Tag Archives: babies

The belly is growing, the brain shrinking

If you’ve emailed or otherwise tried to communicate with me during the last ten days and I haven’t gotten back to you, my sincere apologies. If it’s any consolation, you’re not the only one. Just in the last 24 hours, three of my friends have had to hassle me to furnish them with needed information. It seems that my brain and mental bandwidth is shrinking in inverse proportion to my still-expanding belly. And if you’re wondering how big that belly might be now (and, consequently, how small my brain)… an octogenarian with a walking stick offered to get up off a public bench today so that I could sit down. It would appear that I am beginning to look as uncomfortable as I am feeling.

Disclaimer: Everyone who is harboring serious concerns about my lack of maternal instincts skip everything below until you see a line like this ****. (Bobbie, this means you.)

Speaking of being uncomfortable – yesterday was a shocker. Not only was I in significant pain most of the day, but I was hanging out with family friends who have children and was repeatedly confronted with concrete evidence of just how much work children are. Not just the babies, but the toddlers, little kids, big kids, and teenagers too… All of a sudden it just seemed like too much, and when my brother rang later that night to check in I asked him whether he’d like my baby. You know, to have. Permanently.

In addition to asking me whether I’d cleared this proposal with Mike (uh, no) my brother and sister-in-law politely declined this offer. When I asked why, they said that when they consider this baby’s lineage they are forced to conclude that the little guy will probably be too active for them to handle comfortably.

“But you might get a little boy with Mike’s sweet and sunny extraversion and my less active temperament,” I argued.

“Yeah, but…” my brother said. He didn’t need to finish. I knew what he was thinking – that they might get a little boy with my “less sweet and sunny and much more obstinate” personality and Mike’s energizer bunny temperament.

“Fine,” I said crossly. “I don’t think that’s very family-minded of you. I expected more, frankly, but if you’re not going to take the baby can you at least help me fix my latest computer problem?”


Today, however, things are feeling much better. I even saw a tiny baby in a stroller in Target (where I was actually shopping for baby things!) and had an “aww isn’t that baby just so adorable, I wonder what our baby will look like?” inner-gooey moment. I suspect we’ll keep our little guy after all. After all, it would be a shame to waste all the natural aptitude Mike and I display for caring for baby mammals.

Woops. How did the dog get hold of the baby goat's bottle?

Woops. Who knew that baby goats liked kisses?

So, if I haven’t been answering emails and returning phone calls, what have I been doing during the last week? In no particular order: hanging out with a good friend who was up here visiting, toasting marshmallows over an evening fire, filing insurance paperwork, drafting an essay I plan to submit to the New York Times, napping, talking to Mike on skype, learning about stage 3 labour and breastfeeding in childbirth classes, sitting in my obstetrician’s waiting room, reading, and generally trying to stay away from email for a while. All in all, it’s been high on the “lovely and relaxing” end of the scale.

However, in the midst of my inability to engage with all things internet last week I also missed more than a couple of emails I needed to answer… I missed writing about the anniversary of my arrival with Mike in Laos on June 28th. And Mike had even reminded me about it a couple of days previously.

“We’re coming up on one year since we arrived in Laos together,” Mike said, smiling over skype. “Remember how you wanted to drown yourself in the Mekong that first day?”

“Oh, I remember,” I said.

“I’m glad you didn’t drown yourself in the Mekong,” Mike said fondly.

“All things considered, me too,” I said.

What a year it’s been – one of ups and downs, of incredible adventures and some hardships. Tomorrow or the next day I’ll celebrate that year on the blog by taking a look back at some of my favorite posts and moments. And in the meantime, I might even answer some of my emails. I hope you’ve all had a great start to the week.

Thanks for dropping by.

Going it solo in childbirth classes

I haven’t been blogging as much as usual lately, I know. This is partly because Mum and Dad refuse to get a puppy, despite my constant pestering, so I am without cute puppy stories to share. And it’s partly because Mum and Dad don’t seem to want me to put up stories about them, so I am without entertaining parental stories. But mostly it’s been because I’ve been tired, tired, tired.

I’m now feeding the baby extra iron and calcium every day and hopefully that’ll help on the fatigue front.

So I went to my first childbirth class yesterday. Alone. Reminding myself that plenty of people do this solo for real so I have few grounds to be indulging in self-pity on that front. This stern talking to mostly helped. Mostly.

