/karen/

Peanut (at around 24 weeks)

Sunday, 25 April, 2010

Hmm, one blog post per month: not bad, all things considering! A cursory look at this blog would give a newcomer the impression that all I blog about is pregnancy (and sporadically at that). But of course, this blog is only one subset of my writing activities. It's interesting that in the last couple of years, I've done less blogging and more writing in other spheres. I generally think that's a good thing.

Anyway, it's probably time for a Peanut update. There's a lot I'd like to talk about, but I've been procrastinating for a bit on this post. It's mostly because I want to make sure I phrase it properly. I imagine Peanut reading it and reacting to it years later, and I don't want to give him/her the impression that I hated being pregnant and that I resented him/her, because nothing is farther from the truth. But I also want to be real about what makes pregnancy hard and the sorts of things I've been struggling with.

Physical things

I've grown a lot so now it's really obvious that I'm pregnant. I don't know how to feel about it; I know for a while, I tended to kind of hide of my figure so it wasn't that obvious, but now I'm so big, I can't do that anymore. It's not that I'm ashamed of being pregnant; it's just that I feel like I haven't adjusted yet to the whole physicality of pregnancy, if that makes sense. The only way I can explain it is to compare it with adolescence—when your body is changing shape and it's all very weird and part of you wants no one to know because you're not quite ready to come to terms with it yourself (particularly your breasts because they are the most obvious things about becoming a woman). (Am I the only one who felt that way going through adolescence? Maybe I am …)

Adolescence is a good point of comparison, actually: not since adolescence has my body changed this much. I'm sure I've put on weight and taken it off here and there since adolescence, but never heaps dramatically. But now my body is changing shape the most dramatically since adolescence, and it's doing it all in nine months instead over a number of years. That is pretty freaky! (Incidentally, my minister's wife made a good comment the other night when telling the story about how, after giving birth to her son, she was asked by a stranger down at the shops, “When are you due?” because she must have still looked pregnant: she said, “Well, it took nine months for my body to get to this shape, so it will probably take another nine months for it to go back the way it was.” I'm going to think about that after Peanut is born.) I can't quite remember what I weighed before pregnancy because I don't weigh myself regularly, but I think I've gained about 6-7 kgs since then, which my OBGYN says is normal. Still, that makes a bit of difference: imagine suddenly carrying all that extra weight around!

It's also hard to describe what the change feels like. The best comparison I can come up with is when you've eaten a big meal and you feel really full, and your stomach strains against your skin so it feels like your tummy is stretching and stretching. Imagine that happening all the time, not just after you eat (although I feel it particularly after I eat!) It doesn't seem possible that the female body can do that, but somehow it does. The weird thing is that, unlike when you put on weight (when the extra fat and whatever goes to your tummy, hips and thighs [I think]), you are growing from the front and your belly is getting rounder and rounder. In addition, your belly has a particular shape to it depending on where the baby is sitting. I can't work out how to find pictures of different pregnant silhouettes on the internet so you'll just have to take my word for it. Anyway, it's interesting!

The extra weight on the front of you means that your centre of gravity shifts. This makes it hard for me to use the Wii so I don't anymore. (That's also because of PGP—see below). It also makes me walk funny—like I'm waddling. I'm sure that the more I grow, the more strain it will place on my back, but so far, it's been okay.

The thing that surprised me the most is every now and then, I have this mental struggle with self-esteem and body image. It's really stupid; I mean, I'm pregnant, not fat! I guess it just goes to show how insidious the thinking of the world is—that I keep thinking, “Oh, I'm so enormous!” in terms of fat and weight gain (and lack of fitness) instead of in terms of, “My baby is growing inside of me!” Maybe I feel like this because a number of people around me are dieting and losing weight just as I'm gaining it. Still, I know it's a stupid way to think. I have to keep fighting it.

Pelvic pain

By far the most dramatic thing that has affected the pregnancy is pelvic pain—otherwise known as pelvic girdle pain (PGP) or symphysis pubic dysfunction (which sounds a bit rude, so I've been using the former term: PGP). It affects one in five pregnant women, but the strange thins is, all our parents (steps and de facto) have never heard of it. When I talked about it on Facebook, though, a number of mums around my age said they had it/were having it. So it's common. I guess people don't talk about it much.

