Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Pregnancy

Pregnant Again: It's A Do Over

General StuffTeresa Strasser28 Comments

I’d like to go to my senior prom again, but not be blackout drunk with a 26 year-old date.

For a brief period during which I hosted a basic cable decorating show, I was kind of famous. I wish I could be famous again, without having to emotionally implode from the cognitive dissonance of thinking I was a nobody and the world thinking I was somebody and the compulsive need to prove myself right. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t glower at people who shouted my name at airports. I would wave and smile. Like I deserved it.

If I could be pregnant, give birth and care for a baby again — oh wait, I can.

For once, life has given me a do-over. Of all the major life cycle events, the big moments, the passages and transitions, the ceremonies, beginnings and endings, of all the big deals I have screwed up just by being terrified of failing at them, I never get a chance to try again with the full knowledge of how I will look back at it. However, as I sit here four months pregnant with my second child, all I can think is: this pregnancy thing certainly is different when I don’t spend the day Googling “miscarriage causes” or “chromosomal abnormalities of Ashkenazi Jews” or “the dangers of eating soft cheese during pregnancy.”

The kid is just fine, my two year-old. What I couldn’t have predicted is that my love for him would give birth to some kind of ever-multiplying fear monster, that instead of just experiencing him growing in my stomach, or instead of just watching his tiny face sleeping, I would spend most of his early days on a maternal death watch. If he slept for too long, my heart would race, something was wrong. If he had the hiccups, or a rash, or a fever, or a crying fit, I knew the end was coming.

Sorry, this is dark. But I have to admit it. My love for this creature, before he was born and after, made caring for him a perpetual shift on the front lines of a little war I was losing against my own anxiety. Bad things happen. Terrible things happen. Those things still might happen to me, to this new baby, but I can tell you this: I truly don’t think my contemplation of doom either manifests or protects against it.

And another thing. Another thing about the first-born. You don’t know anything about anything. Or at least I didn’t.

Now, I can tell you how a Braxton-Hicks contraction feels as opposed to real labor, I can school you on when to take away a pacifier or how to pack a diaper bag. I already have a pediatrician, I even know the parking drill over there and it won’t panic me. I have a daycare. I have hand-me-downs. I know where to find indoor playgrounds and I can tell you which bookstores and restaurants in Los Feliz have changing tables in the bathroom. I got this.

The first time around, thanks to the omnipresence of www.babycenter.com, I knew exactly how many weeks and days pregnant I was, whether my fetus was the size of a plum or kiwi, whether it had eyebrows or a spleen yet. This time, I lose track. Sometimes, at least until someone offers me a cocktail, I even forget.

The most prominent symptom I had the first time around wasn’t morning sickness or bloating, though I had those, the most pronounced side effect of carrying a baby was acute self-absorption. It’s not that I was self-involved out of some sense of my own importance or awesomeness, I was just so scared something would go wrong that I somehow became convinced, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, no one had ever carried a baby to term before. I was the only pregnant person on the planet, it was all about me, my swelling ankles, my ultrasounds, my need to find a name, my due date, me. The thing about this pregnancy is that I’m finding it almost impossible to focus on myself, on all the bad things that could happen, while caring for a two-year old who needs me to play garbage trucks and spray Oxy-Clean on butter stains.

So, here’s to do-overs. Oh wait, I can’t drink.  Just pass the Camembert.

Me Trying to Avoid Lame Book/Baby Metaphors. Failing.

General StuffTeresa Strasser30 Comments

Books, like babies, are hard to deliver. They can tear you apart on the way out. I finished the first draft of my book this week. The baby, well, that rough draft will be on my hard-drive for years to come. I hope Buster will be compelling, rich and hard to put down, but if he ends up in the remainder bin, I guess that will also be on me.

Like having a baby, writing a book is something I thought I could never do, even though I’ve been a writer since I was 19, even though I’ve been turning out copy for years, I didn’t see how I could be an actual “author” a title that, like “mother” seemed too saintly and profound to ever belong to me. There are other parallels, although while babies and books are both challenging and life-changing, the baby at least smiles at me, whereas the book deadline mostly just glowered.

When I was writing the early chapters, sneaking off to the library in four-hour increments and pumping breast milk in the car of the library parking lot, I often wondered what I had gotten myself into, a sentiment that I assume other new moms feel from time to time about motherhood itself.

This morning, without the book crying to be picked up and rocked and fed, I took the baby to the park, where I realized that what mostly happens at the park in the early hours involves vagrants collecting cans and old people doing what appear to be very specific and very strange workout routines. As Buster looked up at the trees chewing on his lip, an elderly woman strapped her elastic exercise band around the slide in the playground for some squats. She eyeballed us like, “What the hell are you doing at my gym?” and we looked back like, “Listen lady, we got a lot of hours to kill so deal with it.” Meanwhile, an even older dude stretched his hamstrings out on the swing set.

Buster is decent company. He doesn’t just smile with his gummy mouth, but seems to express joy with his entire body. At just under six months old, I take this as a good sign that he’s turning out all right so far. On the other hand, he is easily bored, and taking care of him is often a matter of switching his position every five minutes, moving him from station to station at home (the ExerSaucer, the play mat, the pack and play, the bouncy seat, and back to one) or engaging him with various toys, songs and positions while out and about. Either he isn’t the kind of kid, or isn’t at the stage, to amuse himself for long periods of time.

It dawns on me that you can be a good mom, attached and in love, while also finding this time in your child’s life mind numbingly dull at moments.

I’ll shut up about comparing the book and the baby, because that can only lead to cloying metaphors about chapters ending and the future being unwritten, and I don’t want to sound like that Natasha Bedingfield song I’m embarrassed to like. I hope the book is good. While it’s a memoir about being pregnant, it turns out that the process for me wasn’t just about dealing with acid reflux and the like, but about exposing the other stuff that comes up and burns, the issues about my own mother, whether I would turn out like her, how motherhood like my old clothes, might not ever fit right.

Writing this blog helped, the posts were like notes I kept along the way. Still, the term “mommy blogger” makes me gag more than morning sickness, and I’m not sure why.

When I was a columnist, and wrote about being single, I hated being called “singles columnist” because it seemed so reductive and belittling, and I was just writing about my life, which at the time, involved dating. Now, I’m still writing about my experience, and I guess that makes me a “mommy blogger,” and I guess it’s snooty to think to myself, “I’m not some lady who had a kid and now thinks she’s Irma Freaking Bombeck; I was a writer before.” And let’s face it, the good mommy bloggers have figured out how to make money from their online enterprise, and I certainly haven’t done that yet, which makes me an amateur baby exploiter and only two-bit mommy blogger at best.

Only now, I’m dangerously close to also being an author. Because books kind of raised me, when my mother shut her bedroom door and left with me with a stack of them, I only hope the book I birthed can do the same for someone else, just keep her company for awhile. Or him. Whatever. I gotta sell books.

As for Buster, he didn’t kill my dream or turn me into a bore, as I sometimes feared. For one thing, I was already a bore, and for another, having a baby not only gave me new material to exploit (why else have one?) it also gave me the discipline to just hack away, a page at a time, knowing there wasn’t some brilliant, perfect, literary masterpiece out in the ether that I could never capture, but just the simple things I have to say, pedestrian as they may be, the best I can do and still make it home in time to nurse the baby and relieve the sitter.

When I had a child, I lost the right to show up only when I feel inspired. While that’s not something I would have thought to put on my baby registry, it’s a gift I love almost as much as I love my ExerSaucer. And I love my fucking ExerSaucer.

Nathaniel James

Favorite Posts, General StuffTeresa Strasser305 Comments

With my son. Just wanted to type that. He was known as Frank Breech, but after a C-Section and a few days of toiling over his official name, Frank "Buster" Breech became Nathaniel James.

He was born 7.7 pounds, and when he came out, he looked purple like a bunch of grapes held up at a Sunday farmer's market. I don't know who it was - a doctor, a nurse, the anesthesiologist, someone announced, "He's a chunky monkey" and I've never been more excited to hear the first fat joke about my son. I knew no one would be joking if he didn't have all of his fingers and toes and appear to be in good working order. You don't start rhyming and referencing Ben n' Jerry's flavors when things are going awry. Even someone with a spinal block, restraints and a nasty case of Hebrew panic knows this on some visceral level. Especially, maybe.

To say I've never been more relieved is such an understatement it's kind of a shame; I should probably not be allowed to write until I can actually pass a reasonable stool. Maybe normal movement of one's colon is critical to self-expression not involving lame cliches and semi-obvious declarations. Please, humor me until the Colace and prune juice kick in.

