Thursday, November 21, 2013

back to the books!

So I appear to have worried a lot of people with my last post. Fret not; I am past the most emotional-confused-paranoid phase of the pregnancy, during which I absolutely could not stay off the Google. Poor Berowne would have been completely justified in slapping the phone out of my hands some nights (of course the terror usually struck in the middle of the night, especially when I was experiencing a clearly fatal symptom like gas). And, like I said, I knew I was pregnant for a month before I had my first doctor's appointment, so for that month I was completely adrift. (I knew I was pregnant a week before taking the test, actually, because my PMS symptoms are just as reliable as my period, so when they didn't show up I knew what was going on.) I like my medical team and so far everything's going well. 

Now that I am visibly pregnant, as opposed to just potato-shaped, I'm okay with my body. Tracking weight gain on a monthly basis is, inescapably, a little triggery for me - I used to find out my weight once a year at my physical, and the rest of the time go by how my clothes fit and how I felt - but I'm adapting to it. Having finally gone ahead and bought some maternity clothes (I believed that to be a jinx for the longest time) helps, too. So much less pinchy. 

I have no intention of avoiding the internet and its absurdity. Tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation is the basis of much of my humor, after all, and if I don't have the ludicrous "standards" of the upper-class smug mommy blogger as a comparison, how can I exaggerate my own fumblings to the point of farce? I mean, I already know that any child of mine will be the one sent home from daycare in disgrace after setting off sixteen other kids' allergies from the sheer amount of dog hair on his/her clothes, so I might as well get an early start on Not Doing Things Right. 

On to the reading!

38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End, by Scott W. Berg. I did not know this chapter of history: in 1862, during the Civil War, a Dakota uprising against settlers in Minnesota led to the arrest of over 300 men who all received a death sentence. Lincoln pardoned all but 38 of them. This is, of course, a very tough read, but fascinating and well put together. I can recommend it. 

Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century, by Mike Dash. It cracks me up, how many books I've read just this year with "Trial of the Century" in the title. This one is about a murder trial in early twentieth-century New York City, and about the city's politics of that time. It was okay, but I didn't care too much about the outcome and it mostly made me just want to re-read The Alienist.   

Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent. A novel based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, who was the last woman in Iceland to be executed. It's well-written, if a little eagerly dreamlike in the way that a young author's first novel can be. Certainly well-researched about life in Iceland in 1829, which I found to be the most interesting thing about it. I didn't like Agnes as much as I think I was supposed to, and wanted more about some of the other characters. But it's good enough to make me look forward to more of Kent's work. 

Mad Madame Lalaurie: New Orleans's Most Famous Murderess Revealed, by Victoria Cosner Love. Delphine Lalaurie's New Orleans house caught fire in the 1830's, and the firemen reportedly found tortured and mutilated slaves in the attic. The house is now infamous on ghost tours. This book was, unfortunately, both sensationalist and dull, utilizing long letters from Lalaurie's adult children which should have been excerpted and spending far too much time on her first husbands and her life before New Orleans. 

The Blessing, by Nancy Mitford. Not nearly as much fun as the other book of hers I've read. Amusing about the differences between the French and English, but had rather a somber tone and went on too long. 

The Darkest Summer: Pusan and Inchon 1950: The Battles That Saved South Korea--and the Marines--from Extinction, by Bill Sloan. I finished this, but it was a slog. If you enjoy really detailed descriptions of battles and have a high tolerance for racial slurs (Sloan quotes the Marines extensively, and let's just say they never used the word "Korean" to describe their foe), this seems a pretty comprehensive book. It did not do anything for me. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

in which I use my love of lists and ranting to make a small announcement

Things No One Tells You About Being Pregnant:

1. You bloat. You bloat like a dead whale during an August heat wave. Every pregnancy website and book you encounter will be chirping, "You don't gain an ounce during your first trimester and hiding the pregnancy will be the easiest thing you've ever done!"; meanwhile, back in reality, the Bloat means that by week eight none of your pants fit and everyone at work is wondering when they can start telling you to lay off the donuts. (Also, you are supposed to gain some weight during your first trimester. The nutritionist yelled at me for only gaining two pounds at the end of mine, which was adding insult to injury given that I was resorting to the fifteen-pounds-ago-pants at the back of the closet by then.)