What happens is there's this hormone in your bloodstream when you're pregnant called relaxin, and it travels around your pelvis to loosen up the muscles and joints in preparation for labour. Unfortunately what sometimes happens is it softens and stretches the ligaments a little too much, and that is when things become painful.

I noticed the pain back in March, but it didn't get worse until April. So during my last OBGYN visit, she wrote me a referral to a very good physio who seems to specialise in pregnancy. The first time I went to see her, she knew exactly what was talking about. She did a bit of poking to confirm, then gave me some exercises to do to retrain the muscles around the ligaments to some of the work, and taught me how to move to do certain things (e.g. getting up out of chairs, climbing stairs, getting in and out of the car) so that it wouldn't make things worse. She also got me to wear a special belt around my pelvis for a week to see if that helped (I hired it from her for a week). It did, so I bought one off her, and I swear, it's made of the strongest velcro known to man. I wear it whenever I go out.

She also got Ben to come in for the second visit so she could teach him to do this deep massage treatment, which she would do on me anyway but she says it's more effective if it's done every day. I have to have a heat back on that part of my lower back for about 10 minutes, and then he has to massage these two spots on my lower back and gluteal muscles on each side for at least 30 seconds. It doesn't actually help the ligaments (because the problem is the hormone, not the ligaments, which means that the problem often doesn't go away until you've had six periods following the birth); it's combatant pain: it's like when you have a headache and you stub your toe, and the pain from your toe takes the edge off your headache. So don't be fooled; the massage is actually quite painful. But it works!

Anyway, I mentioned in my last post that I'm a lot slower; now I am really slow. If the pain is too much, I have to walk using baby steps, and can only take the stairs one step at a time. When I stand up, I need to make sure my knees are together. Ditto when I get in and out of the car. Walking for long periods of time is definitely not good. This also means I can't really do much exercise (though arguably I get enough going up and down the stairs to our apartment). The worst part is rolling over in bed, which may sound odd, so let me explain.

After 20 weeks, you're not supposed to sleep on your back anymore. This is because the weight of the baby restricts the bloodflow in one of your arteries, which isn't good for you or your baby. Later in the pregnancy, if you do accidentally roll onto your back, your baby will kick you to get you move because s/he doesn't like it. So you have to sleep on your side—with a body pillow or some such thing supporting your belly and knees. The thing is, you don't normally sleep on your side all night; you roll around—usually unconsciously. When you sleep on your side for too long, your arm gets squash. For me, my ear gets squashed. (Ben thinks that is hilarious!) So after a while, my body will wake me up with pain signals, telling me it's time to roll over. When you have PGP, however, rolling over is really really really painful. You pretty much have to sit up to do it, and you have to do it slowly to make sure you're not pulling on anything. By that stage, you're almost fully awake, and it can take a while to get back to sleep.

(Please note: most of the time, PGP isn't too painful for me. It's only when I have to move. And now that the physio has taught me exercises and has gotten Ben to treat me, the pain is far less than what it was. So don't think that I'm in constant pain because I'm not!)

So lately I've been waking up at 4 or 5 to roll over. Then I've lain awake in bed for about an hour. Sometimes I manage to get back to sleep but sometimes not. The thing is, because of PGP, if I go to work, I want to make sure I get there early because then I can claim what I regard as the prime parking spot, which means a smaller distance to walk. And that means getting up at 6 so I can be out the door by at least 7—preferably earlier because traffic is such a pain—so it's no wonder I get tired and hit the wall after lunch. Fortunately work are incredibly understanding and flexible, so there have been days when I've worked until lunchtime and then just gone home. Sometimes I've taken naps in the afternoon to cope, but I generally don't like doing that because I wake up disoriented and not very well-rested. So the other thing I've had to force myself to do is go to bed at a reasonable hour—particularly as it takes so long to do all things I need to do before bed (pack for the next day, put out clothes [because I'm too woolly-headed to decide what to wear in the mornings], brush teeth, wash face according to dermatologists' instructions, warm up heat pack, get Ben to do the massage on me …) I may plan to get eight hours of sleep a night, but the reality is I will only get six or seven.

It's funny, at least two people, when I've mentioned PGP to them, have quoted or referred to Genesis 3 in response. In a way, they're right: the fact that childbirth and pregnancy are painful is a reminder of the Fall and the introduction of sin into our world. This side of heaven, things still hurt. So I wonder if the pain and I discomfort I experience is, in a way, supposed to remind me of my spiritual depravity and how much I need Jesus. It's a thought worth meditating on, I think.