Anyway, maybe there was some good that came out of Mike not being able to be there (namely that he didn’t get to compare me to the three other women in the class and wonder just how far off the normal beaten path I habitually wander). For if Mike had been there, he would have witnessed the following moments:

1.     The birth educator (who will also be my doula, let’s call her Jade) asks each of us to introduce ourselves and explain the sort of birth we would like:

All three other women speak with great fervour of their desire to have a natural (drug-free) birth. One insists that she has her heart set on a lotus birth (and whoever knows what that is, fill me in below). I say, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m interested in learning about natural birth, especially water birth, but I totally have not ruled out the use of epidurals, pethidine, and maybe general anesthetic.”

2.     Jade describes with misty-eyed nostalgia how, when she was thirty weeks pregnant and fully into the nesting stage, she used to buy lots of tiny new baby clothes. Then she’d put them away neatly, only to find herself going to her baby cupboard every two days to hold these clothes up, marvel at how small they were, and imagine her baby in them. Jade turns to me (since I’m the most pregnant in the class by several weeks) and asks if I’ve found myself doing that.

“Ah, not exactly,” I say. “I haven’t actually bought the baby any clothes yet, but lovely friends have given us some and the other day I did sort them into two piles – ‘clean’ and ‘needs washing’. That’s a good start, isn’t it?”

3.     Jade informs us that it’s not unusual for pregnant women to have very vivid and unusual dreams and asks if any of us have been having any of those.

“I have!” I said. “Last month I dreamed I was a brown bear and when I woke up I was still convinced I was a bear. I mean, I sometimes wake up forgetting where I am, but I’ve never woken up really thinking that I was a different species before.”

“Um,” Jade said, after she stopped laughing. “Anyone having unusual dreams about babies?”

Oh, right… unusual dreams about babies. Nope. Not unless my one dream that I forgot to feed the baby all day, and then left it behind when I went out to dinner with Mike and my parents counts.

Actually, that probably does count. So maybe I’m normal on this front after all.

4.     Jade tells us that we’ve all probably received mostly negative messages about labour and birth from the media (who tend to turn it into a dramatic plot-point) and maybe from our mothers as well. She tells us that she wants us to practice replacing the word “pain” with the phrase “strong and powerful experience” whenever we think about labour. Then she instructs us to close our eyes and do a visualization exercise where we focus on the word “pain” and then on the word “soft” several times. Then she asks us all what we noticed.

All the others in the class speak quite poetically about how they felt their attention narrow and their bodies tense up when focusing on the word pain, and relax and soften when they focused on the word “soft”.

“And what did you experience?” Mike asked, when I described this whole exercise to him later via skype.

“Well, uh, I was a bit distracted,” I said. “For one, the baby was stamping on my bladder. And I was also busy being annoyed that we couldn’t just call a spade a spade, acknowledge pain as pain, and just talk about these exercises as pain management strategies rather than trying to put a ‘strong and powerful’ gloss on it.”

“Well,” Mike said. “You are, as usual, making a very good and logical point. But given what I know of labour, it seems likely that you’ll get to the point somewhere during the whole process when all of your considerable and logical intellect isn’t going to do you a single bit of good. So perhaps next time you should consider not being quite so logical and just enter into the spirit of things.”

So it seems that Mike doesn’t need to be physically present to put his two cents in, and perhaps it’s wise he voices these opinions while he’s still safely out of reach.

Have you ever attended childbirth classes? Did you learn anything especially interesting or helpful?

A baby-shaped hole in my heart

Last night, after I got up to visit the bathroom for the third time, the baby woke up and started squirming. Then he got the hiccups. I lay there in the dark with my hand on my belly – feeling those small, rhythmic twitches just underneath my fingertips – and thought about how it was impossible now to forget, even for a minute, that I am pregnant.

Twenty years ago I remember wondering why miscarriages were quite such a big deal. After all, my teenaged self puzzled, the baby hadn’t even been born yet. How could you grieve over something that never was?

It was, I now know, an epic failure of imagination.

I am not one of these women who has wanted to be a mother from the time that she was twelve years old. At times during this last decade I have said that I wanted children, but this was mostly an intellectual and theoretical desire not an emotional longing. Even now, ten weeks from giving birth, I am ambivalent about being pregnant.

This is one thing that has baffled Mike. After I wrote the blog post announcing my pregnancy Mike asked me whether I really was as ambivalent as I’d made myself out to be, or whether I was just being a drama queen.

“I’m totally ambivalent,” I said, surprised. “You’re not?”

“No,” he said. “You’re pregnant, the switch is flicked, I’m 100% on board. It’s great!”

