Tuesday, December 31, 2013

end-of-year babbling

Goodness, what a year. Actually: goodness, what a last three years.

2011 was about going through cancer treatment while my first marriage broke up. 2012 was about finalizing the divorce, rearranging a ton about my life (on a practical level: every major appliance including my car died at some point; on an emotional level: hooo boy), and starting a new relationship for the first time as an adult (no, I wasn't an adult at twenty-four). I end 2013 married again, five months pregnant, and adjusting to living with someone after living alone for two and a half years. And because in 2014 there will be, barring something terrible happening, an actual baby, things are not exactly going to settle down around here.

Thankfully, my job has remained fairly stable through all this.

Thankfully, I was able to keep paying the mortgage and stay in the little island cottage I love so. (It's far too small for both my stuff and Berowne's, not to mention a baby's, so we will have to find somewhere else in the next couple years. Like I said, things are not exactly settling down.)

Thankfully, my family is all well (Impending Baby will have two cousins born right around the same time!) and the dogs are their fabulous doggy selves.

Thankfully, I met and married a man who... well, the following two conversations speak for themselves:

1. Me: Guess what is today's historical anniversary? Think cannibalism.

Him: The Donner Party?

Me: No... though that is also right around this time!

Him: The whaleship Essex?

Me: Yes! [claps hands] You know me so well.

Him: I love you.

2. Upon our being congratulated about our soon-to-be "family of three":

Him: Um, family of five.

The dogs: Damn straight!


So the year ends on a sweet note, but of course challenges remain. As I said, it's a major adjustment to suddenly be living with someone again, especially someone who comes with a whole adult household's worth of stuff, and I have not always been, shall we say, gracious about it. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVE MORE STUFF TO BRING UP TODAY I THOUGHT WE WERE DONE" was said a few times, not to mention how jarring it sometimes is to see a completely rearranged living room full of his furniture. (Yes, my old furniture had been eaten down to the springs and frames by certain canines. But it's still jarring.)

I can't have proper cancer screenings until I'm done breastfeeding, according to my oncologist, so if I do breastfeed (I plan to try) I may not have another mammogram for a year or more. Breastfeeding does lower one's odds of recurrence, but that's still a disturbing prospect. However, I always knew that pregnancy would be slightly dangerous, and I always knew I wanted to try for kids anyway (a covering OB called me a "warrior" for getting pregnant after breast cancer, and I said honestly that it never occurred to me not to try). So this is a mixed bag as well. Everything is.

As I have mentioned in recent posts, due to some eating-issues triggers we're unfortunately ending this year with the return of perfectionism and self-shaming. But I beat those things before and I will beat them again. Cheese limits! Not in this life. 

2014 will have challenges I can't even imagine, but there will be books, and laughter, and apples. There will be dog kisses and long walks; delicious meals and good friends; excessive capitalization and parentheses and other fun with writing. When I was reading "A Christmas Carol" out loud to Berowne, our friends, and the dogs, the baby danced the whole time, so you know there will be Dickens. There will be no cheese limits. 

Resolutions for 2014: 

Hang onto my sense of humor - I'll need it, I know, and so will those around me. 

Let myself take it slowly when I need to, and imperfectly almost always (of course this does not apply to my work, which is data-based and so does have to be accurate, but absolutely none of my outside-work activities are measurable [or comparable to others'] to the extent that I pretend they are). 

Try to enjoy the moment (stop worrying about whether my car's parked in at a party, about whether I'll regret spending Saturday afternoon reading instead of cleaning, about what next month's bills will look like). Life's significant blows are almost always unexpected, and the best preparation for them is to not already be wound spring-tight in fretful preparation for something else; even if it is the prepared-for something else that does arrive, having made myself a wreck expecting it doesn't, astonishingly, help. 

Always live in a house full of love (this is merely dependent on oneself and local rescue organizations: when I was single and living with two dogs, it was still a house full of love). 

Be grateful for the abundance of what surrounds me and is available to me, rather than assigning gratitude the role of what I should feel for the few things I haven't denied myself (when the self-denial is based on nothing more than principle). 

No self-neglect in the name of bravery or stoicism or Doing It Right. This isn't a real issue while I'm pregnant, because any self-neglect doesn't affect just me right now, but it's an old habit into which I'm too likely to slip once the baby's born. "Only the world's most selfish mother would be concerned about her own health issues!"

