Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Regret

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.

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.

Bad Move: Calling Nancy O’Dell a “C-Word”

Favorite Posts, General StuffTeresa Strasser144 Comments

Almost every idiotic thing I do can be traced back to one basic flaw: trying too hard. This explains how I ended up calling Nancy O’Dell a “stupid c-word.”

That’s right. I called America’s sweetheart a “c-word” on the Adam Carolla Podcast and I may have done it more than once, although it’s all a bit of a blur now, except oniTunes, where it screeches out at you with perfect clarity.