2. If you think you have seen the most hostile and shaming stuff the internet has to offer, you haven't. I've had cancer; I thought I knew how scary and evil the internet could be. But I knew NOTHING. I was completely unprepared for otherwise normal-seeming and woman-friendly pregnancy sites to suddenly say things like, "some lucky women actually lose weight during their first trimesters if their morning sickness is bad enough," because vomit-related weight loss, at a time when you need to be as strong and healthy as possible, is still weight loss and therefore automatically awesome!! Visit a pregnancy website and get blindsided by pro-bulimia sentiments: do you love being a woman yet? 

I was unprepared for the forums on which all participants swear to high heaven that they didn't show until twenty-four weeks and that anyone who does is eating 3,000 calories a day and will have a diabetic obese baby. I AM NOT EVEN EXAGGERATING. This sentiment is ALL OVER the internet. Even setting aside the Bloat, if somehow you have managed to gestate a fetus the size of a cantaloupe but in the process you haven't gained any weight and your uterus hasn't moved above your pelvis (which it does around week 13), I would guess that maybe you are, I dunno, an enormous liar. 

It turned out that, despite being an intelligent and realistic person, and despite having watched many of my friends go through pregnancy, I completely bought into the Hollywood myth that a pregnant woman looks exactly as she did before for three months and then gets a tiny, perfect, obviously-baby-related belly. And the internet is full of women reinforcing this myth, aggressively and judgmentally, at each other. At fifteen weeks and absolutely huge, I made the terrible mistake of image-googling "fifteen weeks pregnant", and of course was slammed with pictures of whippet-hipped women who looked like they'd maybe had a large lunch. There were tears. It was awful. 

(Every pregnancy website and book will attempt to console you for your tragic weight gain [even if they think it shouldn't arrive until month six or whatever] by pointing out, over and OVER, that you have giant boobs now and are therefore womanly. You will see the phrase "your new womanly curves" approximately 400,000 times in your pregnancy reading. Apparently all these sites and books believe it is impossible for a woman to have already had large boobs, or to have been perfectly womanly without them. My "new womanly curves" consisted of my waist disappearing, so that I looked like a potato. I could never decide which was worse: being told that I shouldn't be gaining any weight or being told that my weight gain should make me feel sexy. Either way, the implication was that I was doing something wrong by feeling dumpy.) 

This whole fat-shaming where-is-your-self-control bullshit is especially evil given that it's being directed at women who will be hunched over a toilet dry-heaving if they don't put food in their bodies far more frequently than they used to: having an empty stomach makes the nausea terrible. On very bad days, I had to set my alarm to wake me up every three hours overnight for preemptive eating, rather than be woken by my stomach trying to turn itself inside out. Of course, the internet (and the nutritionist I visited) would have it that even at vomit o'clock a.m. I should be taking care to eat only the most healthful and varied of foods. I went through a five-week period when literally anything other than saltines and egg noodles came immediately back up, and if I so much as looked at lists of "healthy pregnancy snacks", with their raw vegetables and yogurt, I would have to sit very quietly until the urge to vomit passed. When, out of self-loathing, I forced myself to eat raw carrots before I sensed that my body was ready for them, I threw up for the next sixteen hours. What I was finally able to keep down: a grilled cheese sandwich. Diabetic obese baby, here I come! 

As if this body-policing and -shaming wasn't enough, I was trying desperately to hide it at work, long past the point at which I was fooling anyone. I was so excited to be pregnant. I was also horribly afraid that something would go wrong, and if on top of something going wrong I had to explain to 200 people, some of whom have Strong Opinions, that I wasn't pregnant anymore... HELL, NO. At one point I decided that if word got out I was pregnant and then I didn't carry to term, I would quit my job and move to Nova Scotia. I'm not kidding; that would be far preferable to hearing, daily, "It's because you walked your dogs," or "It's because you ate that thing I saw you eating the other day". (This plan is still very much in effect, by the way.) So, while the internet was busy telling me that I shouldn't see any difference in my body, I was struggling with the basic fact that when you start out short and with a tiny waist, being four months pregnant is not something you can hide. It made me have flashbacks to high school, when my outfits of choice involved enormous t-shirts because I believed my body was so appalling that the only thing to do with it was swathe it in a tent and pray nobody looked at me. 

All this resulted in me hating the changes in my body, when I wanted to be excited about them. It was an awful, awful feeling. 

