Books about pregnancy

As you might expect, I did a lot of reading in anticipation of the arrival of our son. Some of it was very helpful. Some of it I will need to revisit in 5-10 years. Some of it was pretty useless. Here’s what I found useful during my pregnancy:

Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself
I read this before I got pregnant. While other friends hated it, I appreciated the discussions of the various waves of feminism, our relationships with our mothers, the decision/value of returning to work, and the challenges for couples who choose or embody different gender roles. Good if you’re still trying to wrap your head conceptually around the many ways having a baby will change your sense of self.

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know
If you only read one book about pregnancy, let this be it. This book should be REQUIRED READING for any expecting parents, but will be of most interest to those who are at least a little skeptical of the advice and warnings doled out by books and other media related to pregnancy. The author and her husband applied their training as economists to analyze the recommendations she received from mainstream and hippie sources, as well as from their doctor – which was of particular interest to me as she provided enough detail to make it clear that she went to the same hospital we used. Their findings? Some of the well known recommendations are supported by good data. Many are not. Some are based on frankly terrible science, or on studies that haven’t been repeated or updated to reflect current medical practice. I finished this book feeling a great deal more confident in my ability to trust common sense, good nutrition, and my body – and a great deal less paranoid about the occasional drink, sushi roll, or falling asleep on my back at a time when sleeping in any position is kind of a miracle.

Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy
This was my mainstream medical establishment guide of choice. It seemed to be less alarmist than What To Expect When You’re Expecting, though it did still present a lot of recommendations that we flatly ignored. On the whole a decent reference book. I also consulted Your Pregnancy Week by Week, which I picked up for $1 at a conference, and got at least that much value out of it.

Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby’s First Foods
I loved Nina Planck’s first book and actually bought and read this long before pregnancy was on the table. I talk about this after talking about the Mayo Clinic book deliberately because it contradicts and complements the recommendations made therein. While I’ve softened my stance on supplements over the years, I still greatly prefer to get what my body needs from whole foods – and that’s what Planck does here, talking about what your body needs and where to get it – from conception through your child’s first foods. I worry a little that the data supporting her recommendations is selectively fished out of the great ocean of dietary advice, but it’s hard to argue with her simple, clear, time-tested advice that doesn’t rely on highly engineered products to support something we’ve been doing quite well for millennia.

The Pregnant Athlete: How to Stay in Your Best Shape Ever–Before, During, and After Pregnancy
Including this more as an afterthought – I picked this up at a conference after I’d had to stop running due to Braxton-Hicks contractions and general largeness and discomfort. I wish I’d read it earlier, as it does a better job than any other book I saw at addressing training during pregnancy – not just taking a walk to stay active.

In Bruges

While in Belgium, we took an overnight trip to Bruges. N had been a few years earlier, but all I knew of the city was from watching In Bruges. I was prepared for a tall bell tower, canals, and not much else.

But first, a stop for waffles before boarding the train in the exquisite Station Antwerpen-Centraal:

Wafel!

Antwerpen Centraal

Two hours of knitting and map-consultation later, we were in Bruges. We checked into our remarkably compact and functional (though lacking in privacy: the bathroom was essentially a closet) hotel, and made our way into the city.

Bruges was much smaller than I imagined, with only 20,000 people living in the historic city center – and something like 200+ bed and breakfasts, so as our map informed us, on busy days, there are often more tourists than locals around. But what it lacked in size, it made up for in crazy beautiful scenery, including a few hours of some of the best weather of our entire trip.

Picturesque Brugge

First stop: lunch at Herberg Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Bruges, functioning since 1515. We snuck scraps to the tiny dog and then felt bad for doing so when we saw signs expressly forbidding it.

Herberg Vlissinghe

And then a long walk to see WINDMILLS.

Windmolen!

Windmolen!

Can I tell you how much I love windmills?

Windmolen!

Happy

Windmolen selfie

We spent the rest of the first day wandering around as I developed an increasingly intense headache, which is evident on my face in some of N’s otherwise lovely photos.

Untitled

We had dinner at Gran Kaffee De Passage, where we enjoyed authentic and very delicious Belgian food, and where I had one of the first strong food aversions of my pregnancy – to my first taste of Advocaat. It’s noteworthy that the only other strong food aversion was also in Bruges – to the smell of mussels, which I normally love.

Gran Kaffee De Passage

We took a short walk through the beautiful grounds adjacent to the Begijnhof De Wijngaard, then it was back to our hotel for the night.