So, after he was pronounced a chunky monkey, and the doctor said, "He was definitely breech ... and definitely a boy ..." (guess he presented with a big rump and typically swollen baby balls) I started bawling right there on the table, tears pooling around my oxygen mask, trying not to choke on snot and shock and the weird mucus that collects when you're on your back and pregnant. Until the second they brought him over to me and let me kiss his goopy, red face, I was convinced that setting up a crib, and buying a rug for his nursery and occasionally imagining he would be okay would all have cursed him, and that I would never, ever be lucky enough to get a real live healthy baby.

No matter how many tests told me otherwise and how often I saw his heartbeat, even moments before they removed him and I could hear his heart thudding steady and strong on the fetal heart monitor, I was sure this was all a big mistake and that something would be wrong and everyone had missed it.

All that being said  - and I promise to say more once I'm back in business - this C-Section was gnarly. I know some people find them easy, I am not one of those people.

The recovery was and is more difficult than I imagined, the surgery was terrifying and maybe this is just me, but I think I even caught a 24-hour bout of PTSD.

And I'm glad no one really gave me the nuts and bolts of the C, because it would have freaked my shit out. So I feel funny saying too much if anyone has one of these on the horizon, because you will be fine. Again, more to come, but I'm just so grateful to those of you who have followed this blog and sent your well wishes that I wanted to let you know that baby, mom and dad are doing great. Dad has changed every diaper and burped every burp because though I'm up to breast feeding the little guy, I can't do much else with breaking doctor's orders to avoid BLT: bending, lifting and twisting.

I'm yammering.

Sometimes it's kind of nice to find yourself living a cliche, deliriously happy and deliriously tired mom. That's me. Mom. I'm someone's mom. He is my son.

For someone who wasn't baby crazy, who didn't really get babies at all, I do all the disgusting things like smell his head and take pictures of him incessantly and become convinced that I'm not biased at all, but that my baby actually is extra adorable with fantastic hair.

It's my first day out of the hospital and like I said, I'm feeling pretty wrecked. Haven't even had a chance to check out my new slice but I have run my fingers over it and I will tell you, they need a little extra room to remove the frank breech types. Seems about five inches or so. I'm okay with it, I just don't want to look. And I still appear almost as pregnant as when I went in there. And my legs are swollen. On and on. Hard to wrap up this post which as far as prose goes is kind of a disaster. Time for a feeding, and yes, time for the boy to exploit me, as I have been doing him for the last six months.

Again, thanks for all of your kind words and well wishes and more than that, all of your very specific advice and recollections from everything to car seats to nipple pads to latching to morning sickness.

I read every single thing you wrote, and I often took your counsel and many times I dragged my husband over to read what you posted, because I was touched or consoled, because your experience was just like mine, and that made me feel less lonely. And I know that the sensations I'm having now, the baby "high" and the rubbing his velvety arms and the crying cause I can't poop or sleep and the sad sack thoughts when I catch my bloated reflection and the surreal smacking myself over being his mom, and him not being in my stomach anymore, but instead sitting there in his bouncy seat, I know this has all been said and done and felt. Maybe by you. Instead of that taking away from its value,  today, somehow it seems to add to it. Instead of scoffing at the human experience, I'm just giving in.

There aren't that many main courses on the menu in this life, when it comes to the big experiences.

So, despite wanting to be terminally unique, at some point you order the chicken or the steak. Maybe the surf and turf. Because there are only so many dinners available at the cosmic table. The real comfort, and the big bombshell, isn't how I felt too good to have what the rest of you were having, but not good enough. And here I am with my baby, like a billion and a half mothers before me, and we all want to hear that our children are chunky monkeys, and that we are not, and that's where I find magic where I least expected it, right in the hackiness. There aren't many offerings for dessert, either, and that's the sweetest part, that we're all telling the same stories and scooping our cold spoon into one infinite pint.

Sitting Stretch Mark Shiva

General StuffTeresa Strasser60 Comments

Living Like Sanford, You Big Dummy. I have a stretch mark.

This is not a big deal. Or rather, I wish I were a person for whom this was not a big deal, but after spending two hours online last night in the wee hours looking at pictures of stretch marks and doing research, I realize I do not subscribe to the Warrior Woman thing about "my trophy" and "all worth it" and "this was my baby's home for nine months." Fuck that.

Did I mention I just have the one? Still, it's red and loud like a blinking, broken arrow, an arrow pointing right to the place where my vanity lives, a tenant I expected to be evicted and replaced by nurturing, maternal “don’t care how I look because I’m so in love with motherhood” lady. Whether depth and vanity can share a pad without finishing off each other’s peanut butter and taking poor phone messages, I have no idea.

I just know I took a long look at the mark in the mirror in the middle of the night and I had a choking, irrational cry.

Moreover, most women get a rush of stretch marks right about now, just before birth, and I can see several more appearing on the left side of my stomach, crouching, laying in wait to ambush my collagen and confidence.

Life just feels like what happens while I wait for more stretch marks. My goddamn dermis is like a ticking time bomb.

If you search long enough, you can find anything online, like sites that encourage moms to post pictures of their bellies, with or without stretch marks, and tell their stories. It was all very disturbing, the women who looked like they had been clawed across the abdomen by a giant, angry bear and their own genetics. I want to find them valiant, but just see my own mother, practically disfigured by groups of chunky, textured, silvery marks. It never seemed to bother her much, which made it bother me more, and maybe the entire process of looking in the mirror and seeing my mother triggers a deep Freudian crisis.

imagesThere were the photos, too, of the women who escaped unscathed, not a mark on their bellies. Well, goooooood for you, said my mind in the quiet calm of the Koreatown night, goooood for you. Like Christian Bale yelling at his DP, gooooood for youuuuuuuuuuuu snidely said my mind.

I worry about big things, too.

I worry all the time about the baby being born deaf or blind or not making it at all. I worry that I have tempted fate with my Diaper Champ and hand-me-down crib and drawers full of onesies, as if to say to the universe that I take it for granted I will get a healthy baby. A few times a day, I flash on an image of myself sitting alone in the nursery I was scared to furnish, hugging the orange dinosaur my mom knitted, crying in the corner because of some unspeakable tragedy rendering all of this baby stuff useless. The whole thing is extra poignant, rows of baby socks with no tiny feet to put in them. I know, it’s twisted, but don’t accuse me of only worrying about the stupid shit.

Don’t worry. As a Jew, I have enough room in my heart for all levels of anxiety. The shelves are stocked with sizes from XS to XXL.

When the doctor first told me the baby was “frank breech,” meaning head up and rump down, I was bummed about needing a scheduled C-section, disappointed about the controlled calm of appointment birthing. No water breaking at Starbucks, manic drive to the hospital, no ice chips and sweating and gruesome rite of passage labor story.

Now I think, why the fuck did labor seem like such a mystical adventure?

I just want this kid out so I can sleep on my back without suffocating, roll over in bed without sounding like Fred Sanford, not be congested anymore, smoke a couple cigarettes on a Friday night or when I’m writing and need to feel like Norman Mailer. I want to drink a freezing cold martini, take a Xanax, fit into my shoes, schedule toxic beauty treatments. Most of all, I want to be done wondering if the kid is alright, if he’ll survive his journey out of my body, if I did a good enough job carrying him for these past nine months, if he got all his Omega fatty acids and protein and Folic and fat and brain stimulation. Like probably everyone who is 39 weeks pregnant for the first time, I’m ready for this to be over. I just want to hold my baby.

Maybe for now, for right now, as I await either a C-section in a few days  - or a vaginal birth if Buster suddenly decides to right himself - it’s easier to focus on one single stretch mark. There’s only so far it can rip you apart.

This facile psychological interpretation not only buys me a one-way ticket to obvious-ville, it makes me look so much better than a woman who hyperventilates over a stretch mark or two.

Or maybe a stretch mark freak out is simply that. The fact is these suckers are truly irreversible, and I just need a second to process.

They can send a man to the moon, transplant a human face, smash an atom with a linear accelerator, air-condition a condo in Phoenix, make sure you always know exactly where you are in space with a $200 GPS the size of a wallet. Yet they can’t really do much about the scars of motherhood.

Every transition involves a loss, even if you are blessed enough to find yourself pregnant and on the eve of motherhood and the luckiest darn 39 year-old alive, there is still something left behind, and even if that something is just a silly old image of yourself in a bikini looking like Phoebe Cates in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (which you never, ever did) one thing gives way to another and it can’t hurt to stop and waive goodbye.

