Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Public Assistance

After waiting semi-patiently for six months, trying to stay calm as I read every New York Times article about the dangers of swine flu in pregnant women, I got vaccinated today—a week before my due date. When Dr. Husband and I arrived in the little town of Snohomish at 8am, an hour before the clinic opened, we were maybe 150th in line. Everyone was in good spirits, in part because it wasn’t raining, in part because it feels really good to cross something off your to-do list that’s been languishing there for half a year, and in part because we were 150th in line, not 3,000th. The woman in line in front of us who was holding a spot for her 3 and 4 year-olds offered me her portable chair and didn’t shun us when I confessed we’d snuck in from Seattle. It was like a little taste of Iowa right here in chilly, grey Western Washington.

The event was the most well-organized government-sponsored activity I’ve ever witnessed. “Hey, is that guy handing out barbecue?” I asked, only slightly surprised when I saw a man in a black t-shirt with a pig’s face on the front working the line.

It turns out he was part of the Swine Flu Brigade handing out consent forms—not an employee of the BBQ Shack down the street handing out snacks—but still, no other county in the state has gotten swine flu vaccine to the public, and this place had their shit so together they’d made matching t-shirts!

When the man in the pig shirt came to our section of the line, someone asked whether there was a charge for the vaccine. The questioner was assured that the vaccine was free, whereupon the man behind me deadpanned, “That sounds like Socialism. I insist on paying someone.”

The scene had an air of festivity, from the take-a-number carnival tickets they handed out to the huge box of cheapo toy prizes for the kids. Often when someone’s number was called, they would cry out “Bingo!” and the whole crowd would chuckle. Every single time.

It was American Socialism at its very best.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Public Assistance

I finally got around to canceling my state-sponsored health insurance with the Department of Social and Health Services, sending in a form letting them know that I’m married now and no longer qualify for their assistance.

A nice lady from home office called me to make sure I know that just because I’m married doesn’t mean I get kicked off their program—even if I live in a fancy neighborhood in a house with three porches. “You could win the lottery and you’d still be covered,” she assured me.

“Um. Interesting.” I replied. “I just don’t think I’d feel right staying on when I have insurance from my husband’s work.” And when our yearly income is in the 6 figures.

After verifying that, yes, the baby will also be covered by Dr. Husband’s job, the nice lady said, half-cheerfully, half-forebodingly, “Well, if anything in your situation changes, just let us know and we can get you back on.”

It’s nice to feel so loved by the state, but it does beg a few questions about the American health care system's finances.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rural American Values

Even though I’m not on any kind of enforced bedrest, I’m finding myself spending a lot of time in a semi-reclined position on the couch. Reading, writing, napping, and watching Grey’s Anatomy (I close my eyes during the gross surgical parts) are the only activities I can sustain for longer than a half hour these days. I’m a little bored and cabin-feverish, but every time I venture out into the world for too long, my head starts to spin and my knees sort of buckle, and all I want to do is hurry home to read or write or nap or watch Grey’s Anatomy on the couch.

At the moment I’m reading Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, the memoir of a 43 year-old woman who returns to the land of the Mennonites (i.e. her parents’ house) after she has a hysterectomy, gets in a really bad car accident, and her husband leaves her for a man he met on It’s completely hilarious and has me reminiscing about the many Mennonite moments of my own childhood, what with that Mennonite minister’s daughter best friend of mine. I’d forgotten how glorious the dichotomies are… The girl with the tightly braided hair and hand-sewn blouse and calf-length skirt showing off her enviable-sized Smurf collection. The mom with the sensible sandals and daily homemade cookie-making habit ensuring the permanency of the household stash of high-quality candy bars, never once running out of Snickers or Milky Ways.

The Mennonites of my youth were pretty progressive—for Mennonites. No bun-covers or outright bans on dancing or secular music. My best friend’s dad was not so much scornful as curious about a record I’d brought over one junior high day—an album that featured a stubbly shirtless man in a black leather jacket and large cross earring with the title Faith. I frantically grabbed it out of his hands before he could read that the roster of songs included one called, “I Want Your Sex.”