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

After a frustrating experience with hotel reception, we decided to skip the included breakfast and instead had a surprisingly good meal at a coffee shop adjacent to the train station: coffee (with cookies AND Speculaas), croissants with jam and Nutella, pistolets with ham and cheese, and tiny crocks of yogurt.

Breakfast in Brugge

The brilliant weather from our first day didn’t hold, alas, so our second day of exploring was in more characteristic Belgium weather – overcast and drizzling rain, not unlike Seattle most of the year. We headed back to the Begijnhof De Wijngaard, a 13th century monastery that is now home to Benedictine sisters. The grounds were peaceful and beautiful in the light rain.

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

Swans

The rest of the day was spent dodging the rain, walking too far for an overpriced lunch, and hunting down souvenirs, and kissing a frog:

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In Bruges

Kissing the frog

Our last stop on our way out of town was for €10 worth of marzipan. I’m not even joking.

Bruges sweets

Bruges sweets

Beginnings

39 weeks

We walked to Palmisano Park Thursday night to see the latest installation in the Ten Thousand Ripples Project. I stood in the center of the circle of Buddha heads as the sun went down in the west. We had dinner at a neighborhood Italian place, then stopped at the bar where we had drinks on our first date. We’d stopped in for dinner a few weeks earlier and saw another expecting couple due a a week and a half before me – they were there again that night, now at least a few days overdue. When we crossed the bridge on the way home, we walked through a film set, the crew warning us to protect our eyes from the kleig light shining down on the river.

It was our last night as a family of two.

In the morning, some kitchen disaster left me in tears, bent in half at the sink as my contractions started, the first around 6:30am. It was Friday, and I had a day-long webinar ahead of me, and an important final meeting that afternoon, and a case study and documentation to finish before I could go on leave. There was no way I could miss work, so I went in, resolved that this would be my last day.

I started timing my contractions around lunchtime, thankful that the chairs in the meeting room reclined enough to give me some relief. I had a ham sandwich with avocado. By the end of my 3pm meeting, my contractions were regular and 5 minutes apart. The last 90 minutes of my work day was a blur, and probably the most productive 90 minutes of the entire year. Some women “nest” when they’re in labor – I wrote documentation, registered for two conferences, compiled and double-checked statistics, and saved files in multiple locations.

At 5pm, my contractions were 4 minutes apart. I called Nicolas to talk it over, then called Labor and Delivery, who told me I might as well come in. I packed everything up, walked to my car, and drove around the corner to the hospital, parallel parking between contractions. By the time I checked in at 6pm, my contractions were 2 minutes apart. Three other women arrived within 10 minutes of me.

N hopped in a Lyft car and arrived shortly after I was admitted to triage, my labor well underway. I was hooked up to a bunch of machines, which made climbing around to get comfortable difficult. N massaged my back and calmed me during the contractions, just as we’d practiced. Nurses were in and out checking my vitals and taking my blood. One nurse bumped my foot with the table I was leaning on during contractions. When the contraction passed, I asked for a bandage for my bleeding toe. She was apparently so mortified that she couldn’t come back into the room.

A resident scanned my belly and confirmed that the baby was still breech, and still high up. Over the next two hours, they checked my cervix several times to make sure that my labor was actually progressing before making the decision to send me to surgery. Each check was more agonizing than the last. At some point, they determined that I was staying, and the baby would be born that night. N texted my family as I went into surgery, and was given surgical scrubs to cover up. In the rush to surgery, I was asked to take out my tongue stud; I forgot all about it until several days later, by which time it was too late to put it back in.

I don’t remember exactly how I got back to surgery – did I walk? I must’ve walked. We were at a teaching hospital, and the one time this was problematic was during the epidural when the physician critiqued the resident’s work in placing my epidural – not what I wanted to hear while hunched over waiting for the pain to stop. I could still feel more than I expected to feel, and when I said that I go through anesthetic fast, the doctor said, “this will be interesting.”

My doctor was out of town, so a doctor I’d never met performed the surgery. I was strapped to a table with the drape raised when N was brought in. He sat by my head and talked to me about the baby on the beach, about how we were about to meet our child. I felt a lot of pressure, pulling back and forth, and then they told N it was time to stand up and see the baby. The doctor said, “you grew a lot of baby!”. Our son was born at 10:49pm.