In my own way, I have to sit shiva, grieve a bit for what was and allow myself to be fully and fairly terrified and inspired by what’s coming. That or just get some self-tanner. Both are miracles.

My Baby is All Ass-Backward

General StuffTeresa Strasser81 Comments

Who is this dude, Frank Breech? Well, it looks like my baby is what they call frank breech. Like three to four percent of all babies, he is bottom down, head up. A C-section is already on the books for eight days from today.

However, experts say one way to coax the baby’s head down so he can safely dive out vaginally is to place headphones inside mom’s pants toward her pubic bone and play music for ten minutes, 6-8 times a day. That’s right, the right song played near my girl parts can save me a major surgery and an unsightly scar.

This begs the obvious question, what music would lure a baby’s head down so he can be born the old-fashioned way?

Here are some suggestions I’ve gotten via Twitter, which I think are pretty genius:

“Into the Great Wide Open” by Tom Petty

“Down in the Hole” by the Rolling Stones

“Jump Around” by House of Pain

“Follow You Down” by The Gin Blossoms

“Hold On, I’m Coming” by Sam and Dave

“Head On” by the Pixies

“Heading Out to the Highway” by Judas Priest

“Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

“Upside Down” by Diana Ross

“We Gotta Get Out of this Place” by the Animals

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds

In short, my V needs a DJ ‘cause the baby needs to spin. Whaddya got?

Are Breast Feeding Classes For Boobs?

General StuffTeresa Strasser142 Comments

No worse than drinking formula. Here's what you need to know about exclusively breast fed babies: they can levitate.

That’s what I learned last night during a three-hour breast-feeding class.

They also have x-ray vision, are immune to disease, are more likely to win Nobel Prizes, recycle, live meaningful lives, understand James Joyce, love fully, donate to NPR pledge drives, stop to help distressed motorists, appreciate Rachmaninoff, have high credit scores and get appointed to important government posts. Oh, and breastfed babies live forever. The science on that isn’t totally in yet, but better safe than sorry.

Moreover, if you breast feed, the baby weight will melt off of you. You will evade reproductive cancers. The release of feel-good hormone oxytocin when your baby is “at your breast” will saturate your system with “delicious” feelings of attachment and contentment such as you have never experienced before. Mothers who miss out on this mommy morphine are likely to leave their babies in the middle of the road to be pecked at by turkey vultures.

Okay, that’s not totally true. Some mothers who skip this crucial biological bonding experience will simply leave their child at a fire station with $5, a bottle of formula and half a pack of Benson & Hedges Menthol Ultra Lights in a box.

A room full of us pregnant women, shifting around in uncomfortable plastic chairs and gnawing on free cookies with our husbands, were also given a stern warning: Never ever let the baby out of your sight at the hospital once it is born.

Some sleepy, overworked, well-meaning but ultimately evil nurse is going to hear it cry and give it … well, what might as well be a cocktail of lead paint, asbestos juice and Southern Comfort: FORMULA. That’s right, your precious baby’s ability to be exclusively fed at your breast, the way god and Mother Nature intended, will be forever compromised if you don’t step up with some major vagina power and tell the nurses they are NOT taking your baby out of your sight for one single second at the hospital. Once that baby gets away from you and into the hospital nursery, it’s a free for all and you can kiss your dreams of attending your child’s inauguration goodbye. Once it gets a taste of that plastic nipple and guzzles away at that easy access plastic bottle filled with borderline lethal formula, forget that child loving you, crafting you handmade cards or even sitting in your lap. If you didn’t see the movie “Nell,” you are about to live it with your jacked up, detached, sickly child.

We also learned some of the subtle differences between bottle and breast fed babies.

For one thing, babies who are bottle fed stink. They smell foul. As for breastfed tykes, their shit literally doesn’t stink, though it may be an alarming shade of black for a few days before it goes Mustard yellow.

That’s what I learned in my breast-feeding class.

On the other hand, outside of the minty green and pastel pink confines of the breast-feeding store, tucked away in an urban strip mall in East Los Angeles, in the real mom world, some of my girlfriends just didn’t take to breastfeeding. Their kids seem fine. From my unscientific sampling of moms I know who chose to bottle feed, I see no asthma, no allergies and no bonding problems with the babies. The moms lost the baby weight. I’m not sure if the kids are a ticking time bomb or if the moms are just enjoying a few years until the uterine cancer kicks in, but it seems unlikely.

So, how do you get a straight answer when everyone seems to have a horse in the breast-feeding race? Both sides seem to have massive agendas and neither appears all that interested in actual data, which makes it hard for us pregnant girls to truly understand our options. Women who chose not to breast feed need to believe they did the right thing; breast feeding advocates are unswervingly formula-intolerant.

Last night, our statuesque, red-haired, 50-something lactation consultant and teacher, impressed me with her massive knowledge of boobies and extreme comfort in discussing latching and leaking. However, when she told us about her own kids and mentioned how healthy the now-grown offspring are, she also added that one of them has a little bit of asthma, only when he runs. Wait a second, you mean this panacea doesn’t work for someone who was breastfed for two years?

“The doctors told us it would have been way, way worse if I hadn’t breast fed,” she explained.

Really?

Now that is some backward, bias data analysis if I’ve ever heard it. Look, the kid has respiratory problems and his mom is a lactation lady who did nothing but breastfeed him the “right” way for two years straight. That means one of her three children has asthma. How can these facts fit into the hypothesis that breast milk staves off breathing problems? Get our your logic shoehorn and let’s see what we can do.

I understand there was a time when women were essentially forced to bottle feed and shamed out of caring for their babies in a way that seems both natural and righteous.

There was a time when the hospital just told you what to do, yanked your baby away from you after birth and generally dismissed what we now understand to be the importance of skin-to-skin contact, etc. From where I sit, however, it seems the pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction, so that women for whom breastfeeding just doesn’t make sense or feel right are vilified as selfish, lazy, impatient baby haters. Somewhere between Little Ricky and Ricky Lake there is a more easy-going place.

Look, I’m going to give it a try, but if it doesn’t work out, or if perhaps I’m not the two-years of breast feeding kind of girl, I hope the milk of human kindness is also available in formula.

Other Pregnant Ladies Kind of Ignore Me

General StuffTeresa Strasser62 Comments

Getting all self-reflective and shit.

Hey other pregnant ladies, quit avoiding my gaze.

All I want to do is chat you up, and find out how many weeks pregnant you are and maybe talk some shop – you know, where you’re delivering, what you take for heartburn, what you think of cord blood banking and the new iPhone app that times contractions.  I just want to be friends, pregnant strangers.

I’ve never done this baby thing before, and I’m always hoping we’re going to see each other and do a secret handshake, and have a moment.

However, it seems you gestational types aren’t that into me. For a while, I tried to smile at you when I saw you in line at the movies, or feeding your meter, or buying groceries. I tried to look welcoming, but you looked right past me, and off I went with my tail between my crampy legs.

It’s not like you don’t see me. Yeah, I’m the one that looks like a physics problem, like I shouldn’t be able to stand upright without toppling over. At first, I wanted to assure you that I wasn’t just carrying my weight in a very unfortunate manner, make sure you knew I was really pregnant, so I would rub my stomach in that ginger way only pregnant women do, but no dice. You and your fetus snub my fetus and me. The truth is, I’ve been a social disaster most of my life, so I’m not unfamiliar with the sensation, I just can’t figure out why this dismissal is so pronounced.

Honestly, if we ran into each other wearing the same shoes or handbag, we would probably at least look at each other and chuckle and maybe say, “Nice purse,” or “You have great taste.” A richly hued and hilarious interaction it would not be, but a human connection, yes. If I were walking a mini-schnauzer and so were you, we would stop and have a chat about our doggies, compare schnauzer notes. Arguably, an entire friendship could spring forth from this one, shared characteristic. If we were both wearing Phillies hats, or driving Mini-Coopers, or reading “Eat, Pray, Love” at The Coffee Bean, there would be a warm interaction, but both heading into child birth (big deal) and motherhood (biggest deal ever) and nada. Nada?

Important point: this pregnant girl snubbing only pertains to complete strangers.

I have now made three new friends, simply because we are all pregnant at the same time and mutual acquaintances hooked us up. I love these moms-to-be and seeing them feels so right and comfortable that even when we don’t get together, we end up texting and emailing all day. I’m more pregnant than two of the girls, giving me a few extra weeks of wisdom, which is a luxury in a situation that is so new I mainly feel like a bloated dunce who is constantly faced with decisions she can’t understand. That’s right, I’m 33 weeks pregnant and have yet to choose a hospital, a name for the baby boy or even a brand of nipple pads. I’m lost, and sometimes euphoric, and 40 pounds heavier and three cup sizes bigger and 20 degrees hotter than I ever was.