Our family hairdresser—a recommendation from the Mennonite best friend—even did the hair for a movie cast once. Granted, it was a movie about Amish people, but still, it was a pretty worldly endeavor, and the hairdresser herself is sufficiently worldly that she suggested yesterday to my mom that one way to go about getting a swine flu shot (something my mom has been worrying about for many months on my behalf) is to find a neighboring county—a rural one without any giant hospitals full of vaccine-hogging medical personnel—and get one there.

Mennonite or not, hairdressers know their shit!

And because the idea came from a Mennonite, I feel confident that I won’t burn in hell for crossing county lines to get a vaccine this weekend. I’m sure the good people of rural Washington would not want me or my offspring to die of something named after pigs. Even if I once encouraged a young Mennonite girl to partake of the music of George Michael.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Toehold on Sanity

You’d think that one of the perks of having a doctor for a partner would be that when bad, gross, or alarming things happen to your body, you have someone right there to check things out without having to bother with making an appointment with your Internist or G.P. or whomever. The problem is, not all of us want our partner looking at our various grody bits, even if they are a trained medical professional who claims they will not think any less of us or find us any less sexy just because, oh, say, our toenail fell off.

Seriously? I’m nine months pregnant and my body thinks that now would be a good time to remove the protective covering from one of my toes? Why? Why now? I had long ago come to a détente with the fungus that’s been living in my big toenail for the past seven years. My doctor (who I was not romantically involved with) informed me when it first appeared that it wasn’t hurting anything and that these types of things are notoriously hard to get rid of, so the best thing to do would be just learn to live with it. So I did. And now it’s betrayed me. Stupid toenail.

Dr. Husband says that no doctor will be able to do anything to help sort out what’s left of my toe while I’m pregnant—so I can add it to my post-partum self-care to-do list: learn how to nurse, find nursing bras that fit once my milk comes in, make friends with my hemorrhoid pillow and stash of Preparation H, be on the lookout for post-partum depression, and have toenail situation cleaned up for proper—and hopefully fungus-free—healing. Lovely.

When Kids Take the Backseat

We all carry images in our mind of the kind of parent we don’t want to become: the minivan-driving soccer mom in yoga pants and a designer hoodie popping a forehead vein as she screams at her kindergartener to show a little life out there! The distracted father who forgets his kid’s birthday and tries to make up for it by bringing home a kitten the next day, having also forgotten that his child is allergic to everything that sheds. For me it’s being one of those moms who rides in the backseat of the car with her kid while the dad drives around like a chauffer or like a single dad with two kids with a 34-year age span.

Growing up in my family, the front seat was decidedly for grown-ups and the backseat was for kids. This was not negotiated or argued or questioned, it just was. When we visited grandparents or they visited us and two adults sat in back with one kid while the other kid rode in the “front middle,” it was a special treat and the source of much giggling—particularly the time my dad scolded a backseat rider for making that horrible squeaking noise with their straw in the lid of their take-out cup, and the squeaker turned out to be my great-grandmother.

In my best friend’s family, the Mennonite minister dad and little brother rode in front while the mom, big sister, and I rode in back devising a plot to overthrow the patriarchy. Or maybe that was just me.

So it was with alternating waves of dismay and denial that I received the news, after 5 months of research, that the only way to fit an infant seat in my car would be to move the passenger seat all the way up until it practically touches the dashboard—leaving no room for a passenger—and put the car seat behind it. “It’s the only way,” insisted the National Child Passenger Safety Board-certified sales clerk at a nearby suburban children’s boutique where I’d gone in hopes of finding something more compact than the sprawlingly large American child restraints they hawk at big-box stores.

It’s not like my car is some teensy, sporty, child-unfriendly thing. It’s a VW station wagon, for christsake. Surely someone has found a way to transport their baby in a Jetta wagon without having to first become a Mennonite minister’s wife.