The aftermath of surgery is a blur. It wasn’t clear to me what was happening, but N and the baby went to an adjacent room for the newborn procedures, and I could only occasionally see the baby through the crowd of people attending to him. I kept asking what was happening, whether his eyes were open, what color they were. I could hear him crying, and wanted to hold him, but had to be put back together first. The doctor assured me that if I waited two years, I would be a good candidate for a VBAC.

We spent a long time in recovery. I was very sick, and N was very worried. The nurse was very kind. The baby was with us for part of the time, and then we waited a very long time for transport up to our room. There are a lot of things I don’t remember. I think we were both in shock. I think it’s best that I don’t remember.

I wanted so badly to have a natural birth, no drugs, no interventions. The birth I had was the opposite of that. I’m glad we had time to make our peace with this change of plans. Given the way my surgery went, and the way the baby was positioned, it was the safest option for both of us. I’m grateful that I went into labor on my own, and that I had the opportunity to labor before surgery. I’m grateful for the care I received, even though I don’t remember much of it.

Most of all, I’m grateful for the healthy and safe arrival of our son, who we named after our grandfathers. He’s beautiful, and we couldn’t be happier.

Introducing Kleintje, born via c-section at 10:49pm last night. He's perfect, and we're so happy. #100daystobaby

The Third Trimester

Oval Beach

We went to Michigan for the July 4 weekend. On our last night there, we made it to Oval Beach just in time for the sunset. A young family was taking photos and playing just down the beach from us, their small son all white blonde hair and confidence, strolling up and down the beach like he owned the place as the sky turned to purples and pinks. We laid together on our blanket and imagined our own family in the future, our own kleintje confidently exploring. I would return to those moments on the beach many times in the coming months.

We took childbirth classes in the Bradley Method. I had intended to blog about our experience, and maybe I still will. 2 hours a week for 12 weeks seemed like a lot, and sometimes it was a chore to go, but we both felt like it was a valuable experience, even though we didn’t have the birth we’d hoped (more on that later).

Based on kicks, the baby seemed to like blueberries and pineapple, World Cup commentary, and N’s presence and voice.

My dear friends threw me a baby shower at the end of July – nothing ridiculous, just friends and food and gifts in a sweet park on a beautiful afternoon.

We picked up furniture on Craigslist and from my former roommate. I hung the garland from the baby shower on the wall above the bookcase. We decided to wait on any other decorating until the baby moves into the room after the long Chicago winter.

I stopped biking in late July after a close call on my commute home. I’m glad I was able to bike as late into my pregnancy as I did, but felt completely OK stopping when I did.

None of my workout shirts fit, and my gym is barely air conditioned, so my fellow gym-goers were treated to my sweaty belly while I read parenting books on the exercise bike. Few directly applied to new babies, and the one that did beat me about the head with the concept of THE FOURTH TRIMESTER.

I had to go to Seattle for work in August, and N came along. I was exhausted and overheated for most of the trip, and tried to blame it on altitude, which was totally incorrect. We took long walks, ate a lot of delicious Belgian food, and did our best to soak up our last pre-baby vacation. Flying at 32 weeks wasn’t as miserable as I expected, but I’m very glad I didn’t have to fly after that.

I read Expecting Better and wished I’d read it much earlier in my pregnancy, as it made me feel dramatically more sane about the choices I was already making.

I worried for awhile that I had pre-eclampsia. My blood pressure was higher than usual, and I felt dizzy and tired. My doctor wasn’t worried.

In mid-August, my family threw me a shower which ended up being an afternoon of babies and girl talk in the best possible way. I got to Rockford early and spent 15 minutes cleaning the pool in order to have a few minutes of delicious weightlessness. I had so looked forward to swimming all summer, but it was just too cool.

All told, I gained somewhere in the area of 50 pounds.

Sleep was hard. I was very warm, and very large, and up every 2 hours like clockwork to use the restroom. I couldn’t sleep under anything heavier than a thin muslin swaddling blanket, or wearing anything more than a sports bra and shorts.

I had a lot of pain in my ribs, and sometimes it felt like my solar plexus was made of broken glass.

I felt a lot of urgency to make time with friends, and for relaxed solo time with N. I felt overbooked in the last few weeks, but got to see nearly everyone and also take care of the sorts of personal errands that just wouldn’t be a priority after baby.