Pregnant ladies who walk right by me on the sidewalk and turn away like I’m about to make you sign a petition about saving marine life, I know you can relate.

So I can only imagine there is some sort of animal kingdom thing at play here.

When I see you out and about, I sense you getting protective about your personal space and your baby. Maybe this is insane, but it’s almost like I represent a threat, another mother bear that might somehow compromise your safety or shrink your available resources. Is there something evolutionary going on, as in, that lady better not get more shelter, berries, attention or protection from strong males in the tribe?

Alternatively, this could be endemic to the Hollywood, Los Feliz, Hancock Park areas where I live and write in various coffee shops and drop off dry cleaning and wander. Last week, I was in the Valley and struck up a conversation with a lady who was nine days overdue and she was perfectly genial. The Valley could be a less competitive and more family-friendly place. Maybe it’s just more relaxed in the 818.

Or, both of these theories could be bogus. In the classic horror movie, “When a Stranger Calls,” the most chilling moment is when cops tell the terrorized babysitter, “The call is coming from inside the house.” There is a decent chance that this call is coming from inside the house, the house being my own haunted mind. Either I am unknowingly giving off a cold vibe that freaks out the women I’m trying to befriend, or I’m reading into this parade of pregnant girls some animosity that doesn’t exist.

Like I said, my social skills have never been great.

In the end, this could all be solved with an ice-breaking secret handshake. Or if that’s too intimate, maybe we just throw up a sign, one finger per trimester, sideways, OG style, and know for a sly, passing moment that we’re in the same crew.

Babymoon in Vegas: Bet on a Crisis

Favorite Posts, General StuffTeresa Strasser55 Comments

vegas

On the way to Vegas, things start to go wrong, as they so often do, at the Mad Greek.

Within a couple of hours, I will be trying to locate the nearest hospital, but now I’m just waiting for the beefy, sunburned guy in front of me to stop yelling at the clerk about his $3, and how it was her mistake, and how he’s going to file a claim with the state. Behind me, a man eats sullenly at a booth with his well-behaved toddler, who silently chews one fry after another.

The place smells of coconut sunscreen, with base notes of diesel and feta.

Soon, I will make my husband promise I won’t end up at Summerlin Hospital, 20 minutes or so from the Strip. My mom – whom I haven’t talked to in a year – lives in Vegas, so I know it’s nearby.  I have no idea if what is happening to me is serious, all I know is that I don’t want to end up at Summerlin, because you go there to die, or at least my stepfather did. When he passed (as Hemingway would say “gradually and then suddenly”), his death certificate described him as “white” and his cause of death as leukemia.

Only he was black. And died of congenital heart failure.

Probably an honest mistake, but doesn’t point to great attention to detail. That place reminds me of sloppiness and slipping away, and while I have a long history of being lukewarm on my own existence, the pull to keep this baby safe is tethering me to this world like nothing else has.

Baker, CA is right off the I-15. I’ve broken down here many times. In the past, it was just my car overheating, or my psyche decompressing from a weekend with my mom, and her wall of bird-themed paintings, and her obsessive studying of restaurant menus, and her autistic tuning out. This time, however, it’s my body. I’m 29 weeks pregnant, it’s 110 degrees, I have no business being at the Mad Greek no matter how much I love their greasy pita bread and fresh strawberry shakes, no matter how much I think the me that will show up in Vegas for a last hoorah won’t look like she’s in her sixth trimester, or have trouble breathing, or be sure she’s washed up in show business or be concerned her baby won’t be healthy or his life won’t be perfect.

The third trimester is no time to head into a desert, no less toward Vegas, a city filled with smoke-choked casinos, frat guys who shove you insouciantly on elevators, free booze you can’t drink, mile-long walks to everything, crypto-hookers whose frosted hair and legginess is an attack on your swollen feet and Target maternity maxi dress.

I begged my husband to take me to Vegas, because I was doing what they call in recovery programs “pulling a geographic.” As in, If I just leave Colorado, I won’t wake up in my own vomit anymore because I’m not an alcoholic, I just need to move to Boston. Instead of just going on a normal “babymoon” to say, temperate San Diego, I decide that in Vegas, I’ll be the old me. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you, which is one of the annoyingly true bumper stickers they tell addicts. The same is true of pregnancy, and the crappy mood that has come with it for the last couple of weeks, and the not working and the visions of myself rocking a baby with spit-up on my shoulder staring blankly at a freshly painted yellow wall and asking myself, “Is this how I’m supposed to feel?”

In Vegas, or even en route, I am still big and uncomfortable and scared with a tinge of pre postpartum. Only on I-15, I don’t drink any water because I’m nervous about having to pee.

At the Mad Greek, I order an omelet. When the cashier asks me what kind of toast I want, I hesitate, ask what they have. I mumble “French,” and look backward at my husband as if to ask, “Do I really want French bread toast? Will that taste good to me? Would I prefer wheat? Who am I?”

He snaps. “Yes. French. Good.” Only I would know he’s snapping, because he’s a subtle snapper. My husband has a very long fuse and almost never loses his temper, but when you’re seven months pregnant, you can’t sustain even a small snap.

I slide into a booth as he orders, sip on my fountain drink, eye the kid eating his fries. Feel a kinship with the little dude in his denim overalls, because we both seem lost and like we need our mommies.

My husband returns with our food which we both just stare at until I tell him I didn’t like him snapping at me, and he apologizes, and admits he has spent the last two hours regarding the temperature gauge, worried he was going to break down on the side of the road with his pregnant wife. He’s been worried about lots of things, he admits, being a good enough provider for us, having enough room, having to move back to Koreatown so we can have a nursery, making sure the air conditioning is working and the windows are sealed. I tell him I don’t need much, and that he’s going to be a great dad. I start crying, wiping my eyes with scratchy Mad Greek napkins. He doesn’t touch his food, and his hands are shaking a little bit, which only happens when he’s really upset.

My nose starts to bleed, just a trickle. My stomach starts to cramp, and I figure this must be one of those Braxton-Hicks contractions I’ve heard about. I wipe my bloody nose, wipe my eyes, don’t mention the cramps because I’ve just finished assuring my husband there is nothing to worry about, that we won’t break down in the desert, that we’ll get the windows fixed, that I know he’ll provide us with all we need, that he married a girl who cries and bends but doesn’t really break.

The French bread is toasted on the outside and soft inside, so I eat the entire giant roll. We hit the road.

“This trip is going to be great from now on. I was just worried about getting you there. Now, I’m psyched,” he says chirpily, but most of his food is crusting over on the plate he tosses into the Mad Greek trash.

The cramps abate until we exit the 15 in Vegas. Only now, they are about ten times worse than extreme menstrual cramps. I have to take off my seatbelt. I check the clock, and it’s been 20 minutes or more. I quietly Google “Braxton Hicks” on my iPhone so as not to panic my husband, and from what I can tell, those last a short time, and this isn’t letting up. About a half an hour goes by, which is when I decide to tell my husband just in case I’m having preterm labor.

I’m doubling over now. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to walk through the lobby of the hotel without some help, but I can’t panic the Mr. because this whole stupid Vegas thing was all my idea and it was obviously completely idiotic.

Somehow, we make it to our room at the Palms, call our doctor, who says I’m dehydrated. Drink water, he says, rest, and if things don’t improve in two hours, call.

My husband pours me a bath and I drink four bottles of Smart Water. In two hours, I’m fine. I glance out the window at the Palms pool, where it’s “Ditch Friday,” a packed party the locals call “sweaty ball soup.” Part of me feels like I’m watching children trick or treat from behind a curtain, nursing a case of mono, but most of me feels I’m exactly where I should be, cool and safe, away from the blaring Kanye and the pool-friendly canisters of Miller.

Sometimes I make bad decisions, I drive right into oppressive heat and smoke.

Often, I wonder what’s on the other side of this pregnancy, whether being a parent will be a blissful shuffling of priorities or just something else that’s supposed to come naturally to me, but doesn’t. I’m tired of grubbing for gold stars to justify being alive, and I wonder if caring for another human being and loving him as well as I can will be gold star enough.