3. The Better Mother Than You madness starts with prenatal appointments. There will be tons of women on the internet claiming that they got care weeks before you did, in a "I am taking better care of my baby than you and/or my doctors have agreed that my pregnancy is just the most important one ever" competition. When I called my medical center the same day that I peed on the stick, they said they don't even consider a woman pregnant until eight weeks, so that's when my first appointment would be. Then I went on-line and found women swearing that by week six they'd already had an ultrasound. This is ridiculous and should be ignored. It's only true in cases where the woman was already under medical care when she got pregnant (usually because there were fertility treatments involved) and/or has medical issues which mean the pregnancy is very high-risk. 

The less medical intervention required during your pregnancy, the better, but the internet competition to have the most and earliest screenings and appointments is fierce. It's a means of feeling important, like I said: if you are the person in the OB waiting room to whom the most attention is being paid, then you and your fetus are truly special. I fell victim to this at first, being a competitive person, and actually got a little huffy at how casual and cheerful everyone was around my OB appointments. Then, at my first ultrasound (not until twelve weeks, which is perfectly normal) I had to wait half an hour for the doctor to come in because all the other ultrasounds that day were showing problems and he was running way behind. He finally came in, used the words "beautiful" and "perfect", told me to start saving for college, and was gone in ninety seconds, back to some poor woman who had just gotten bad news. I realized then that I was being incredibly stupid. 

(It's also worth noting that I live in a state with progressive abortion laws. Women who are not so fortunate need medical information earlier, because they have less time in which to make a decision. In the year 2013, there are women who have to have conversations with their doctors about being sent across state lines should they be among those getting bad news at their ultrasounds or from their tests. In the year 2013. Just saying.)    

4. The "pregnancy glow" is a giant myth, unless you were already the kind of woman who hasn't had a visible pore since she was seventeen. A massive overload of hormones is going to do things to your complexion, but they are not going to be kind things. The one mercy the internet offered me was that this is universally agreed upon. It's considered okay to admit to anything that isn't weight gain, and so at least I didn't have to think I was alone in my experience of Zit Fest 2013. This was scant comfort, but I took what I could get. 

5. No one agrees on when the second trimester starts. It's held out to you as the holy grail. It's when your risk of miscarriage plummets and you stop feeling sick and you can tell people, but NO ONE agrees on when it starts. Some say week 12; some week 13; some week 14. I got all excited when I thought I'd made it; and then I encountered all these sites saying, "You're in the last week of the first trimester; hang in there!" and I was like, "Oh joy, another week of being convinced I'm going to miscarry any second." (It turns out that the part about your sickness ceasing is also a lie.) 

To add to this joy, my first ultrasound was at a place other than my OB's office. The ultrasound estimated that I was six days further along than we'd thought, but my OB's office said that until they did an ultrasound, they would continue counting from my LMP. Between that and the above nonsense, for an ENTIRE MONTH I didn't know which trimester I was in. And I DO NOT DEAL WELL WITH UNCERTAINTY. 

6. If you bring a peanut butter sandwich to work for lunch, you will eat it before 10 a.m. 

7. They have dropped the "Advanced Maternal Age" designation from the chart of women over 34. I had been warned about that designation, and was ready for it, but instead I was handed a piece of paper with - wait for it - "Elderly Primigravida" written on it, and I made an amazing noise. That's right, ladies: on your 35th birthday you are medically considered "elderly". As a 37-year-old, I'm surprised my chart doesn't just say "Crone" or make references to Sarah and Abraham. 

8. There will be a whole 'nother post about this, but visiting your oncologist while pregnant is the most terrifying exercise in "be careful what you wish for" imaginable. All my doctors have been casual and cheerful about the pregnancy. Not a one of them has been either of those things about me, in terms of potential cancer recurrence (except, ironically, the internet, which is sure I'll be fine). But more about that later. 

9. Everything about it is surreal. But I'm really, really happy and excited.  

10. The current cultural assumption that leggings are pants gets pushed even harder at you. And it's tempting. It's tempting as heck. Will I be able to resist? Watch this space!

Monday, November 11, 2013

the triumph of hope over experience

Yesterday Berowne and I got married, in a tiny ceremony in the backyard. The little group of friends and family participating worked like stevedores for a few days on our behalf: a tent had to be raised and lowered, tables and chairs arranged, food cooked, dishes washed, dogs wrangled, pictures taken, and last-minute texts reading WE ARE OUT OF COFFEE FILTERS responded to. Everyone was unflaggingly cheerful and generous. 