I'd say "less guilt", but I'm going to be suddenly responsible for a small human life, so that's unrealistic in the extreme. As is "less worry". I think this train of thought comes back around to the first item about not losing my sense of humor. As long as my daughter never sees me become bitter or resigned, as long as she doesn't see me centering my present life around past tragedies or resentments, as long as she sees me laughing and moving forward, I think I'll be doing okay. And on the days I can't do okay, the dogs can take over. (I wonder how Kongs are as teething toys.) 

A very happy New Year to all. May your nights be comforting, your dawns rejuvenating, and your days full of laughter.    

Thursday, December 26, 2013

a couple books, and more pregnancy blah blah

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. A study on how the disenfranchisement of minority males in America is being achieved via the "War on Drugs", with its harsh mandatory sentencing and the fact that anyone convicted of a felony then loses the right to vote, apply for public housing, etc. Alexander is smart and relatively articulate, but I feel like this book was about a third longer than it needed to be. She repeats herself a lot, as if she didn't trust her reader to go along with the argument. It got kind of dry. 

Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon. I don't want to say, "This book is for dudes," because that's offensive and no doubt thousands of women loved this book, but... this book was kind of for dudes. And I say that as someone who LOVED Kavalier and Clay despite having zero interest in comic books. But this book? I was only interested in one of the six or seven plot lines, and even that one (about midwives) was irritating due to the two women being undeveloped and hence undifferentiated (they are different races and one is pregnant, but their dialogue, motivations, and status as Supporter of Male Character are virtually identical) as characters. I didn't care about the teenage obsession plot, or the blaxploitation kung fu movie plot, or the record store plot (oh LORD, the monologues about jazz), or the endless pages full of pop-culture references. What Chabon has done here - and he's pretty upfront about it - is written a book for Quentin Tarantino. I do not feel that Tarantino and I overlap much, as target audiences go, and I have to admit that I skimmed the last fifth of this book in a big way. That said, the man can write. 


In life-news: I'm twenty-four weeks pregnant (oh my GOD this is really happening). The baby's kicking away in there at regularly-scheduled intervals, or when something exciting like a loud noise or a Christmas cookie occurs. Berowne, the other night, pulled out his harmonica, and at the first two notes the baby clearly woke up from a sound sleep the way that anyone would if woken from a sound sleep by a harmonica. "WHAT WHAT HOLY COW WHAT??" I don't think I've ever felt her kick that hard before. It was hilarious. 

(I had really good intentions about remaining scientifically clinical about it Not Being a Baby Yet. I was going to keep saying "fetus" and "it", because women being overly cutesy about their pregnancies = bleeaargh. The "it" was impossible to maintain once we knew the sex, which we did at about fourteen weeks thanks to the awesome new blood tests; and once I felt kicking I found myself using the word "baby", and by now it's totally She, the Baby, and I'm running into the bathroom while Berowne is showering to tell him, "Oh man, she's bouncing!" and it's all ganging as agley as best-laid schemes aft do.) 

We had a lovely quiet Christmas, just us and the dogs, and opened lots of baby-related presents and went for a walk in the freezing cold and ate delicious food (I married a fearsome cook) and generally enjoyed ourselves. 

Unfortunately, I continue to have anxiety around being lectured at the doctor's about my weight gain. This anxiety is completely unfounded because neither the OB, nor the midwife, nor any of the nurses, have said one word about that weight gain; this is all coming from that one nutritionist and the internet, saying that the maximum a woman should gain during pregnancy is thirty-five pounds and almost all of that should happen in the last trimester. According to things like the Mayo Clinic website, I should only have gained fifteen pounds, tops, by now; I've gained roughly twenty-five. And because the Mayo Clinic website clearly knows me and my body and my health very well, my feelings of shame are completely justified. Or something. 