Sitting naked at the desk in the room, cramp free, my husband rubbing my shoulders, I think I’m almost ready to qualify as a mom, because I’ve never felt so protective and so relieved. As long as Buster is okay, I don’t care about being a has-been (that barely was), or having kind of a double chin now, or wearing outfits Kate Gosselin would suggest are too “middle America” or gaining 45 pounds. I don’t care that I’m not at the party pool; I don’t dance, I’ve always hated crowds and I burn. I don’t want to be down there, or back home, or in my old body, or anywhere else. My husband demands I drink another bottle of water, and I imagine him with Buster in a Baby Bjorn, holding my hand, and I don’t know how I ever got out of the desert intact.

I only know as sure as I can take a wrong turn, I can right myself, usually by just sitting still.

Episiotomy: A Cut Above (the anus)

General StuffTeresa Strasser60 Comments

Lyricist of my vaginal nightmares. Let me throw these two words at you: fecal incontinence. Now that I’m seven months pregnant, I have finally gotten around to taking a break from worrying about what kind of mother I’m going to be in order to get to the urgent business of stone cold panicking about how this kid is getting out of me, and what damage he might do as he leaves. At my last doctor visit, we had the episiotomy talk, and now I can’t stop thinking about the potential slicing of my privates, or the uncontrolled tearing, or the aforementioned fecal freaking incontinence, which happens to some women after childbirth.

According to Rod Stewart, “the first cut is the deepest,” but I think it’s safe to say any cut that might lead to bowel leakage is the deepest, at least emotionally and spiritually.

First and second trimester concerns seem almost quaint in their solvability. Nauseas? Enjoy some ginger chews and pop some B-12. Leg cramps? Stretch your calves before bed and eat a banana. Your baby’s head is too big to exit your vagina? Slice open the area between your anus and vulva, stitch it back up, and hope you don’t end up with the inability to control the seepage of gas and stools from your bowels due to a torn sphincter.

Perhaps I was intentionally fuzzy on the episiotomy thing. I wasn’t ready to know about my perineum. Call it squeamishness, or emotional immaturity, or just ignorance.

That is, until last week, when my doctor told me that he was a big fan or cutting, that most women will tear and if you do a preemptive cut, you can control the severity and direction, keeping the tear away from the bad place. Fecal incontinence and severe, lingering sexual pain averted.

Sounded reasonable to my husband and me, until we got home and consulted a few pregnancy books, most of which suggest that cutting is old school, and that perineum massage during labor can help the vaginal opening stretch, leading to just a small tear or no tear at all. Friends who have had babies are all over the place, some insisting, like my doctor, that cutting saves you from a jagged tear, others saying a rip is more natural and heals more easily.

I’m in labial limbo – okay, not precisely, but alliteration is so seductive.

At times, I feel guilty for making such a big deal out of this cut/tear thing when I’m bringing a person into the world. Why should I care so much about my little old vagina and anus? That’s when I come to my senses. This is a big deal. Fecal incontinence hangs in the balance. I have no idea which is best, and I assume it depends on you, your baby, your labor and I also assume that you probably want a doctor who hopes for a tear but makes a cut if need be.

I haven’t figure out what to do about this yet. I comfort myself with the notion that just as boots are made for walking and kidneys are made for filtering, vaginas are made for stretching. I should be fine. Sometimes, this is obvious, and other times, it ‘taint.

New Pregnancy Meltdown Caught on Tape

General Stuff, Preggisode VideoTeresa Strasser28 Comments

Can't breathe at night. Normal pregnancy symptom, I'm told. Still, it feels so torturous I keep expecting John Yoo to write me a memo.

The good news is that this middle-of-the-night meltdown was captured by the Mr. If I'm going to exploit my baby, why not start now by exploiting my baby-related meltdowns?

If you are pregnant and panicking 'cause you can't breathe, know you are not alone. If you are not, please enjoy a private but satisfying sense of superiority. That's what I would do.

Oh, and this is NSFW. Sorry, I’m short of breath, but long on swears.

Enjoy another offering from Sonny and Overshare.

Preggisode: Week 25, Suffocation from Teresa Strasser on Vimeo.

Related Posts:

Exploiting My Meltdown

Cracking Up: Not the Laughing Kind, The Crazy Kind

General StuffTeresa Strasser64 Comments

Feeling blue. Too literal?

With one goal in mind, to buy a car seat online, I sat with my laptop and a toaster waffle at the kitchen table this morning.

An hour later, I’m sobbing in bed, yesterday’s mascara smeared across my once white, noodle-shaped pregnancy pillow. There is a small chance I am cracking up, because I am weeping like Sally Field in “Steel Magnolias” during the funeral scene, only no one has died. Nope, I just can’t figure out which car seat to buy today.

Disproportionate emotional response + crying in bed before noon = going mental.

I consider calling someone, but how can I explain that I’m losing my shit because I can’t figure out the difference between a Snap-n-Go and a SnugRide?

I had wandered into an online netherworld of car seat bases, attachable strollers, locking clips, 5-point harnesses, boosters and retractable sun canopies. It’s like I didn’t get the travel warning from the Department of State telling me that going to the Republic of Car Seat alone was a bad idea. Honestly, I would have preferred taking a Sunday drive down Jalalabad Road in Kabul. That would have been more soothing.

There was no map, I didn’t speak the language, and I had not one coin of the realm.

When I went looking for an expert to translate, or at least tell me exactly what to buy, I found this on a popular baby site:

“Parents often ask which of the many car seats is the best car seat on the market. The truth is, the best car seat is the one that fits your vehicle, your budget, your baby and that you will use properly each time your baby rides in the car.”

Thanks, douche bag. That’s helpful.

You ever go to therapy and instead of just having your thoughts and feelings mirrored back to you (you seem angry at your mother, sounds like work is really frustrating right now) you just need the shrink to tell you what to do (break up with him, he has serious attachment issues and they aren’t going away)? Sometimes you need your GPS just to tell you which way to turn, not to ask you which route you think is best for you right now at this juncture of your life. Thanks, baby seat expert, for telling me I have to look within myself to find the right car seat for me, but I wouldn’t be going to you for answers if I had any clue so just give it up. Give me a link, a brand name, a model number, I’ll give you my credit card number, and let’s do this thing. Just tell me what to do because I am lost.

This isn’t a life or death decision, I try to tell myself as I click around.

Oh wait, I guess it is. There are numerous car seat experts telling me all of the things that  can do wrong, from buying a recalled model to installing it improperly. If you don’t want to take the time to figure it out, to purchase the perfect car seat system, it’s on you if the baby flies through the moon roof. It’s on you.

Worse than the overload, the onslaught of products and fear mongering and confusing plastic parts, are the reviews from moms on consumer sights. Wow. These are some opinionated ladies, and they know it all, know every niggling detail about why this travel stroller is too bulky for a trip to Costco and why that one has sub-par anchor straps.

I just wanted to have a baby with five seconds to spare before my fertility window flew shut on my fingers. I didn’t want to know about anchor straps.

It’s so difficult to work up any tolerance for these mothers, who post 400 word treatises on the relative merits of Britax vs. Graco. They intimidate me with their superior knowledge of which products are the most useful, and they rattle me to my very core with their single-minded momminess. I don’t like how repelled I am by these well-meaning strangers, who just need to share with the world, or at least to those on Amazon.com, how the cup holder on the Nautilus 3-in-I is just too darn narrow for baby’s fave sippy cup!

And maybe it’s not just about my inability to purchase the ideal base, seat, stroller combination that has me freaked, maybe it truly is the neighborhood. It’s Nightmare on Mom Street, where the monster doesn’t wear a clawed glove but instead dons a pastel yellow Slurp & Burp Nursing Cover Up and an all-consuming, full-time focus on babies and their gear. I’m six months pregnant. I live here now.

Using the Term "Celeb" Very Loosely

General StuffTeresa Strasser13 Comments

Thank you for this very kind write up, KnockedUpCelebs.com: 

 

Teresa Strasser

"You may know Teresa Strasser from the TLC show, While You Were Out, or from theAdam Carolla radio show she does in the morning. I got a chance to talk to her the other day when she pointed me in the direction of her pregnancy blog, Exploiting My Baby. Teresa takes a look at the funny side of pregnancy all while airing her fears of becoming a parent. I laughed so much while reading it and wished that this blog was around when I was pregnant."

If you wanna read the rest of my interview with KnockedUpCelebs, here it is. 

Also, thank you Bellyitch.com for spotlighting this blog and for the kind words. 

My Top Five Names: A Baby Name Expert HATES One of Them ... Do You?

General StuffTeresa Strasser131 Comments

One minute, you think naming your son Shane is going to give him a chaps-wearing leg up in life by bestowing him with all the quiet coolness of a 1950’s movie cowboy. The next, you’re sure naming him Shane will make him the poopy-pants, wheezy outcast who sits out gym class because he forgot his inhaler.

