No one means to sound as rigidly gender-constructed as they appear when they lead with these questions. And yet… and yet that’s exactly how they read when I hear them. I realize that American society in particular is extremely married to the male/female divide (check any children’s aisle in a department store or Big Box Mart for proof) but it’s so poorly guided.

Perhaps it’s my evolving feminism, or raising daughters, or the realization that my two children with vaginas are so drastically different that knowing that they were both going to have female genitalia prepared me in no way for who they would be and are, and how James and I would parent them, but it’s been more apparent this time than with either of the girls how often the question is asked in some shape or form.

Admittedly, with the girls, I wanted to know their sex. I felt like it gave me some semblance of control or knowledge or preparation – but in having two girls, I realized it in no way did that. In fact, it just conditioned me to buy pink and flowers and frills (which, hey, is tons of fun) but was truly not necessary for an infant with no gendered baggage whatsoever. It also had me envisioning a prescribed idea of what they might be, informed by a lifetime of societal stereotypes and conditioning around female vs. male. Which wasn’t fair to them. And wasn’t fair to me.

I love the not knowing. This baby is a blank slate, his or her own person and I am imparting no preconceived notions of who he or she will be because I don’t have this categorizing information to direct those thoughts. I feel like being surprised in the moment is one of the last true surprises in this life. A colleague responded this way when I told her that I wasn’t going to find out the sex, and went on to relay how she dreamed differently not knowing the sex of one of her babies during pregnancy. Anything was possible for that baby, because social norms and stereotypes weren’t subconsciously influencing her dreams.

We underestimate how powerful the male/female categories are in our society. Infants all look like gender-neutral, mushy blobs, yet people yearn for that piece of categorizing information. And upon knowing it, respond with, “What a beautiful, sweet girl!” or “Such a strong, handsome boy!” Study upon study proves that we speak to babies differently based on their sex, and yet we somehow think that boys just innately like trucks and fighting and girls princesses and pink – when, since before their arrivals, we’ve been conditioning them toward those things in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. With language, with clothing, with nursery decor, with toys, with visions for their future, and so on, and so forth.

You don’t need any information about my child’s genitals, or any child’s genitals, to know how to treat them or what to buy for them or how to speak to them. Infants, especially, represent a rare moment in a human’s life where the world is a blank slate. Let’s not begin it with our own gendered baggage.

And instead of asking “Are you having a boy or a girl?” or “Are you finding out the SEX?” upon learning of someone’s pregnancy, instead try leading with, “Congratulations. How are you feeling?”

P.S. I am in no way judging or condemning families who want to and do find out the sex of their babies prior to birth. James and I were those parents… twice! Every mother gets to decide for herself what is best for her body and baby and what information she wants and needs to get through this experience. We all need to be a little more live and let live on this front. I’m just asking that we think critically about why it is we want this info and how it may influence how we think about our child and their place in the world in both wonderful but also maybe not so wonderful (if we’re relying on gender stereotypes) ways.