Depression

Anyway, given the above, it's probably not surprising that in the last month or so, I've struggled at various times with depression. (Incidentally, a work colleague told me that the instance of ante-natal depression is about the same as post-natal depression; just less documented.) It hasn't been too bad—in fact, it would hardly qualify as depression depression because my low mood has never persisted for very long (usually a couple of days or so). And over the past couple of years, I've built up enough self-awareness through counselling sessions to know when things aren't going so well. So, for example, on Monday, I knew I was feeling rather down (and I went to see Kick-Ass by myself at the movies because I couldn't be bothered organising to go with anyone and because I thought it would help. And it did! I enjoyed it), and there was an email in my inbox from my Bible study leader, asking for RSVPs for the social he had organised on Saturday, which involved a trip to Wollongong. And even though I really wanted to go, I knew it wasn't a good idea because it would be a long day, and I was already tired (which was contributing to my depression) and feeling low, and needed to rest a bit more. So regretfully I declined. But it took several days for me to come to that conclusion because I thought I could manage it. And had I not been pregnant and grappling with PGP, I probably could have. But that's the way things are at the moment.

As PGP has greatly restricted my freedom, I've found myself having to come to terms with moving into this next stage of life. I have had to accept that I'm not as available or as flexible as some of my friends—that I can't do as much as them—that I have to say no when I really want to say yes. I guess it's like what happens when single people get married and all of a sudden, the way they practice life is all different, which can be baffling to their single friends. I wonder how my single friends will cope with this change. I know I found it a bit hard when some of my married friends gave birth and then seemed to disappear off the face of the planet; is that what will happen to me? Will my friends forget about me because I'm now too hard?

(Another thought: it's a bit like when your friend starts a serious relationship with another person. All of a sudden, relating to her is different because you're not just relating to her, you're also relating to him, and relating to her in the way she is with him. [Does that make sense?] It's like this even when you're friends with both people in the couple: you don't just relate to him and relate to her; you relate to them both as a couple, and you relate to her as she is around him, and you relate to him as he is around her. I imagine it must be similar with babies: from a certain point onwards, my friends will relate not just to me and not just to Peanut, but to me as I am around Peanut, and to Ben as he is around Peanut. In short, they will have to adjust to relating to us as a family of three instead of a family of two. There's a C.S. Lewis quote that sort of captures what I mean:

Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but “A's part in C”, while C loses not only A but “A's part in B”. In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald's reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, HarperCollins, London, 1960, pp. 58-59.)

I don't think we think of relationships this way much, hence change is hard.)

I know that the first six months are the hardest—that you shouldn't put too many expectations on yourself—that you may not leave the house in weeks and weeks because the routine of feeding, changing nappies and sleeping is too hard for anything else. It's just made me think how am I going to survive that period? What happens if I end up with post-natal depression? (I know people I should talk to if I do … well, I should probably talk to them before it happens, hey …) What can I do in terms of R&R activities and stuff to keep myself sane? PGP means that a whole lot of stuff that I used to like doing is no longer possible—for example,

—or they are only possible on a very limited scale (in that I have to plan, make sure I have enough time, make sure that I don't do things for too long or I'll get tired, etc.) For example, the last concert I will attend before Peanut's arrival is My Brightest Diamond at the Sydney Opera House on 6 June, when I shall be almost 31 weeks. Recently the Opera House sent out an email correcting their advertising and saying that tickets were for general standing admission only. Knowing that there was no way I'd be able to stand up for that long, I rang them up and was relieved to find out that there would still be seats on the mezzanine level. Before, I never would have had to do that.

I've had a few ideas regarding how to sustain myself:

(If you have more ideas, please add them in the comments.)

Lately I have also found myself thinking a lot about something that Stacie wrote in response to my post on Twilight ages ago:

When I was pregnant last year (and fearing that becoming a mother would be the final “nail in the coffin” of my youth) I revisited adolescence through punk music and black jeans. So your post makes a lot of sense to me. (Source)

As I find myself on the brink of change, I'm more acutely aware of what I will give up when Peanut arrives. Already there are things I've had to say no to (e.g. the cast of Wicked are doing a charity performance of Into the Woods, but it conflicts with the start of our ante-natal classes). The newsletters for things like the Sydney Writers' Festival and the Sydney Film Festival land in my inbox, and I think, “This is it: I will not have the freedom to go to things like this for a while.” I remember a seminar that Lesley Ramsay once ran on change at an MTS conference once (Club 5, which I think is now called Spur): “All change is loss”, and I think that that's what I'm starting to feel: loss. And with loss comes mourning. Is it any wonder I feel sad sometimes?