It’s a big job, naming a human being.

I ran my current short list of baby names by a name expert, Pamela Redmond Satran (developer of addictive site Nameberry.com and coauthor of the new book, “Beyond Ava & Aiden.”) As far as I can tell, she is the baby name maven. And man, she despises one of my beloved names.

I’ve also included some of your comments and suggestions, which I must say I have loved receiving, especially after discussing the topic with Adam Carolla and Bald Bryan on a recent podcast. Thank you so much for your feedback. Me and Baby No Name adore hearing from you.

Here’s what I got so far:

James

When I think "Jim," I think Him.

Me: You know the trouble with this one: the nickname Jim. Jims seem like nice guys, I just don’t want one. I am told by many who have written to me that Jim is an old school nickname, and that James can remain James. Can this be true? Also, how common is James? And have girls overtaken the name James? Those greedy little girl parents are taking everything.

The Name Expert: For me, James is really good.  And doesn't have to be Jim (though I actually like Jim).  I have a Joe who has never, ever been called Joey, at least by anyone who lived to tell about it.  There are lots of Jameses - but not in your neighborhood.  Unless they're girls.  I really don't think the girls are taking it over, though, not en masse outside the hipster ghetto.

What you say: I counted 18 pro-James comments.

Jaime says: “My best friend is named Jim, and has 99% of the time successfully avoided being called Jim.”

Michela says: “If you like James, what about Jay? There is literally no nicknaming possible!”

Catherine says: “The Jim fear shows the generational gap. I don’t know any Jims younger than 40, every other James I’ve ever met has gone by “James” or “Jamie” so I think you should put James back on the table. I think Jim and Jimmy came from families back in the day when everyone was named after an older family member, so you’d end up with seven men named James and you had to differentiate.

To sum up, my vote: JAMES”

James says: “I was always fascinated by strangers that no sooner did I introduce myself as James, they jump right into calling me Jimbo. Really? Jimbo is where you started? Know a lot of Jimbos do you? But I didn’t get annoyed by it too much because it was often a good way to weed out the douche bags.

I just had a son on Saturday but opted for Jack. I am the third James in the family (and the only one actually called James) but the name will end on three. I wish you all the luck in choosing your son’s name.”

Mickey

Mickey Goldmill. Definitely a Jew.

Me: One word: Rocky. You know, "Cut me, Mick.” Burgess Meredith, who played Rocky's grizzled old trainer, was iconic as Mickey. I also love Denis Leary’s sponsor/cousin, Mickey, from “Rescue Me.” Mickey loans you money. Mickey will drive your sister home when she's drunk and not even consider feeling her up. Mickey plays pool but won't shark you. However, does it sound too much like Nicky? And does one have to start with the name Michael to get to Mickey?

The Name Expert: You want to know what I really think?  You can't name a kid Mickey.  Yes, there's the mouse, Mickey Rourke, and I dunno, do you really want a son who's the movie sidekick, too good for his own good?  Plus, what if he wants to be a bond trader (you're a writer, this could be a good thing), except they won't let him into business school because he's got such an infantile name?  I repeat: You can't name a kid Mickey.

You say: Mickey was suggested by one person. Oddly enough, Micah was the king of the “M” names from you guys, which also included favorites Max, Miles, Milo and Mitchell.

Finnegan

Me: This is the only really quirky name on my short list. I like juxtaposing ethnicities, an in-your-face Irish first name with a crazy Polish last name. And the book “Finnegan's Wake” took, like, 17 years to write, and I like the idea of someone slaving over a book most people can neither read nor understand. And I love the nickname Finn. Is this getting too Aiden/Jaden/Caden? Is Finn trying too hard? Are girls co-opting this one, too?

Finn McCool. Definitely not a Jew.

The Name Expert: I actually think Finn is really the better name.  Finn McCool is the greatest hero of Irish mythology.  Why does everyone think they have to pick Finnegan or Finnian or Finlay and then call their kid Finn?  It's not like Jim.  That rant over: Yes, it is getting too common.  It is very easy to like, and that's its problem.  Ah, alternatives to Finnegan: You mean Irish surname'y names?  Are you Irish?  Do you have any in your family?  I do kind of like the Maguire/O'Brien thing, but I think the name's got to be real to pull it off.  Here's an Irish name that's totally undiscovered: Piran.  Patron saint of miners.

You say: Finn was suggested, as were Finbar, Felix and Fred. As far as unusual names go, you guys were not at a loss. Some of my favorites include: Hoagy, Balthazar, Cabot, Miller, Lazare, Kyd, Spider, Stosh, Zeno, Jaspar and Taytum.

You sent some great Irish-sounding names, too, including Declan, Gavin, Ian, Liam, Colm, Caleb (very popular), Logan, Dylan, Lachlan, Rowan, Rylan and Seamus.

Shane

Shane: the name expert hates you. sorry.

Me: My husband has all but closed the swinging saloon door on this one, but I still like it because Shanes are always hot. And the Polish cowboy thing still calls to me. The Mr. thinks it's too cute and maybe too precious and trying too hard. He has started giving me the stink eye every time I mention it.

The Name Expert: Absolutely no.  You're birthing him, not dating him.

You say: Lots of love for the name Shane, but some disdain, too.

Dignan says: “Teresa, I love you, and I hate to crap on your waffle, but my parents named me Shane and I hated it. I remember being two years old and hating my name. I’ve never stopped hating it. Also, I’m sad to report that not all boys named Shane are attractive.”

Shanesmommy says:My husband hates trendy names and also loved Shane because it was different without being trendy or as TACS says, “F’ed Out”.”

Edward

Me: This is racing toward the top for me. Eddie and Ed are cute nicknames. Edward was my grandfather. Sure, he was manic-depressive, but he always had a freezer full of rocky road ice cream and he once made me feel like a genius for getting the word "mauve" in a game of Boggle when I was eight.

Is Edward too boring? Will there be too many Edwards in his world? Sometimes my husband test drives this one by saying “Edward” very sternly to my belly. It feels right.

The Name Expert: This is what we wanted to name our second son (now 16).  We were going to call him Ned.  We loved it, and I still do.  But our older kids, aged 10 and 4, said it was a nerd name and they would hate him if we called him Ned, so we didn't do it.  And now he thanks us.  But I still have regrets and think the “Twilight” Edward has substantially increased the hotness factor.  I love this name and definitely think it's the best on your list.

You Say: Several of you wrote in to suggest Edward. Other “E” names you sent my way include Eamon, Eli, Elijah (very popular), Elliot, Enzo, Eric, Ethan, Evan, Ewan and Ezra.

The little guy is already sucking my blood, right?

My grandpa, Edward

Inner Child, Meet New Baby, Please Don’t Smother It

Favorite Posts, General StuffTeresa Strasser33 Comments

Being pregnant for the first time I’m scared and I want my mommy. I just don’t want my mommy.

My mom hates babies and kids, always has. She didn’t put her cigarette out on my arm or throw me in a pit of snakes, but having kids just wasn’t her diaper bag, and it showed.

I’m not here to trash my mother, only to worry that I’ll become her.

While most people say having children gives them new compassion for their parents, I’m not having that experience so far. Instead, I’m filled with a renewed, fuming and bottomless disquietude about the mom hand I was dealt, which consisted of one truly evil, now fortunately dead stepmother, and a wildly superior though still problematic biological mom, who raised me with a combination of ambivalence and benign neglect.

For her part, it was nothing personal against me, she just found all babies to be life-snatching bummers.

The syllogism was as impossible to ignore as a tot shrieking in a high chair, spitting noodles: Mom hates children. I am a child. Therefore, mom hates me. I must also be an irritating burden. In fact, I grew up thinking that everyone hates babies. It was all I knew.

Don’t get me wrong. My mom is a fun person, and people genuinely like her. If Auntie Mame were less chirpy, more medicated, and prone to dating angry, homeless Berkeley poets or leaving her kids for a month to chop trees in Vermont, that would be my mom. Part Mame, part maimed, all out of her element when it came to lullabies and hugs.

To this day, if a baby cries in a restaurant with my mom around, we all have to bail immediately, but not before she shoots the family several piercing, withering looks. Long looks. She doesn’t look away until she has properly shamed the parents for ruining her meal and her day. Even when she hears a baby laugh, she fixes her face in an expression to communicate to the world that she is being put upon, that the sounds coming from your child are no less than a knife in her brain.

I am not her, or she, or however you say it. I know it, but there are tinges of her infirmity, her intolerance, times I notice my head involuntarily snapping toward a wailing baby in a restaurant, a vestige of that sticky notion that babies are serenity-piercing killjoys.