At 36 weeks, we learned that the baby was breech. I was hysterical, and frustrated by the lack of information from my doctor, and by the pressure to schedule a c-section without trying other interventions. In the following weeks, we tried the following to encourage the baby to turn:

  • inversions
  • strategic application of hot (coffee mug) and cold (frozen peas)
  • N talking to the baby through my belly
  • N shining a flashlight at the bottom of my belly
  • chiropractic adjustments (side note: why hadn’t I ever been to a chiro before?)
  • acupuncture (which I also hadn’t tried) and moxibustion
  • walking sideways up the stairs

At 38 weeks, the baby still hadn’t turned, and I decided I could either keep running myself ragged driving all over the city trying things that weren’t working – or make my peace with the surgery. I worked on the latter, and we scheduled the c-section for September 24.

The Second Trimester

27 weeks. Belly to infinity. 90/#100daystobaby

It was fun to drop the news on friends and family. My roommate didn’t believe me at first. I sent the ultrasound photos to friends via chat, and 2/3 of them thought it was a photo of snow. (In fairness, the weather was TERRIBLE that day.) My mom said it was an answer to prayer – not at ALL the response I expected.

I spent entirely too much time running around looking for apartments before we finally found a great place in a great location in our price range. We moved in when I was just starting to show. It was very weird to not be able to help move furniture or carry boxes. After an exhausting day of carrying the things I could carry, I went to Simone’s and ate a giant pile of nachos and felt sad that I couldn’t have a beer (Lent, not pregnancy).

My last really great run was 7.5 miles with a coworker on the day we signed our lease. Nagging back pain led me to change my registration for the Illinois Marathon weekend from the half to the 10K. It was hard to let go of the idea of being able to PR when I had been getting SO MUCH FASTER before I got pregnant, and then it was hard to let go of the idea of racing, and then it was hard to let go of the distance. Instead, I felt fantastic running a solid 5K, and then N joined me (with Annette’s race registration) to run the 10K.

I developed temporary sensitivities to foods I previously ate all the time – specifically dairy. I cried when I realized I might not be able to have ice cream or a good cappuccino for months. Lactaid helped for a month, and then I decided to just live with the side effects of eating dairy because the side effects of Lactaid were worse.

I felt the baby move for the first time around the beginning of week 19, while we were sitting in traffic on Lakeshore Drive. I wasn’t sure, but there it was again, a tiny plink in my lower abdomen. I forced N’s hand onto my belly numerous times over the next week and a half until we were on a long walk and I stopped dead in my tracks near the Adler Planetarium, grabbed his hand, and he felt the baby for the first time.

I had to stop running around week 25. I had cut way back due to what I later identified as Braxton-Hicks contractions (and just being tired), but I’d kept up with a couple of runs per week until a 4 mile run  to Bridgeport and back left me in tears. I wasn’t ready to be done, but I was done nonetheless.

We made up for the lack of running with long bike rides on the weekends. N hadn’t ever biked in the city until last fall, but he picked up a Divvy with me and we rode to the far south end of the Lakefront Path, up north for coffee, all over. I found a safe route to work, and was able to ride in five days in a row during Bike to Work Week.

After one of those rides, I got my first pregnant lady privilege – I stopped for a pastry, and the woman ahead of me let me take the last chocolate croissant.

We went to Neo for what would turn out to be the last time – after knocking two items off my Chicago Bucket List, we went to New Wave Prom. The regular bartender gave me a once-over, asked “Is there a baby in there?”, and congratulated us. The last time we’d been was for my birthday, days before we found out.

I got defensive about being touched without permission, but it turned out that the only transgressive belly touches of my entire pregnancy came from two friends, and I didn’t mind at all.

I went to Vegas for work at 27 weeks. It was 115F, and I literally swooned on a street corner from the heat, and then again in a fancy restaurant after too much walking. I hated Vegas and hated being away from home, and so spent as much time as I could in the pool or eating frozen yogurt. My flight home was canceled due to severe weather. That’s what happens when you curse Vegas.

We watched a LOT of the World Cup. Baby and I bet for Belgium to beat the US, which they did, and now we have a debt owed to us by Vegas bookies.

Until halfway through the trimester, I was barely showing. By the end of it, my belly was unmistakable.

A Change of Plans

35 weeks 35/#100daystobaby

A lot of things about this year, and this pregnancy, haven’t gone as expected. I thought I’d be running a marathon this fall; instead, I’ll be recovering from giving birth. I looked forward to lots of beer and soft cheeses and mussels in Belgium; instead, I had one amazing beer at the best beer bar in the world, and will have to hope I’m not pregnant the next time we go back. I hoped I’d be able to continue running for most of my pregnancy; instead, I stopped a little more than half way through. I hoped to be able to have a crunchy hippie natural birth with a midwife and minimal interventions; instead, my affordable health insurance plan limits us to a mainstream medical establishment birth with few choices.