Peanut with us

Now that I've written that down and gotten it out of my system (more or less), let me assure you that I don't regard this upcoming period as being all gloom and doom. There are good things about it. Stopping work is a good thing. I mean, I know I'll be sad about leaving because I would have been at MM for five and a half years by that point (which is the longest I've ever spent in a job), and I'll miss certain aspects of the work I really enjoyed. But at another level, I know I'm ready to move on; I feel like I'm almost at the stage where I've learned everything there is to learn, and I'm just about ready for a new challenge. Also, I look forward to being free of deadlines and the constraints of the monthly magazine cycle, which can be quite brutal sometimes.

I also look forward to being home with Ben more. I am hoping that we might actually exist in a relatively overlapping time zone for once! (Ben tends to work late into the night while I go to bed.) It's been a while since we've done the same thing (2005, in fact—when we were at college together)—not that we will be doing exactly the same thing, but now the orientation of my day will change to home instead of the office, so hopefully we will be rather similar in that we will both get sick of being at home at the same time and want to go out (whereas what sometimes tends to happen at the moment is he'll want to go out because he's sick of being at home, while I don't want to go anywhere and just potter around the house).

Thirdly, I look forward to understanding my friends who are mothers a bit more (though I wonder at my tolerance for talking about baby things all the time; I do get sick of it even now and sometimes think, “Enough already!” I'm sure this blog post doesn't help things in that respect …) Already I can see how having children strengthens our relationship with others in a way—ushering us into a whole new realm of parenthood and family-dom where many of our friends now exist. I guess it's that things-you-have-in-common thing: because you're going through the same things as them, that creates a certain solidarity. It's this sort of thing that makes single people feel left out, I think. Isn't it interesting how these stages in life change things—how you relate to others, and so on …

Fourthly, parenthood shall be an interesting adventure. I did say I'd blog about parenting sometime, didn't I. I don't think I'm quite ready to do so yet (and I'm also not ready for the response I think I'll receive). But I will. Sometime.

One of the things I've been thinking about is how to raise Peanut in the Lord. That is something I've never experienced. I've gleaned bits and pieces from other Christian parents (particularly from some of my work colleagues who are much older and have been through various stages of development in their children's lives). But putting it into practice myself … that will be interesting.

One final thing: in a way, I'm conscious that Peanut is with us. I can know feel him/her moving around inside of me (Peanut is very active!) (Incidentally, just so you know, the baby is usually asleep when you're awake and moving around, as your movements rock it to sleep. The baby usually wakes up when you're still—especially when you're going to sleep. I wonder what babies think about during those night hours. Apparently they dream—though, of course, no one knows what they dream about.) It's kind of a weird thought—that Peanut is with me everywhere I go (duh!), but I think I'm getting more and more used to it. One of the things I'd like to try sometime is reading to Peanut. Trevor Cairney said in this post his kids did it with their children, and before I read that, the thought had never occurred to me. But I'd like to try it because I want to get into good reading habits with Peanut. (Incidentally, I love this New York Times article about a father and daughter reading together over many years.) I should probably blog about reading to your kids in another post—the parenting post.

Money

Oh dear. This post is getting rather long! (As usual.) That's what happens when you don't blog for a month and a half, but instead store up all the things you want to say in a text file …

One thing that might be of interest to people like Little Rachel is the cost of everything. I was adding it all up today just out of interest, and was surprised to find that the government pays for a lot of stuff, which is rather nice. So when your GP and OBGYN sends you off for tests and things, most of those are covered by Medicare, and you don't even get charged at all. (I guess it's in the government's best interests to look after the next generation!)