“Oh, you won’t be able to use the front passenger seat for a few years now, so you might as well get used to riding in the back while your husband drives. Or you could get a new car,” quipped the NCPSB lady.

She wasn’t kidding.

“Okay, thanks, sounds good, will do,” I muttered as I shooed her out of my car and headed back to Babies-backwards-R-Us to buy the car seat that had sort of fit in the middle, so long the handle was kept upright—which, according to the instructions one wasn’t supposed to do while driving—and so long as it’s okay for the car seat to rub heavily against the front seats—which, according to all safety information, it’s not.

I bought the sort-of-fitting seat, then went to Target to check out yet another brand of seat to see if it fit any better. Unfortunately, the seat from Target wasn’t sold individually. It was only sold as a package deal with a giant, unwieldy stroller that we have no use for, having already purchased a giant, unwieldy European (and therefore beautiful) stroller off Craigslist. I figured I could buy the car seat-stroller combo and test the seat out in the parking lot. If the seat fit I would return the whole combo right then and there, go home, and order the car seat solo off the internet.

So there I am, lugging a 127-pound travel system out to the parking lot, finagling the car seat out of its giant plastic baggie and away from its stroller friend without dropping either part onto the wet, muddy (it’s autumn in Seattle) pavement, and sticking it in the middle of the backseat to see whether it—Nope. Not a chance.

I wrestle the car seat back into its baggie, somehow reunite it with Mr. Stroller, which is still mostly inside the box, which is perched precariously on a shopping cart, which is rolling every which way, which no one is offering to help with (God, I miss Iowa)—and I wheel the whole thing to the customer service counter. I explain the situation, how I bought the thing not ten minutes ago, just wanted to see whether it would fit, but it doesn’t, blah, blah. The teenage customer servant looks at my receipt and immediately calls her supervisor over.

“I’m sorry,” the also-teenage supervisor says gravely. “Once the box has been opened, we can’t take these back.”

Let me take a moment here to say that throughout this entire pregnancy, I have been very well-behaved. I have not bored sandwich shop personnel with overly long explanations about the threat of listeria looming in lunchmeat or soft cheese. I have not regaled salesclerks or other people who aren’t my mother, husband, close friends, or readers with tales of my aches and pains and splotches, and I have never broken down into hysterical tears over some bureaucratic nightmare.

Until this day.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I wailed. “That was the whole point of buying this thing! If I’d known I never would have come here! That’s just totally, totally insane! I bought it five minutes ago!”

“I’m sorry, but the seal’s been broken. We can’t—”

“The seal?! The seal!? It’s packing tape! Get me some packing tape and I’ll fix it up so no one will ever know it’s been opened!”

“It’s our policy that once the seal has—”

“Oh. My. God. It’s. A. Stroller! Not a sterilized piece of medical equipment! A. Stroller!”

“It’s our pol—”

“I don’t care if it’s your policy! I want to talk to your manager’s manager’s manager. The president of the company. I don’t care who, but there is absolutely no way I am giving this store 120 dollars for a car seat that doesn’t fit in my car and a stroller I can’t use. I will never shop here again!”—then I brought out the big guns. “I will tell EVERYONE I KNOW never to shop here!”

Which really ought to have gotten him scared because I know, like, fifty or so people.

The female customer servant just stared at me, clearly thinking the second I get home I’m making an appointment to get my tubes tied.

The manager guy started to seem sympathetic. Or maybe just tired. In any case, he eventually instructed his underling to process the return as “defective merchandise” and then made sure I knew he was breaking the rules.

I thanked him through my sniffles and then inanely tried to explain that I don’t usually cry to get my way—well, maybe just when I’m pulled over for speeding. But usually I cry because I’m mad at myself for not being assertive, so in a weird way my breakdown was a triumph. Not exactly how I would have scripted it had I had more time to prepare, but what’s the fun of being pregnant if you don’t get to scream at a pair of teenagers in red polyester vests and plastic nametags at least once?