It was all quite perfect. The weather cooperated - a tiny bit of rain when the cake came out, but we just hustled it into the tent -, the impromptu speeches during the Quaker-style service were hilarious and touching, and the dogs, who were the obvious stars of the day, behaved impeccably. 

I don't regret my first wedding at all. I don't regret my first marriage at all, which I know may surprise those of you who remember the early, bitter days of this blog. The marriage's dissolution was sad and rough, but that is the nature of the beast. Without that marriage I wouldn't live in this adorable little island house, and I wouldn't have the world's best dogs, and I wouldn't have some of the wonderful friends and family that I have. I will always think of myself as having two sets of in-laws, and I'm very lucky in that regard. 

And I don't regret that I had the fancy chapel wedding, all about the dress and the hair and the makeup and the pictures. It was an excellent party, with an excellent group of people. But I didn't need to do it again, and thankfully Berowne felt the same way. Hence the tiny backyard wedding with a friend officiating and people just speaking up during the service until Berowne looked at me and said, "I think we're married now," and then we broke out the posole and frito pie. I wore my mother's handmade cocktail-length wedding dress. A friend did my eyeshadow. My hair did its own thing. Sometime in the afternoon I ran upstairs and changed. It was exactly what I wanted.

Today we're off work; Berowne will be running down to his old place to return the tables and chairs to his landlord (who usually rents them for weddings but let us use them free of charge, because, like I said, people have been awesome to us) and pick up some more stuff. I have about sixteen loads of laundry to do and think the dogs deserve some new toys, so eventually I too will be getting out of my pajamas and sallying forth. And tomorrow our quiet domestic routine kicks in again. 

But for now, one more cup of coffee at the kitchen table, looking at the autumn light on the yard and feeling like everything in my life is turning out just right. I were but little happy, if I could say how much. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Good heavens, I'm behind on this. Life is very busy! In good ways!

Levels of Life, by Julian Barnes. A very short little piece about nineteenth-century ballooning and Barnes grieving his wife. I do love his voice. 

The Likeness, by Tana French. The sort-of sequel to In the Woods, though you could read it on its own. The only way I can describe this book is to say it's exactly what would happen if The Secret History were an Irish police procedural, complete with the fact that the supposedly magnetic and irresistible student characters are actually extraordinarily obnoxious. If you liked The Secret History, you would like this; and even if, like me, you didn't, you might find it compelling as hell. I did. 

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, by Alexandra Fuller. Fuller's memoir about growing up in Africa with crazy-racist, crazy-colonialist, crazy-drunk, just plain crazy parents. Immensely disturbing and fairly hard to put down. 

The Clockwork Scarab: A Stoker & Holmes Novel, by Colleen Gleason. Oh dear. Gleason's premise and the set-up for a series is that, in a steampunk London, Bram Stoker's sister and Sherlock Holmes' niece fight supernatural crime. I find the initial decision to use one historical family and one fictional one questionable at best (why not give Conan Doyle a niece? he and Bram Stoker knew each other), and it goes downhill from there. Neither heroine is at all likable, and Gleason's conception of steampunk is that everything is mechanized, down to umbrella-stands and sugar spoons, just because. And early on we are given the backstory that Miss Stoker's previous mentor, who has mysteriously disappeared, was named Siri. What on earth, you may think. No one has ever been named Siri except... and then the time-traveler from the present day appears, for no reason, and you get one guess as to what kind of cell phone he's toting with him. It's all pretty much that forced. Nothing is resolved, because we're supposed to want the sequels, and every male character under thirty is a potential love interest for at least one of our heroines, so that the constant "my knees weakened under my skirts" reactions to policemen / noblemen / pickpockets / time travelers get REALLY old. 

The House at Sea's End, by Elly Griffiths. The third in the Ruth Galloway series. The plots, which all require an archaeologist to get involved in, and menaced by, murder cases, are starting to get a bit absurd, but I am pleased to report that our heroine having given birth has made her much more like she was before getting pregnant. She's interesting again! And the struggles of single motherhood struck me as realistic, unlike the previous book's "I am ten weeks pregnant and therefore HAVE NO IDENTITY BUT MOTHER," stuff. 

Tombstone Courage, by J.A. Jance. Mystery set in Arizona. Pretty generic but a decent afternoon's distraction. 

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison, by Piper Kerman. I haven't seen the series, but I thought I'd check out the book. It's not bad, though not particularly memorable.