Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

stretch marks

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.

21 Weeks: Call Malcolm Gladwell, I’m a Weight Gain Outlier

General StuffTeresa Strasser57 Comments

Sorry, Heidi

I gained 16 pounds my first trimester.

To put that in perspective, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” the so-called “pregnancy bible” read by 90% of pregnant women in America, suggests gaining between two and four pounds in the first trimester. Oops. I see your two pounds and raise you 14.

Author Heidi Murkoff delivers this nugget, “Slow and steady doesn’t only win the race – it’s a winner when it comes to pregnancy weight gain, too.”

Heidi and I have broken up a couple of times, but that’s because our relationship is kind of intense. I need Heidi when I have scary bleeding ­­– or jammy discharge after a CVS test – and require Heidi-style hand-holding to be sure everything is normal and not, in fact, a sign of imminent miscarriage. Many a night I’ve clung to Heidi’s comprehensive index (now dog-eared and smeared with Dorito seasoning), looking up spotting, breathing difficulty, hot baths, mood swings, mosquito bites, everything from abscess to zygote. But two to four pounds for the entire first trimester? Is she high? Or just high and mighty?

This is an important, classic and time-tested book, and I acknowledge it is a bible. However like the Bible, it occasionally says some really fucked up shit.

“Gradual weight gain also allows for gradual skin stretching (think fewer stretch marks),” adds Heidi, chirpily. And I know a subtle threat when I hear one. Translation in my mind: “Hey fatty, you keep up the eating if you want an ass full of stretch marks, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Still, Heidi is just trying to help and I can’t stay mad at her in case I need her stupid index again. In any case, it’s not her fault.

I guess I’m just a weight gain outlier. You could probably extrapolate from the above data that now, at 21 weeks pregnant and just over halfway through, I’m pretty hefty. As of yesterday at the gym, I’ve gained 29.5 pounds total so far. According to Heidi, that should pretty much be it for the whole pregnancy. Too bad I have four more months to go of important baby growth development time. How did this happen?

Dreakfast

First of all, I invented a new meal, like Taco Bell did. Mine is “dreakfast,” which comes between dinner and breakfast. Every night during my first trimester, I would wake up nauseas and feeling motion sick. I would pull up a small table next to the bathtub at 3:00 a.m. and soak while mauling a giant bowl of cereal and listening to podcasts of Radio Lab and This American Life. Sometimes that cereal would leave me with a taste for something sweet, which I would address with a mini tofu ice cream sandwich and perhaps an OJ chaser.

I was ravenously, ridiculously, painfully hungry.

It was like a sitcom, in that it was both boring and predictable. I’d stand in front of the refrigerator eating pickles and cheese. I wanted wheels of cheddar, craved anything involving vinegar or citrus, loved yogurt, licorice, and strangely, Guinness beer, which I didn’t drink, but fantasized about chugging from a frosty stein.

Does this fetus make me look fat?

Like a Hangover

I got my first hemorrhoid ever from pregnancy constipation, typical in the first trimester but still hideous, and fought it off with high fiber cereal and kiwis. The solution to hemorrhoids, like to all things in the first trimester, was edible.

It wasn’t and isn’t the kind of “emotional” hunger that makes you feel like you want to dig a spatula into a bottomless vat of rocky road so you can feel less lonely or bored or empty. It’s the large intestines rubbing together, physical desperation for fried potatoes and eggs kind of hunger you feel when you wake up hung over on a Sunday, when you didn’t eat dinner the night before, but instead sipped several doubles of Jameson’s, neat. It’s the type of hunger that makes you order a coffee and orange juice at the diner the morning after and look balefully at your waitress as if to plead, “Seriously, look at me. Get me that juice.”

I had the unswerving certainty that only the constant infusion of food would settle my stomach. I kept crackers by the bed so I wouldn’t have to make it all the way to the kitchen in our 900 square foot place. I fell asleep with a container of chopped pineapple in my hand. One morning, I gobbled down a giant protein bar for breakfast, and 20 minutes later thought to myself, “Man, I’m starving, I should eat breakfast,” which is when I noticed the protein bar wrapper sitting on the nightstand, and only then remembered I had consumed it.

Drugs Have No Calories

Along with the feeling of being car sick, of cramps and heartburn resistant to prescription Zantac, there was withdrawal from all the good, soothing drugs like Ambian and Xanax and Klonipin that I once used responsibly and “as needed,” need being a fluid concept.

There was the quitting smoking, too. I only smoked two cigarettes or so a night, but quitting means my body has no idea when dinner is over, so it isn’t.

What happens when you combine pregnancy hormones, fear about motherhood and the future, a queasiness calmed only by the constant eating of toast and crackers, a new and unexplained revulsion for vegetables, quitting smoking, doing lots of sitting around worrying and waiting for various test results? What do you get? Pretty fat, actually.

My Bladder Got Fat

My bladder didn’t actually get fat, just infected, twice, which is also common during pregnancy, but the prescribed antibiotics are not your colon’s friend. The only solution to this was a combination of taking probiotics from Whole Foods and listening repeatedly to the Alanis Morrisette song “Thank You,” which opens with the possibly overly specific but nonetheless satisfying lyric, “How ‘bout getting off of these antibiotics?”

I outgrew my underpants.

Drove down to the mall in Sherman Oaks for my first foray into maternity shopping at A Pea in the Pod. You feel special there because they have bathrooms and water, and creeped out because they are overly conciliatory and they say your pre-maternity size should fit in maternity wear but that is a dirty, dirty, dirty lie.

I still can’t bring myself to buy large panties, so I squeeze into medium Victoria’s Secret Angel undies just to see how deep and festering a red gash I can acquire from elastic digging into my hip flesh.

My Ears Got Fat

How do I know? Because I work in deep cable, co-hosting a show on the top half of the screen while the bottom half scrolls through better shows you could be watching on other networks. I use an earpiece (IFB) so the producer can talk to me during the show. About a month ago, it started popping out of my ear. I’ve used it for years doing live news. As is customary, an audiologist molded the IFB to fit my ear perfectly and no one could figure out why it suddenly kept sliding out as I tried to interview Jane Seymour or those twins from “Desperate Housewives.” It took a new sound guy to point out tactfully that, “Sometimes when people change sizes, their ears change, too.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Were fat.

Pollyanna Alert:

I swear this is true. I wouldn’t trade my worst, sickest, fattest, most bloated pregnant day for not being pregnant at all. Even 21 weeks into it, I still feel flabbergasted that the whole birds and the bees thing really works, even for me, someone past her prime breeding years with a few STD’s on the boards (I wasn’t slutty or anything, but my 20s were a little tough on the reproductive system thanks to one particular comedian – or as my friends put it, “The stand up gave you the lie down.”) It continues to feel surreal that this thing took, that I feel the baby kicking now throughout the day, which feels like I swallowed a cell phone and I’m taking calls on vibrate. Or sometimes if feels like about a third of the stitch you get in your side when you run too fast, or maybe popcorn popping.

I hope parenting is like that – even days it sucks you would still rather you had done it.

The fact that it still feels sort of unreal, that is totally, totally normal. At least that’s what Heidi says.

People I Want to Punch

Favorite Posts, People I Want to Punch, PreggersTeresa Strasser65 Comments

If one more mom tells me, “Go to the movies now, because after you have the baby, you’ll never get to go to the movies again,” or “Go on a trip now, because once you have the baby, you’ll never leave town again,” or “Have a date night now, because you will never see your husband again,” I am going to punch her right in her tired, defeated face.

Hey, how about you shut your rude, projecting, bitter soup coolers and let me be? [...]