There's no reason to worry. The weight is all where it should be - belly and, ahem, bosom -; no swelling in my face or hands or ankles; no expansion, even, in my thighs, which is where excess weight always hits me first. My skinny jeans - until they reach the belly - fit exactly as they did before. I feel grand and the baby is obviously active as anything. I only gained two pounds my first trimester, and then the second trimester, when one has the appetite of a post-hibernation bear anyway, corresponded with the holidays and a vacation to a place with the world's tastiest restaurants (yes, I've been to Paris - very yummy, but no Santa Fe). So I'm sure everything is fine, but I'm also cringing at the thought of a) not being perfect and b) not being perfect in a weight-related way. And I'm boring everyone to tears with my whining about it. I promise I'll stop in 2014! or at least regain a sense of humor about it. It's just, well, I believe I should either be perfect or the kind of awesomely imperfect free spirit who can laugh off expectations. Instead I am the kind of person who was never really designed to be perfect (a hard worker, yes; fairly intelligent, yes; naturally perfect and gifted? oh no) but is also incapable of shrugging off a random authority figure telling me I have failed at an arbitrary measure. Turns out this is an un-fun combination. 

(The nutritionist wanted me to shame myself into cheese limits ["this is all the cheese I am allowed today," I'm supposed to tell myself, sternly, while preparing my post-work snack]. A CHEESE LIMIT. I ASK YOU. And as if I will EVER go back to the mental processes of, say, 1996, when I was convinced that if I were a better person I wouldn't need calories to survive and that all the bad things that happened to me were 100% deserved because I was a disgusting flab-pig with no self-control and I "allowed" myself something I shouldn't have. Puh-lease!)

Okay, I really will stop now. Stay warm, everyone! Enjoy the hell out of your cheese!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

only, like, half of this post is about pregnancy...

So, I really do still read, despite pregnancy eating my brain (how much I retain is a completely different issue). 

I worked very hard at not mentioning the pregnancy to anyone but a select few for a long time, but now that the floodgates are open, it's All Pregnancy, All the Time. I even posted a picture of the bump to Facebook this morning, heaven forgive me. All this must be incredibly boring for my friends who are not interested in that sort of thing and/or used to tune in to my social media for dog shenanigans. Just as I really don't want to become one of those mothers who only hang out with other mothers - I've been on the childless receiving end of that, and it sucks - I had good intentions about simply being pregnant while I go about my normal life. And to a large extent that's exactly what's happening: I go to work, we walk the dogs, we go to see friends, etc. I had to buy new pants, and a couple times a month I have medical appointments, but so far (knock on ALL the wood) nothing has changed enormously. 

Except that I'm growing a human being, HOLY CRAP. And that I have to put tons of thought into all the stuff we need to buy, and all the things we need to learn, and picking a daycare, and AAAAIIIEEE. (Baby stuff we have purchased to date: two swaddling blankets. The end.) So I apologize for all this pregnancy-madness, and in advance for the impending baby-madness. I'm very wary of alienating readers with this preoccupation, but I have to be honest about the fact that it is a preoccupation, in a big way. Plus the workplace policing of what I ingest has begun, and there is no way that's not going to be entertaining / appalling blogging fodder. 

I am sure there will be baby + dog shenanigans. So there's that to anticipate...?  

Read lately:

The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea, by Philip Hoare. Contained some interesting (and devastating) stuff about the history of whaling, but was mostly about Philip Hoare, and occasionally the prose got completely overwrought. 

The Dreams of Ada, by Robert Mayer. Non-fiction book about a disappearance in Ada, Oklahoma and how two young men were convicted of murder without any evidence that the disappeared person was, in fact, dead. This book fell victim to the true-crime theory that long, long letters from barely-literate people are worth reproducing in their entirety (I blame Norman Mailer for this - let's face it, you can blame Norman Mailer for most things), but having made peace with skipping those parts, I found this book well-written and gripping. 

Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick. His latest, about the beginnings of the Revolutionary War in Boston. I really enjoyed it, but I think if you weren't quite familiar with the Boston area you'd get very confused about the geography involved. There are a few tiny maps scattered here and there, but mostly Philbrick just talks about troops marching from town to town without explaining where the towns are in relation to each other. Maybe this was written for Bostonians specifically. Worked for me. 

Rest Not in Peace, by Mel Starr. My Early Reviewers book. The latest in a series I know of but hadn't read before, about a 14th-century British surgeon who solves crimes. Starr's done his research, but lets the reader figure out archaic words and customs largely from context rather than infodumping, which I greatly appreciate. The story itself was no more than fine, but I liked the style. 