After I got home from the Evil Store I Will Never Again Frequent—except to buy those cheese crackers nobody else seems to sell, I broke down and called The Car Seat Lady—yet another National Child Passenger Safety Board-certified volunteer car seat inspector—but one who understood (or at least accepted) my refusal to give up the use of my front passenger seat for the next two years. She promised over the phone that she had “just the car seat” for me. Seven minutes later she magically appeared at my front door, an enormous woman bearing two car seats and a four-and-a-half pound preemie-sized doll named Fremont.

(A brief aside: I normally wouldn’t mention someone’s girth as it seems rather rude and sizeist, but it’s sort of important for the visuals here—nine-months pregnant lady, twice-her-size other lady, two infant car seats and a four-and-a-half pound doll all fitting into the space that one goddamned car seat from Target refused to be wedged into.)

The Car Seat Lady demonstrates how one of the car seats I’d previously thought wouldn’t fit actually does fit, so long as you keep the handle in the upright position, which is okay in this particular model (unlike the other one) because this one has been safety tested—and approved—in this configuration. Who knew? The Car Seat Lady, that’s who!

I go back to Babies-backwards-R-Us to exchange the seat that can’t be used with the handle in the upright position for the one that can, and I am proud to say that now, a full five months after I began the process of outfitting my car with an infant seat, we are in business—no religious conversion required.

Monday, October 26, 2009

One Day at a Time

I had my 60th or so visit to the obstetrician today. She said the most likely window for delivery of this baby is between November 5th and 12th—two whole weeks from now! She then guessed the 10th as my delivery date—based on what, I do not know, but she was looking at my chart and wearing scrubs when she said it, so it seemed credible, even though I'm pretty sure these things can't be predicted. Otherwise, shouldn't she be running some sort of psychic network rather than peering into cervixes all day?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deep Thoughts by a Random Pregnancy Website

“Whether it's your first or fourth baby, labor is quite possibly one of the most anticipated aspects of pregnancy.”

Quite possibly, indeed.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Tomorrow is the day I’ve been telling everyone (or everyone who will still listen to me when I talk about my pregnancy) that I plan to give birth. I’m not having a C-section or induction or anything, I just like the sound of “October 24th” and randomly chose it many months ago as my baby’s birthday. I realize that by doing this I have likely jinxed myself into having the baby on November 14th—the first day of the standard, week-long overdue-baby induction window—a date that is appallingly far in the future.

I share this tidbit in case I turn out to be psychic. I mean, it would have been a shame if I were and nobody knew.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

We Go Way Back

A baby present arrived in the mail yesterday from one of my mom’s elementary school friends. Let me say that again: someone my mom used to sew matching outfits with in sixth grade sent a Baby Bjorn-type infant carrier contraption to the soon-to-be-born child of her childhood friend’s child.

That would be like one of the girls I used to play Cabbage Patch Kids with (Emily? Katie? Are you out there?) sending an umbrella stroller or something to the baby that this person hanging out in my uterus might have one day. It’s inconceivable on so many levels, not the least of which is that before that can happen, the person in my uterus has to come shooting out my vagina.

We’re just weeks—possibly even days—away, and it is just, after nine long, uncomfortable months, starting to feel real. Really real. Like, I need to stop accidentally whacking the top of the car seat with my elbow when I crane my body around to look out the rear window of my car because there will be a baby inside real. And, at my weekly appointment my therapist said I can bring the baby along next week real. And, if the construction workers next door don’t pick up the pace and finish the re-roofing project they started in July before the baby’s born, I’m going to have to buy a gun real.

I’ve wanted to have a baby for so long—pretty much since March 9, 1975 when I myself was born. It’s hard to believe I’m on the threshold, crossing over from wishing and longing and pining and being wildly jealous of other people and their babies to having one of my very own for other people to be wildly jealous of. Especially if he or she turns out cute. And sleeps a lot. And has the world's coolest, most enviable name. And gives good presents.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One Centimeter at a Time

He (or she) is not even born yet, but already my baby is a genius! Due to the popularity of my obstetrician (who I love again. It turns out she was having a bad day that one time) and the realities of modern American health care, my last two “weekly” check-ups were only 3 days apart. And in that small amount of time the baby dropped a full centimeter! Without any contractions! My first- (and given the discomforts of pregnancy possibly only-)born scooted him- or herself one centimeter closer to the outside world, where he or she can cause a beautiful, extra-utero ruckus—and, more importantly, no longer cause his or her mother indigestion, GERD-cough, shortness of breath, constipation, or varicose veins in unmentionable places!