Yeah, it’s great. It really is. I am happy, I am content, and I am grateful.

And, yet.

I am also anxious about labour and delivery. I am worried about how my life will change, how I’ll juggle the different identities that are important to me – writer, psychologist, wife, friend, and now mother. I am mourning the upcoming loss of long, lazy dinner conversations with Mike and of quiet and time that has, before now, been mostly mine to use to work, create, or connect as I pleased. My horizon feels as if it’s narrowing.


As I’ve grown physically this last seven months so has the baby – this baby who hasn’t even been born yet – been creating space for himself in my heart and mind. I still can’t fully imagine what motherhood will be. What I may be losing still often feels more concrete than the new experiences and joys that may be coming my way. But, slowly, that balance is shifting. As the little boy inside me wriggles, twists, and stretches he’s not just enlarging the boundaries of my belly, he’s also fashioning a baby-shaped hole in my heart.

I now understand what my 15-year-old self could not – that a baby can be a vital, living, tangible presence in hopes and dreams and visions of the future long before it even comes close to being born. For even as I get bigger and more uncomfortable every day I am starting to catch glimpses of a brand new horizon as it’s opening up in front of me. And, sometimes, that new vista even looks as a little like the view from the back deck did last night when the clouds parted and sun poured through, drenching the sugar cane fields nestled between the river and the sea in gold.

Happy times in VangVieng

So in an effort to suck the marrow out of life (and because we’re both sort of convinced that we will never have another holiday once the baby comes) Mike and I are taking an Easter weekend road trip here in Laos.

We definitely don’t fall into the category of people who think that having a baby won’t change things much. If anything, we are too far along the other end of the spectrum. Every time we’ve been on holiday lately we’ve had moments when we’ve looked at each other with fear in our eyes.

In Thailand a couple of weeks ago I glanced across at Mike, responsibility-free and peacefully reading by the pool, and said, “This is the last holiday…”

When I let the sentence trail off Mike looked up at me with a wicked grin.

“Ever,” he said.

Of course – given that we’ve been on holiday in places ranging from Alaska to Siem Reap to Tasmania during just the last year – even if that statement were to come to pass it would be many years from now before you could really call us holiday deprived. This knowledge, however, is not preventing us from viewing the coming upheaval of our footloose and fancy free world with some trepidation.

Or maybe it’s only me that is suffering trepidation. Mike has even been known to say that he is looking forward to the baby’s arrival.

To which I usually reply, “well, I’m glad one of us is.”

Whereupon Mike will lean down to my stomach and conspiratorially reassure the baby that I don’t really mean that.

Except, sometimes, I do.

I am choosing to view this as appreciating each day of the present reality for the freedom it offers and trusting that after the baby does arrive I’ll find many things to love and appreciate in that reality too. Of course, it could also be that I am woefully lacking in maternal instincts but well-endowed in the selfishness department.

Yes, well, whatever it really means it’s part of the reason we’re in VangVieng this weekend. VangVieng is a small town surrounded by towering limestone cliffs that has turned into a backpacker’s must-visit and the adventure tourism capital of Northern Laos. You can raft, trek, bicycle and kayak here. You can rent motorbikes for $5 a day. You can also order happy pizzas (or happy shakes, cakes, or pretty much whatever else your happy little heart desires) all over town. A happy pizza does not, as one tourist was led to believe, come with extra pineapple. It comes laced with marijuana, mushrooms, opium, or methamphetamines.

For those of you who are curious about these sorts of things, if you must use opium don’t mix it with lime juice. I remain skeptical, but the locals and the Lonely Planet Guide insist that this combination can kill you.

We’ve so far stayed away from the happy pizzas, but this afternoon we’re going to brave another famous local past-time – tubing down the Song River. The water level is low and the flow fairly slow, so it should be manageable pregnant. I just hope that once we push off it won’t be too long before we’re past most of the beer bars that line the banks, waiting to refresh thirsty travelers with all sorts of happy concoctions. We went down to check out the launch point yesterday and I haven’t seen anything else like it anywhere in Laos (or the world, for that matter). There were half a dozen of these bamboo river-side bars thronged with hundreds of scantily-clad westerners drinking and gyrating to loud techno music. I don’t know which was odder, actually, the sight of pale revelers throwing themselves off the dance floor and into the river to continue their sojourn downstream, or the sight of thirty monks gleefully taking turns on the monk zipline nearby.