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs, by Elissa Wall. Ever since reading Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, I've been fascinated by the Mormons and their various sects. This book was overlong and not particularly well-written, and I did wonder if Wall ever really figured out how babies are made (it's possible that even after leaving the sect, she continues to believe that birth control is immoral, and that's why she keeps having babies even when it's a bad time to do so), but parts of it are effectively creepy, especially if you've already read about Warren Jeffs in Krakauer. I'd recommend you stick with his stuff, rather than this, if you want to know more about the topic.  

Friday, December 6, 2013

pregnancy FAQ

Q: Aren't you worried about the dogs around the baby?

A: No. My dogs are neither vicious, nor unexposed to small children, nor so dim that they would fail to recognize that a creature is a) helpless b) important and c) a member of the pack. Frankly, the dogs will probably have a lot more patience with the baby than I will. 

Q: How much weight have you gained?

A: All of it, apparently, but since you're not my doctor, you don't get a numerical answer. (And yes, I have been asked this question by people who are not my, or anyone else's, doctor.)

Q: Don't you feel beautiful?

A: I used to have a twenty-six-inch waist. 

Q: But pregnancy is a woman's most beautiful / natural / womanly condition!

A: That is SO offensive to women who choose not to or cannot have biological children. Please don't ever say that.

Also, I am thirty-seven years old, have gone through cancer treatment, and was single until last year. I had pretty much given up hope of ever having children, when I have known my whole life that I want them. And here I am, growing a human being. The idea that we, as a society, need to constantly reassure pregnant women that they are actually hotter now than they've ever been seems to me a strange set of priorities in the face of the literally awesome biological process my body is experiencing. It's the difference between grudging your way through a workout or a run out of a desperate desire to be thin, and doing said workout or run for the sake of and delight in what your body can do. When I feel the baby kick, it's like finishing a workout that I previously wasn't strong enough to complete: wow, my body can do this. Really, whether men now find me more desirable than ever (which I've seen several books claim they do) is not factoring greatly into my sense of wonder here. 

Q: Does that mean you are totally cool with your body and your weight gain?

A: HA HA HA. Seeing a number on the scale that I had never seen before, and then being told that that number was "over the line" in terms of acceptable weight gain by the nutritionist, has me in a tailspin. Even though that weigh-in was four days after returning from a week spent at the most delicious restaurants in Santa Fe, when under ANY circumstances I would have gained about eight temporary pounds. Even though my body-fat percentage pre-pregnancy was crazy low, to an extent that I couldn't healthily sustain in pregnancy. I can come up with a dozen logical arguments why I shouldn't worry about this, and still all I hear in my head is someone telling me I weigh too much.  

Q: How gassy are you?

A: Level: Hindenburg.

Q: Does being pregnant increase your chances of the cancer recurring?

A: Yes. An increase of estrogen in the body is not a good idea when you had estrogen-receptor-based cancer. If there were any cancer cells left in my body post-treatment, pregnancy will give them a boost. If there weren't, I should be fine. There's really no way to know until I'm delivered and can resume screenings. I've kept all my OB care at the same hospital where I got cancer treatment, which provides me some peace of mind, although of course I go into hysterical panics now and then.

Q: Has your bladder betrayed you when you laugh yet?

A: No.

Q: What about when you sneeze?

A: I was home and in my pajamas, so it doesn't count.

Q: Is your hair growing as fast and gloriously as everyone says it will?

A: Not really. 

Q: What about your eyebrows and those weird mole hairs?

A: Like bamboo in the wet season.

Q: Have you stopped the self-destructive Googling?

A: ...Mostly. The idea of "acceptable weight gain" sent me back in that direction, I admit. I'm working on not doing stupid things like that.

Q: Are you going to eat the placenta?

A: Am I what?

Q: The eating of the placenta is a thing about which you have to have an opinion now, as part of your Birth Experience. Women blog about how they had postpartum depression because they were not allowed to eat the placenta (and apparently had no other access to the extra iron and protein that women need after childbirth, the lack of which they say caused the depression). Women blog about how they didn't have postpartum depression because they ate the placenta. Women blog about how their postpartum depression was caused by eating the placenta (because it was full of hormones). All the above groups of women are smug about how the placenta is at least "real food", a sentiment of which Alferd Packer would no doubt approve. 