Nevertheless, having a baby can be quite expensive. These are the sorts of things we had to fork out for:

My mum and I

One final thing. I had lunch with my mum recently and asked her what it was like when she had me. She and my dad had been married for only a couple of years. She was 30 years old, living in Toronto, Canada, and it was a stinking hot summer. Plus I was three weeks late. Here's newborn me:

Me as a baby

What was interesting about talking to my mum was how matter-of-fact and down-to-earth she was about the whole experience. Or, to put it in the negative, she wasn't dramatic about it—she didn't complain about it being hard, though it must have been hard. Maybe we were particularly good babies, or maybe there are things she's forgotten. But the overall impression is that she just dealt with stuff as it happened. She couldn't breastfeed me for various reasons (so I mustn't have been a very happy baby for a while), but they put me on formula fairly quickly (without the guilt that comes with not being able to breastfeed). And me being on formula with her not having to express milk meant that she was able to return to work within two months. I was put into daycare, which she says I didn't mind too much. A family friend was there, and apparently there was only one staff member that they had issues with; otherwise, the staff were quite lovely, and engaged with the babies in their care—interacting and playing with them—so that, by the end of the day, I was so tired I went straight to sleep when we were home.

My mum was able to breastfeed my brother, and apparently he was very efficient: five minutes on each breast and he was done! (Is this unheard-of …?) In addition, apparently we both starting sleeping six hours through the night fairly quickly, so I guess she and my dad didn't have to grapple so much with fatigue. She also says that I was very good at keeping myself amused; all she had to do was put me in front of a mirror and I would pull faces at myself all day.

Obviously this doesn't tell me much about what Peanut will be like, but I thought it was interesting. One day I shall have to ask my mother-in-law about her experience with Ben and what he was like as a baby. (He was a very cute baby!)

All right, that's enough blogging for now. Until next time.

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Hi Karen,
Thanks for the long update. It sounds like you are experiencing very common emotions (high and low) of first-time expectant mothers.

In answer to your question about breastfeeding in 5mins - that’s pretty common. In the first few weeks as both you and baby are learning how to feed (it takes a while to get the hang of it)feeding takes a little while (about an hour for me and Alex). This was actually a blessing for me as it meant I could sit and rest for that period of time, 5 or 6 times a day! Lovely, especially as it was such a tiring time of my life, with all the adjusting that comes with the birth of a child.

The milk flow can be quite fast to begin with(often too fast for baby!) and it means they take in too much and then need to be burped, which all takes time. After awhile though your breasts will adjust and regulate themselves as they work out how much milk is needed. THey are amazing the way they work. They actually feel quite soft and empty after a few weeks and lots of new mums worry that they don’t hvae enough milk, but it is very normal, and just means your body has regulated the amount of milk it makes.

Check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association webpage - it is full of excellent information. I would recommend joining the association - you receive a magazine every 2 months, which is filled with wonderful articles. I found it very helpful (and still do after 3 years of feeding). A great bit of reading to have in your hands while sitting down to feed. You also receive an excellent book “Breastfeeding….naturally” which answers just about any question you may have about breastfeeding. I read it many many times!

Mim

Posted by Miriam on 29 April, 2010 1:20 AM

Thanks Miriam! That’s good to know!

I think that your child will one day be thankful that they can read about what their mother was thinking. They won’t have to wonder if you’ve forgotten anything or just telling the good things! I think the positives are more believable when accompanied by the negatives, that’s just more realistic.

The PGP sounds really hard! Also not something that people talk about, so is it hard to get understanding from people when you need to go a little slower? Though perhaps they just expect that of pregnant women… gah, there are so many steps at MM! :(

I worry about the money stuff too… though I guess in Mongolia maybe they won’t do all those medical things so I won’t have to pay for them! :p

Keep blogging! You know I’m fascinated. ;p

Posted by Little on 29 April, 2010 3:00 PM

Great post, Karen.
As I said to you last Friday: the Toturo thing is gorgeous!
Thanks for posting about the changing relationships between friends.  I’ve been struggling to come to terms with my best friend’s relationship with her boyfriend and the loss I feel. It’s been 18mths now, but I guess it’s taking longer for me to deal with because he’s not something we talk about and I don’t often see them together.  However, it’s still known.  It’s good to know I’m not alone or going crazy or whatever.
Also, thanks for the updates on Peanut.  Can’t wait to meet him/her!

Posted by Lizz B. on 30 April, 2010 5:53 AM

Hey Little! One of the things that astounds me is that people all over the world give birth everyday in different circumstances, and they seem to get through it. Maybe all the bells and whistles of the western world are simply that—bells and whistles, and things we do to make ourselves feel better about such a painful and momentous occurrence. I’m sure Mongolia has its own ways of looking after their expectant mums!



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