Last week, we learned that the baby is breech. Another expectation blown away by circumstances beyond our control. Instead of having a natural birth – what we both wanted, what we’ve been preparing for over the last 10 weeks of childbirth classes, the only birth I could ever imagine for myself – it’s more than likely that I’ll be delivering by c-section.

I was heartbroken. I am heartbroken. It’s taken me nearly a week to be able to talk about this without crying.

I know that having the birth we wanted isn’t the most important thing. My health and the health of the baby are far more important than our expectations. But changing expectations is hard.

So over the last week, we’ve done our research, and started to make our peace with this. We’re trying everything we feel safe doing to encourage the baby to turn, and some day I’ll tell you all about it. We’re grieving for the experience we probably won’t get to have, and trying to make the most informed choices we can.

Most importantly, we’re holding onto our joyful anticipation of our baby’s birth, whether baby is forcefully pushed or gently pulled into this world. Because however it happens, we know that it will be worth the fear and excitement and sadness and anticipation and pain and recovery.

Half Baked

On Friday, I (we) reached the halfway point of my pregnancy:

20 weeks. Rainy day. Halfway there!

For purposes of comparison, here’s my belly at 4 weeks 3 days, the morning after I took the second positive pregnancy test:

4 weeks

You may notice that my breasts are larger. That seems to be the first thing everyone noticed. It was also my first indication that something was up – about 10 days before I took the positive test, long before I would have missed a period, I changed clothes in my mom’s hotel room and noticed that something looked different. I credited the change to my new rowing routine.

A few days later, N noticed that my chin was unusually broken out. I blamed that on holiday overindulgence. I took a test to be sure. Negative.

I took another test on my birthday, knowing the day would involve all manner of food and drink. Negative.

Don’t ask me why exactly I took another test a few days later, but I did. We walked to the Flying Saucer in a daze, and I turned down a second cup of coffee for probably the first time in my life.

In Which We Discover We Will Be Parents

That was nearly four months ago. In another four months (and change), we’ll have a baby. Crazy.

Here are some things we know about the baby:

  • It is currently the size of a banana. This is appropriate as N eats more bananas than anyone else I’ve ever known.
  • It has long arms and legs that have only just started to poke me. The kicks and punches feel a bit like when popcorn begins to pop – gentle and sporadic.
  • It will have Belgian citizenship if N requests it.
  • It is wiggly and shy, having spent half of my last ultrasound running from the tech, and the other half with its face buried in my hip.
  • It will be called Kleintje until it arrives on the scene on September 26.

I’m thankful to have had a relatively easy pregnancy so far. The first trimester was harder emotionally than it was physically as I struggled to wrap my head around the enormous immediate and imminent changes in basically every area of my life. I struggled through the brutal winter, not able to talk to my family and friends because I’d chosen to keep the pregnancy a secret until after 13 weeks. I struggle(d) with body image, with relinquishing my identity as a runner, with having to ask for help for things I could easily do on my own a week or a month earlier.

Now that I’m squarely in my second trimester, the struggles are different. I haven’t moved into maternity clothes, but every week I have to retire more of my wardrobe (temporarily? permanently?). My back hurts a lot of the time, and sometimes I have these sharp pains when I stand up too quickly. While I haven’t had morning sickness OR cravings, my body has more than compensated by rejecting large parts of my normal diet – and unfortunately mostly healthy stuff. No to yogurt, beans, and kale – yes to all the bread. I haven’t been on my bike since getting pregnant – though I do occasionally Divvy – and running gets harder by the week. But then there are also moments of sitting in traffic and ::plink::, there’s a little kick.

I just read a book review that quotes a sociologist in saying “the modern child [is] ‘economically worthless but emotionally priceless'” – the book’s author describing parenting as “all joy and no fun“. When I think about this – and the many years we have ahead of us – I’m terrified. And excited. And terrified. And very grateful to be embarking on this adventure with N, who this morning after cleaning up cat vomit remarked that this – cleaning up various bodily fluids – was his life for the next few years, and that he couldn’t wait. While I’m less enthusiastic about the bodily fluids – I also can’t wait.