A: I personally will be getting my postpartum nutritional requirements from food items which did not just come out of my uterus, because we live in an amazing society where things like "iron supplements" and "steak burritos" are widely available, but, you know, do what you want. Also, if you needed the nutrients in your placenta to successfully survive childbirth, wouldn't your body reabsorb it? Perhaps I have more faith in the body's current working design than these women do. 

Q: Are you convinced that anecdotes are contagious?

A: Yes. I was completely convinced that because I know someone who miscarried at nineteen weeks, it was more likely that I would miscarry at nineteen weeks than that someone else who doesn't know this person would. I genuinely believe that hearing (or reading about) terrifying pregnancy stories increases my odds of experiencing one myself. Which is why it's especially awesome that for every terrifying and obscure thing I found on the internet, one of my friends would say, "Oh, I had a friend who had that!" Seriously, it could have been something only experienced by six women a year worldwide, and one of my friends would know someone who had it, I'm not even kidding ("Ha, you'll never guess what I convinced myself I had last night while panic-googling: this thing called Malevolent -" "Malevolent Leaning Womb? Oh, my co-worker had that! She was bedridden for seventeen months and the leech expenses were outrageous!"). I was four months pregnant at our wedding because I was quite sure our friends' struggles with fertility meant we would struggle with it too, and so we should start trying long before the wedding. 

Q: Didn't you just say you have faith in the body's biological processes, rather than in magical thinking? 

A: I am large, I contain multitudes.  

Q: Yeah, multitudes of cheese, pudge-pants. 

A: Whatevs, you're just jealous because I'm At A Woman's Most Beautiful Stage. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to tend to my latest rash.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

travel reading

Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide, by Peter Allison. Cute and a quick read.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. This book is incredible. Ursula, born in the English countryside in 1910, dies over and over and gets a restart on her life each time. She starts retaining hazy memories of her untimely ends, and thus has a small ability to change things going forward. So much of this book, however, is really just about her family and growing up in England during the first World War and then surviving (or not!) the second World War as an adult. Although at times it gets a little How Many Ways Can You Die, especially at the beginning (which is a fairly brutal recitation of How Many Ways a Child Can Die, and probably not what I should have been reading while pregnant), that tapers off once the story gets into its stride. I loved it.

Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, by Raymond Bonner. Rather interesting but not as compelling as I wanted it to be for plane reading (I get serious anxiety and nausea when flying, and couldn't take anything for either condition on this trip), and Bonner's argument ended up depending too much on a theory that the defendant was set up by the police. Which he may well have been, but that wasn't quite what I was expecting.

For the Love of Mike, by Rhys Bowen. I gave the second entry in this "female detective in turn-of-the-century New York" series a try, but remain underwhelmed. Not reading any more.

Cambridge Blue, by Alison Bruce. Completely forgettable police procedural. I finished this two days ago and don't remember the main character's name. 

He Who Fears the Wolf, by Karin Fossum. Norwegian mystery. Awful. I don't know why I finished it. 

Faithful Place, by Tana French. God, she's good! 

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, by Alexandra Fuller. Fuller clearly wrote this memoir as an apology to her mother, who was very upset by Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. It's still well-written and interesting, but it's, well, racism and colonialism apologia in a lot of ways, because that's what made her mom upset about the first book: that Fuller accurately documented her racism and people said, "Wow, your mom is racist!" (Fuller also attempts to equate Scottish clan pride with inevitable racism, which chuffed my Scottish hide.)

The Naming of the Dead, by Ian Rankin. A known quantity, which is absolutely not a bad thing.

Watching the Dark, by Peter Robinson. Also a known quantity. Less impressive than Rankin, but I will keep reading this series as long as he keeps churning them out. 

Black Hills, by Dan Simmons. I have no idea why I kept reading this. It was immediately apparent that it is nothing but info-dumping - there are entire, enormously long, chapters which might as well be the Wikipedia entries for "Lakota manhood ritual", or "Chicago World's Fair", or "construction of Mount Rushmore" if they aren't already - and this just goes on and on for six hundred pages. The only shred of originality was Simmons' belief that General Custer and his wife were horny as badgers, which he shares with us via passages that, combined with the encyclopedia-entry-style of the rest of the book, made me remember the greatest romance novel plagiarism scandal of all time. (I'll wait while you read that. It's worth it.) Other than the delight of that recall, this book had no redeeming qualities.