I’d been getting a little worried about the baby’s exact level of genius, given his or her inability to grasp the concept of keeping still when it’s night-night time or uncurling his or her toes from my ribcage upon request, but clearly my concerns were misguided. He or she understands biology, physics, medicine, linearity, and basic human decency. Go, baby!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Things They Don't Tell You About Pregnancy, #38,792

While some foods will taste like glue for the duration of a pregnancy (rice crackers, pumpkin seed butter, peanut M&Ms, saltines), other foods will taste like delicious treats one day and like glue the next. Even in your third trimester, even when the bun in your oven is, pardon the technical term, fully baked.

Yesterday: Coca-cola = a delicious and delightful treat that soothed the savage and massively deprived caffeine beast.

Today: Coca-cola = glue.

Yesterday: Fiesta Lime Rice Chips = a delicious and delightful treat that almost made me forget that wheat-containing foodstuffs exacerbate my indigestion and formerly delicious corn chips haven’t tasted right for, oh, about nine months.

Today: Fiesta Lime Rice Chips = glue.

Yesterday: Apples = a delicious and delightful treat that provided some much-needed fiber in a format far more appealing that Metamucil—which, by the way, tastes like glue.

Today: Apples = glue.

I’ve already warned Dr. Husband that the instant I’ve given birth and regained my senses (all five of them), I’m going to be demanding an espresso beverage—not from the hospital cafeteria, a butter croissant, and an entire log of the freshest, most unpasteurized chèvre money can buy.

And, as long as I live, I never want to see another saltine again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Game of the Name

Dr. Husband and I still don’t have any agreed-upon boy names for the wee one, and I’m getting slightly panicky about it. Yes, we could be having a girl, rendering the issue irrelevant, but the only thing getting me through this 5-week window of “any minute now you’re going to start the most excruciatingly painful/gloriously magical experience of your life” is by being prepared as a way of deluding myself into thinking I’m in control. Baby clothes and blankets washed? Check. Burp cloths personalized with poorly executed DIY alterations? Check. Diaper delivery ordered? Check. Freezer stocked with labor-friendly popsicles? Check. Pediatrician met, interviewed, and approved? Check, check, check.

If this critter curling its toes around my ribcage does turn out to be a boy, we know what we’re doing with the foreskin on his penis—we just don’t know what his name might be.

Every few days I come up with a new name that I love—Issac, Oliver, Grover—and every few days Dr. Husband makes the same horrified face at me that I make at him when he reasserts his inexplicable love of Conrad, Casey, and Percival.

“We’re not going to find the perfect name,” he warns. “We need to focus on ones we can both live with.”

Has this man not met me?

I’m a writer. Words are my life. Of course my child needs the perfect name—one that’s not too popular or trendy but not totally weird or obscure, something dignified that doesn’t scream I’m destined for private school! (especially since he probably is), a name that’s classic but not so old-fashioned that people will assume we chose it from a tombstone in a local graveyard.

If our baby is a girl, we’re all set with two solid options and a third likely contender if neither of the first two options seem to suit her.

If it’s a boy, Dr. Husband and I will likely be leaving the hospital with a blank birth certificate and a renewed need for couples’ counseling. How else to reconcile his insistence on something manly like Conrad (!) with my desire for something sweet like Robin?

Last night during the second of two hours-long bouts of infamous third-trimester insomnia my mind decided it would be delightful to present a roster of bad, evil, and otherwise nefarious men with the various names on Dr. Husband’s and my “don’t totally love it but are willing to consider it for the sake of our child not being nameless for the rest of his life” compromise list. In no time at all, my exhausted but wide-awake mind came up with a child molester, a mass murderer, and an assassin. Do normal people just block out these associations? Do I just need to get out of the house more?