I’m terrified that just as I have her broad shoulders and freckled skin, I may inherit her lackluster mothering skills. How can I be sure I won’t resent my baby? My therapist assures me I won’t, that true maternal detachment of my mother’s sort is very rare, that even though my baby is only half-cooked, I’m already bonded to the kid, and that seems true. Still, when I think about how much the whole experience sucked for my mom, I worry.

My mother’s exasperation with me started even before I was born.

She bought “It’s a Boy” cards when she was pregnant, just trying to sway the gender gods. Her desire for a second boy was based on this chestnut, “A boy would be your father’s problem.” This card story isn’t one she tried to hide. In fact, it was in heavy rotation on the “mom’s hilarious anecdote Top 40,” staying there for an unprecedented 20 years.

Mom’s particular bouquet of crazy sometimes has top notes of mean with a strong insensitivity finish.

“If you look at pictures, your mom holds you like a sack of potatoes, like she didn’t connect, I think she must have had that postpartum thing,” says my dad, trying to explain some of this, trying to defend her even though they have been divorced since I was three. He argues that it wasn’t her fault; she just wasn’t cut out for motherhood. In one old snapshot taken in a park somewhere, she holds me as I hold my stuffed bunny. My older brother is down at her feet, and she is looking away, yellow headband in her black hair, squinting. If there was a caption it might read, “How can I get out of this?”

When I was a baby, she got a job as a Los Angeles County school bus driver so she could afford to pay a nanny named Inez to baby-sit me for the first couple years of my life. Let that sink in for a sec: my mother, a college graduate with an above-genius IQ, preferred spending her days driving a Diesel school bus through the smog-choked San Fernando Valley to staying home with her kids, me and brother, who is a year and a half older.

When I was three, she decided she needed a break from the whole married-with-kids endeavor and left the family for six months to take a job in Chicago. By the time she got back, she was starting to get that “you’re not such a good mom” look from people, including the judge, who awarded custody of my brother and me to my dad.

My new stepmother suggested I would be better off with my mom and that’s how I ended up with her, most of the time anyway.

Once a month, starting at age four, she put me on a plane alone to see my dad. That isn’t even legal anymore; kids that young can’t fly unaccompanied. Summers and holidays, she put me on a Greyhound Bus to stay with my grandparents in Santa Barbara. Those were ten-hour bus rides, just one little girl reading Mad Magazine eating Twizzlers with an assortment of vagrants, fugitives and visitors to the California Men’s Colony. When I confronted my mom about it, she asked, “What was I supposed to do? Drive you myself all those times?” Um … yes?

Still, she is not and was not a bad person. In the end, she was simply lazy, not malicious. Here’s where I struggle to say something positive so I don’t come across like a horrible, slandering, ungrateful daughter just for telling the truth; the more self-reliant we became, the more tolerant she was, and I can say she did have some sparkling mom moments, reading us Steinbeck by flashlight when she took us to Yosemite, taking us to great grown up movies and revivals. She also encouraged me to write, something she probably regrets right about now. It was really just the baby thing.

I have been told I am at “high risk” for postpartum depression. My husband will have to look for “signs” and be prepared to toss some Prozac down my gullet if I get all withdrawn and affectless. If this happens, I’m assured that it will pass quickly. Before going ahead with the baby making, I talked about it for months with my therapist, who once offered me a million dollars if I have a baby and don’t love it. She’s positive I’m going to be fine, but she wants me to be prepared.

The plan is to get some help for the first few weeks so I don’t get too sleep-deprived. The rest is just faith. Yesterday, I was working on this column at a coffee shop when a baby started crying into his baggie of Cheerio’s. It’s not a beautiful sound to me, but I forced myself to question whether it’s the worst, or whether an even more festering sound is my mother’s voice in my head.

(This piece appears in the current edition of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.)

News About Pregnancy That Doesn’t Suck, But Suggests That You Do

Favorite Posts, General StuffTeresa Strasser32 Comments

You're welcome, dads.

If you’re thinking about conceiving, or certainly if you are already pregnant, there is some pretty convincing evidence that instead of just swallowing, say, folic acid, you might want to swallow something else.

Let me be delicate about this, if I can.

As far as I can tell, not only should you be having lots of oral sex with the father of your baby – even up to a year before conceiving – you should also make sure to ingest his seminal fluid. Listen to what I’m telling you: the international medical community is giving you an Rx for oral. Sure, they say frequent intercourse is good, too, but oral is better. So, if you care about having a healthy baby and not potentially unleashing what scientists call a “destructive attack on the foreign tissues” of your fetus, if you want to avoid immunological disorders during pregnancy, and I’m sure you do, get to work. Or to pleasure, depends how you feel about it.

Basically, the research says you need to be able to tolerate your baby’s foreign, paternal DNA, need to get your body accustomed to the stuff, need to cozy up to some daddy double helix for awhile so your body doesn’t reject it.

I’m no doctor, just a pregnant lady with Google, so maybe I’m horribly confused, but here is what I found excerpted online, from the Journal of Reproductive Immunology.

“While any exposure to a partner's semen during sexual activity appears to decrease a woman's chances for the various immunological disorders that can occur during pregnancy, immunological tolerance could be most quickly established through oral introduction and gastrointestinal absorption of semen.”

I could not make this up. Gastrointestinal absorption of semen. I know. For the man in your life, this news should not be hard to swallow. Sorry.

According to a group of Dutch researchers, “exposure to semen provides protection against developing preeclampsia.” That’s from a paper with the catchy title, “Immune Maladaptation in the Etiology of Preeclampsia: a Review of Corroborative Epidemiologic Studies.” Or you could use the subtitle: “Semen is Your Friend.”

I just can’t figure out why the whole “blue balls” thing has gotten so much traction with men, but they haven’t gotten a hold of this medical morsel.

One of my favorite pregnancy hobbies is obsessively researching dangerous pregnancy related conditions. I know, I know, I could knit, but that would be relaxing, whereas this is more congruent with my other pastimes, which include worrying about the future and raking over the past. That’s how I happened to look up preeclampsia, specifically because I interviewed actress Jane Seymour and she said she got it during one of her pregnancies, and I figured I needed a new worry charm for my shiny bracelet of maternal concerns.

First, I found this description on the Mayo Clinic’s website:

“Preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy marked by high blood pressure and excess protein in your urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”

This merited a trip to Wikipedia, where I found all sorts of links to academic papers on the subject and buried therein, the dryly worded but unmistakable information about oral.

After I did some digesting about ingesting, I had to stand up from my desk chair and say to no one in particular, “Really?” If I’ve heard about a new mother eating her own placenta in a panini, if I’ve scoured sights like this for every possible detail about pregnancy, how have I missed this gem? Some of the studies I read weren’t all that new, but you’d think they would have made a bigger and more long-lasting splash.

Maybe penises need a new publicist.

Now, to be fair, the Dutch researchers do warn that with a new partner, condoms should be used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, “However, a certain period of sperm exposure within a stable relation, when pregnancy is aimed for, is associated with a partial protection against preeclampsia,” they insist.

As far as I can tell, there seem to be myriad causes of preeclampsia and similar conditions, and it’s too complicated a medical issue for anyone, least of all me, to fully understand. Still, while some of these hypotheses have been challenged, they don’t seem to have been debunked. So to conclude, I will fall back on the medical opinion I always have about things that are either Suzanne Somers-y or reeking of placebo-ness, but obviously benign: It can’t hurt, right? At the very least, your baby will have a happy, relaxed father and parents who are intimate.

And suddenly, you wonder if the phrase “going Dutch” might acquire new meaning.

* In case you're interested, an actual doctor responds to this on MomLogic.com.

Why I’m Finally Psyched to be Having a Boy

General StuffTeresa Strasser43 Comments

Whose vagina exploded?

When I first found out I was having a boy, there were the stages of grief. You know, shock, denial, numbness, staring paralyzed, mouth slightly agape, at all the racks of cute girlie shit in the baby store until the clerk probably thought I was having a mild stroke.

Now, that has all gone away.

Maybe I have Stockholm Syndrome. I have fallen in love with my little captor because I have no choice: this fetus has a penis. Either way, it may have taken me a full two months or so, but I am so good with this boy thing right now.

It started with something simple, just the notion of one single phrase, the vision of me walking through my front door after work and asking, “Where’s the boy?”