More from Vientiane next week. I hope you are all having a very happy Easter weekend (in the non-drug-induced sense). May it be a time of fellowship, celebration, and gratitude for the good things in the present reality.

Tubing in VangVieng

Tubing in VangVieng

Monk zipline

“Don’t worry, be Happy” in VangVieng

Ten good things about boys: Attaining synthetic happiness one gender stereotype at a time

As we’ve been mulling over the fact that we’re having a boy this week, Mike and I have been talking about all things little boy and little girl. It started right after the first ultrasound.

“OK, tell me three good things about little boys,” Mike said to me while we were sitting in the white, tiled hallway of the hospital in Chiang Mai.

“Well, you wanted one to start with,” I said, tired, and not really ready to begin processing the news we had just been handed.

Mike laughed. “Is that the best you can do?”

“Yes,” I said, then pointed to the television on the wall. A news presenter speaking Thai was sounding rather frantic while footage of destruction marched across the screen.

“Is that a tsunami?”

It was. We watched footage of what was unfolding in Japan silently for a while. Then we talked about how we sure hoped the coastal area wasn’t too populated. And what we could make out of how the tectonic plates had shifted. And about the 2004 tsunami and what we’d seen of its aftermath. After that we weren’t much in the mood to talk about gender.

But as the week has progressed in a relaxing blur of pineapple fruit shakes, warm seas, and Thai food, we’ve found ourselves circling back to the topic repeatedly.

“Three good things about boys are…???” Mike will tease me at random intervals.

In response to this I usually pretend to think hard, then shrug my shoulders and shake my head.

“Good things about boys?” I might say. “I’m really trying here, but I have to say I’m drawing a blank.”

(I usually only say things like this when we’re sitting at a table in a restaurant or in some other public place where I run less risk of being tickled unmercifully or pestered with a shower of kisses.)

But the fact of the matter is, I have come up with some good things about little boys. And as I’ve been busy synthesizing happiness this week, I’ve also spent more than a little time mulling over the issue of gender stereotypes.

What ideals and expectations do we consciously or unconsciously hold about little boys and little girls? How many of these are grounded in fact? How should we let them influence our parenting? Do we even have much of a choice on that front – is it possible to be gender neutral when raising kids?

I know the answer to that last question is no – it’s not possible to be completely gender neutral in how we approach raising kids. Nor, am I convinced, would that be totally desirable even if it were possible. As for all the other questions… Well, I have some more digging and thinking to do.

But before I spoil things by doing too much research and finding out too many actual facts on the subject, I thought I’d share my rather unscientific and less than rational list of good things I’ve so far come up with. In no particular order, here are ten good things about boys:

1. Boys burn more calories on a daily basis than girls, so it stands to reason that boy babies in utero also need more calories than girl babies. The doctor in Thailand also told me that I should be drinking multiple glasses of milk every day. This all means that I can safely (nay, I should) be eating at least one extra scoop of ice cream every day that I am pregnant.

2. Mike’s aunt Kathy assures me that boys make excellent weed-pickers, rock-pullers, and wheelbarrow-pushers. I am assuming this also extends to carrying my luggage in airports. Bonus.

3. Mike tells me that not only are boys born without poo shame they also tend to hang onto this quality throughout adulthood – hence saving themselves a great deal of social angst. (For more on poo shame see, The Existence of Poo).

4. In one backed up be medical research, a little boy is much less likely to suffer down the track from my oh-so-fun medical condition, lymphedema, than a little girl.

5. Boys tend to have better spatial orientation than girls (I do believe this one is also backed up by science). On a practical level this will mean that with two men in my family I can almost entirely abdicate navigation responsibilities.

6. A boy may be less drama in the long run than a girl. (Think teenage years and, really, most of early adulthood).

7. Boy clothes are easier (and often cheaper) than clothes for girls, and boys’ hair is easier to care for.

8. There will be fewer princess movies, princess costumes, and all things princess in our house.

9. Hopefully our little man will grow up less burdened by an acute awareness of his physical appearance than little girls can be. I hope he’ll wage fewer battles in the hero’s journey towards the realization that self-esteem must be built on something more than being thought beautiful and desirable by others.

10. Finally, as my good friend, Danielle, pointed out, “Dads toilet train boys easiest.” I’m doubly thrilled on this front, as it means Mike will get to use his water and sanitation training and I just love to see him living in his strengths.

Cheers from Southern Thailand, where this list is a work in progress. In fact, Mike, I, and little Mango McWolfe may just go sit by the pool now and work on it some more. Have a great weekend! Catch you next week from Laos.

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