Okay, the answer to that is clearly Yes. But where can I go that doesn’t require standing, sitting on any hard surfaces, smelling any strong smells, staying awake, or wearing a properly-fitting bra?

Is it wrong to think that because the baby will have my husband’s surname and because I’m the one growing this creature inside me that my vote should hold more weight than his? Perhaps, oh, thirty pounds more?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Little Black Rain Cloud

Yesterday when Dr. Husband and I were out on our daily walk we talked a bit about my fears of childbirth—specifically my fear that he’ll get annoyed with me when I ask for a different flavor of popsicle than the one he’s handing me or when I ask him to retrieve the soft toilet paper from the stash in my overnight bag because the hospital’s toilet paper is too sharp or when I tell him the smell of his hair gel is making my nausea unbearable and can he please go wash his hair? or whatever crazy demands I make in the throes of labor.

“I’m not attacking you,” I gingerly explained, “I’m just saying that we have a bit of a history of my needs causing you irritation, and I’m nervous about that happening when I’m giving birth.”

My emergency room doctor husband reminded me that he’s really good in emergencies (duh) and figures that childbirth qualifies as such. When I reminded him that childbirth is a rather prolonged “emergency” scenario and I just wanted to make sure that he could handle the popsicle/toilet paper/hair washing demands of hour eleven or nineteen or whatever, he said, “Oh, don’t worry. I know it’s not going to go quickly. You’re kind of a black-cloud patient.”

A black-cloud patient? I was trying to assess what this could possibly mean and whether I should be offended when Dr. Husband added, “That’s mean, I shouldn’t have said that.”

Okay, then. That cleared up whether I should be offended.

I asked him what he meant and he said that in residency there are residents for whom everything seems to go right—the “white cloud” residents—and those for whom everything seems to go wrong. “You know, a patient who seems totally fine suddenly dies,” he cheerfully explained—and then hastened to add that it was through no doing of their own. “It’s like a curse, a lore.”

“But the ones who see more bad stuff get a better education,” I observed, always rooting for the underdog.

Dr. Husband nodded—perhaps somewhat dismissively?—and then continued to tell me about some study that was done that showed that the “black cloud” residents were less efficient than the white cloudies and that somehow contributed to their seeming bad luck.

“So you’re saying is their fault?”

“That’s why it was a mean thing to say.”

Notice the man did not say he didn’t mean it—just that he shouldn’t have said it.

“But not everything. Has gone wrong. With my pregnancy!” I protested, huffing heavily after every few words so I wouldn’t get one of the crippling side cramps I’ve been prone to on our walks the past few months. “I mean. So many. Things. That could have. Gone wrong. Haven’t! I haven’t. Had any. Complications. At all. I’m just. Really sensitive. To the stuff. That does happen!”

Dr. Husband nodded enigmatically and held his tongue.

“I don’t. Have a black cloud. Over my head!” I insisted as we turned the corner to head up the alleyway behind our house. I then proceeded to slip on a loose patch of gravel and fall on my knees so hard I was pretty sure I broke them.

I can no longer put weight on the right one when I go up stairs, and both sitting down and standing up are excruciating—especially from a low seat, such as a toilet. And I don’t know if you’ve heard, but pregnant ladies tend to have to pee with some frequency, what with a giant uterus full of blood and water and baby squishing down on our bladders.

Also, the right knee bled all night long, soaking through the band-aids and making our bed look like a murder scene, albeit a small one—maybe a squirrel murder scene?—this morning. Dr. Husband had originally offered to give me stitches, but by the time I overcame my wimpiness and agreed, he had chickened out. “Stitches hurt pretty bad,” he explained.

Then I asked him if he could pick me up some pistachio ice cream from the grocery store and he said, “But we have lots of gingersnap in the freezer.”