I just like the sound of it. This vision extended to me showing up at daycare to pick him up and asking the teacher, “Where’s my boy?” It branched into imagining us gearing up for a road trip and me saying to my husband, “Have you packed up the boy?” The boy. My boy. Both sound good to me. What’s really been singing to me is this idea, and it may be repulsive in its cheesiness, but the thought that I would be referring to my child and my husband as “my boys.” I see myself phoning from the freeway on my way home, asking if “my boys” need me to pick anything up for dinner. “I need a hug from my boys,” I’ll announce on a Sunday morning, over coffee and the paper.

Sure, it may end up being more like “now I have to wipe the poop from between my boy’s balls and thighs,” but cut me some slack for over-romanticizing the boy thing right now. I so desperately wanted a girl, and now, whereas I used to see little girls on the street in their princess outfits and hate their parents out of sheer girl envy, they are starting to look prissy to me sometimes, and bossy.

And they won’t grow up to carry their mother’s luggage, or get all gangly and give those gangly boy mom hugs.

When I was having my moment in the baby boutique, it was too much. I was overwhelmed, surrounded, swallowed up by girlie treats I knew I would have coveted, stuck as if by a taffeta pin to my spot in the center of the crammed room. It looked like a vagina had exploded in there. There was a small purse made to look like a chocolate chip cookie, a set of red plastic lips containing mint gloss, a bubble gum pink voile skirt hanging with a dainty black cardigan, a tiara festooned with powder blue fluff, racks of small orange and yellow boas, a row of fuchsia headbands with white dots, a giant purple flower attached to a silver hair clip and a trio of white unicorns with gold horns and eyes.

You baby store people are totally fucking with me, I thought. And thanks for that one pair of denim overalls on the boy wall with the lame stack of “I’m so Silverlake” Jimi Hendrix onesies. Thanks.

At this point, my boy has quietly but profoundly liberated me from the illusion that having a girl would fix everything that went wrong with my own mother, to whom I haven’t spoken in a year or more. As facile and two-bit talk therapy as it seems, I think somewhere in my mind was this Barbie toy chest full of healing that would magically burst open when I did everything so much better than my mom did with me, when I taught the girl how to shave her legs and showed up to her ballet recitals, when I bought her gauzy skirts and said things like “I know you must be sad right now,” instead of “don’t you dare manipulate me with your tears.” What a bunch of unconscious crap I was swaddling in a pink blanket, that life with a daughter would be one long therapeutic mani/pedi, that I could make her feel okay about being female despite how much my own mother seemed to despise it.

I don’t know much about boys yet. I just know that this one, my boy, is crowding my diaphragm, lungs and stomach, while simultaneously making room in my heart.

You can’t suture years of ripped up mother/daughter flesh with satin ribbon and feather barrettes. Maybe the very idea that I would have a storybook relationship with my own daughter is as mythological as a herd of stuffed unicorns.

Deep-Sixed from Deep Cable: Farewell, TV Guide Network

General StuffTeresa Strasser28 Comments

 

Buh Bye.

I just lost my job.

You can even read all about it in the papers, which gives it an extra sprinkling of shame.

On the other hand, if you work in TV – unless you work for “America’s Most Wanted” or “60 Minutes,” your show will eventually get cancelled, as did my deep cable pop culture round up show “TV Watercooler,” which I co-hosted for the last two and a half years with comedian John Fugelsang. It wasn’t the most prestigious job (our show was featured on the top half of the screen while the bottom half scrolled through other, better shows you could be watching elsewhere) but it was a job. And though the show was only on half the screen, they paid us a whole check.

So look, I’m grateful to have had that TV Guide Network job as long as I did, and they were especially nice to me through my first six months of pregnancy. The wardrobe girls dolled me up to work the red carpet for the Oscar’s at two months pregnant, and though I was up 12 pounds, you could barely tell. Our studio crew always laughed when I made stupid mistakes due to pregnancy brain instead of getting annoyed, and the makeup team can shade the hell out of a puffy face and widening nose.

While this notion is totally at odds with all of my core personality traits, I’m kind of at peace with being cancelled, and I know it’s nothing personal, the network changed hands, it was time for a new direction, bla, bla, bla.

Still, while being unemployed is nothing new for me, being six months pregnant and unemployed is a bit of an ass kicker.

I mean, I know America has a fetish for fertility, but right now, I truly look like I eat my prey whole, like I just enjoyed a lunch of live jackrabbit and it hasn’t begun digesting.

In the last few months, I have had a few promising nibbles on hosting jobs, but c’mon, like the creators of “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here” want to drop a pregnant girl in the jungles of Costa Rica? It’s not only incongruent with the tone of the show; it’s also an insurance nightmare. Same with a basic cable show about bad drivers that would crisscross the country, traveling constantly. I also went in for a clip show similar to “The Soup,” which would require a certain kind of snark that might not sound right coming from someone all “with child” and shit. Or maybe they just wanted a blonde. Who knows? I’ve been lucky so far, making a living in this business most of the last ten years, so I’m trying not to freak out.

I’ve supported myself since I was a teenager, but I’m not sure there’s enough hustle to overcome the fact that I’m hugely pregnant, and no tunic or monochromatic outfit is going to hide it anymore. America has been pretty amazing about embracing pregnant TV personalities, (Samantha Harris from “Dancing With the Stars” and that lady from “The Biggest Loser”) but they got knocked up after the audience was already used to them.

My dad once didn’t take a vacation for 17 years when he was an auto mechanic, and he worked six days a week, scrubbing his hands with that sandy white paste mechanics use to melt the motor oil from the cracks in their palms and knuckles. So, my model for how to be a worker is a solid one. However, my options might be limited for the next five or six months. Maybe the universe just conspired to give me some forced maternity leave, and I should trust that when this boy arrives, we’ll be able to provide for him. And mommy isn’t really all washed up.

Every single time a show ends, I always think that gig will be my last, and so far, that has never been true.

My husband is encouraging me to look on the bright side, as not everyone makes the "news" when they lose their job, so there’s that. Our final show airs next Monday.

Farewell, deep cable. Thanks for the memories. And the maternity clothes you’re going to sell me at half price. It really was a good – though deeply obscure – ride. 

Don't Get in the Ring With a Sandwich

General StuffTeresa Strasser37 Comments

homerMy husband takes me to Ojai for the weekend, where we find a little coffee house in town and I order a veggie sandwich with pesto and Swiss cheese. I tell myself I’m going to eat only half of it, like an alcoholic tells himself it’s just a slice of rum cake and it won’t trigger a bender and than he ends the night with one shoe and 47 stitches at County General trying to remember his sponsor's phone number.

I am just going to eat half the sandwich, and wrap up the other half for later. And maybe a few bites of the fruit on the side, because you know, it is Ojai and everything’s organic and there must be some nutrients in there the baby sorely needs. Don’t want a fetus with scurvy just because I’m trying to keep the eating under control.

I feel like someone who has had gastric bypass surgery. My appetite is bottomless, but even half a sandwich makes me feel painfully full these days.

Every single time I eat, since about week 19 of pregnancy, it's like I just pushed back from the table after bingeing at some sort of Roman bacchanal. I am both starving and obscenely full almost all of the time. It’s weird for your mind to want something your body can’t tolerate, to be insatiable and over-stuffed, magnetized and repulsed, craving and bursting.

He ain't heavy, he's my fetus.

 

And as I’m ordering the sandwich, and planning just to eat half, I’m seriously considering a chai latte, because we’re on vacation and it’s a vacation chai, and I think I smell nutmeg and what could be as creamy and comforting as a warm spicy beverage on an overcast day. It's not a glass of pinot or a puff of a Camel Light, but everyone knows empty calories take away the empty feelings, or the uncertain feelings or make the thoughts stop skipping like a broken record in my brain: how much is childcare? Is my vagina going to rip when this kid comes out? How exactly do stitches in the vagina feel? Where are we putting the crib? Are we supposed to take some sort of parenting class? How much does that c-section thing scar? What is a layette and do I need one? My stomach itches. My stomach itches. My stomach itches.

And that’s where a giant sandwich stops the record skipping with the mollifying power of pesto. Of course, when you use a sandwich to solve a problem you than have two problems, especially if your stomach real estate is being encroached upon by a six month old fetus.

I eat the entire sandwich before I remember not to.

There is now a pressure on my diaphragm like someone has glued a 30-pound lead paperweight to my solar plexus.

A stupid sandwich from an Ojai coffee shop involves a two–hour recovery period and an existential crisis. And by dinner, all I can hear is the siren song of homemade cornbread, singing to me from a basket on the table, luring me into dark, carbohydrate infested waters, where I will find Davey Jones’ locker filled with pats of butter and frosted with chocolate ganache.