Friday, September 11, 2009

Um, where are my ankles?

I woke up this morning feeling good. I really haven’t been sleeping well lately, so I revel in the joys of a good night's sleep. I lie in bed, have a stretch, and slide onto the carpet with all the grace I can muster at 36 weeks pregnant. I brew my cup of tea and tomato on toast (still feeling great) and take great delight sharing it with my friends Kochie and Mel. My morning routine continues as usual as I make my way (well, maybe I waddle a bit) to the bathroom to shower. Upon my undress, I notice all the usual bits I’ve become accustomed to during pregnancy – some wonderfully beautiful, others more grotesque, but as I bend over (and cut off my air supply whilst doing so) to remove my socks I get a monstrous shock at what stands before me. Gasp! Where are my ankles?

Where’d they go? Where are they? I poke at the skin that used to house the neat circular little bone, but all I get is fleshy, fluidy softness. Eek! This can’t be right – for 36 weeks I’ve had a textbook, faultless pregnancy; no morning sickness, no bleeding, no heartburn, only the occasional back ache, some mild dizziness once or twice but definitely no swelling. I tell myself that I surely must be imagining this misshapen anatomy. I sigh deeply; let me start again. Ok, here I go… hip, leg, leg, leg, knee (so far so good), leg, leg, leg, leg, leg, foot! What? Arrghhh!

While I’m absolutely convinced that no pregnancy ailment is pleasant, and have been lucky enough to feel like the blessed Virgin Mary throughout my perfect pregnancy so far, I’m finding my cankles really quite disturbing. They’re like one of those horrific scenes that you know you shouldn’t look at, but can’t seem to turn away from. Ergh!

Right, what to do….? I resolve that my cankles and I are in this together and optimistically select the ‘feet-above-heart’ position for half an hour. Nope. Alright, all is not lost, what about the ‘cold-bucket-of-water’ solution? Nope (and holy crap, I do not recommend this unless it’s an antidote for your legs actually being on fire). ‘Ah ha’ I exclaim in my light bulb moment; compression socks….! Nope. Nothing I do is making any difference to the tree trunks that have formed off my knee caps. It’s now lunch time and my entire day so far has been consumed by the flab that has replaced my nice, neat, previously contoured little ankles. In a moment of panic I check my hands, almost expecting to see plump little manicured savaloys, but thankfully they've been spared.

Then, after half a day of panic, I stop for a moment of rare insight and perspective. It’s not so bad, is it? I don’t have the awful, retching heartburn that many women suffer, I didn’t have any morning sickness, and it’s not like my cankles are causing me discomfort or pain. Actually my normally cold feet feel as though they’re snuggled by the warmth of an open fire. I shouldn’t complain, really, because if this is the worst of my pregnancy disorders, I’m still escaping it quite easily. I opt for a pair of long pants and decide that as long as people don’t point and shriek at my Elphantitis, then I can handle this. I’ll wear my cankles as a badge of honour, in fact, I’ll proudly commit myself to this pregnancy ailment – for the greater good, or something…

So, as I rest on the couch marvelling at the newfound empowerment of pregnancy martyrdom, I think about the billions of women who have gone before me and experienced extraordinary lows during their gestation periods. I tell myself that one day when I’m holding my baby, these cankles were a small – albeit hideous – price to pay for the joyful phenomenon of motherhood.

Now, how to get my shoes on…?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

No, actually, I'm not having twins.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure there’s just one baby in there!” I say with a polite, intentionally dismissive laugh. “Wow,” she exclaims, “are you sure? My cousin’s neighbour’s sister’s best friend had twins, one was hiding behind the other the whole time.” She says it so matter-of-factly and it’s clear she’s in complete belief of such a bogus theory. “Ha ha, well, there’s only one in here.” I’m impressed with the level of courtesy I’m maintaining here, but silently willing her to bugger off. “How long do you have to go then? A week?”
“Um, no… [awkward pause] Six weeks actually.” Ooh, the iciness in that response completely demolishes any pride I had in my previously steady demeanour.
“Goodness me! Still six weeks of growing… You’re quite big, aren’t you?!”

What does she expect me to say to that? The vengeful pregnancy hormones are screaming; “Yes, actually you’re right, I’m huge. I’m an enormous cow, I’m a massive, overgrown elephant. In fact, I’m so gigantic that my poor, tiny little husband has had to retreat to the spare bed. But it’s ok, I’m aware of my size and I’ll try really hard not to bowl you over!” My dramatic side wants to feign horror and nervously whisper, “Am I? Am I really? I had no idea. Oh my God, what do you think I should do about it? Do you think I could die? Do think the baby will be able to come out? Am I going to need a ceasar? Do think I’ll be ok?” The remnants of my insecure, defensive sixteen year old self wants to blurt “Um, well I am growing a baby. I should look pregnant, shouldn’t I? How did you look when you were pregnant? Were you smaller than me?” My nasty side is hurling insults back; “well, I’m pregnant, what’s your excuse?!” But, the normal, strong, capable, intelligent woman in me wants to explain “what you just said sort of hurts my feelings. You might not be aware of how what you say could affect a pregnant woman whose hormone charged mind is already starved of rational thinking. It’s lovely that you’re showing an interest in my pregnancy, but it’s not nice to hear that you think I’m big. Maybe use this rule of thumb; if it’s not ok to say when she’s not pregnant, it’s not ok to say when she is.”

In all fairness to ‘her’, I do need to acknowledge that I did have my own tummy before the baby took up space, and I’m certainly not sporting a gorgeous basketball from my front. Mine’s more generously spread like a luxuriously delicious marshmallow, soft and cuddly, and somewhere I'd want to sleep if I was a baby (yep, just keep telling yourself that!).

Worst thing is, I know I’m not alone here, and the ‘she’ I refer to is any number of probing strangers who have commented on a woman’s size during her pregnancy (it might even be our own wonderful mother’s in law!) It shocked me to realise, when I first fell pregnant that I’m now public property. People think it’s ok to rub my stomach (I’m not a bloody Buddha for pete’s sake!), talk about me like I’m not there (“she’s dropped, hasn’t she!”), make assumptions about me (“she’s all out front, that’s a girl…”) and, comment on my size/weight/physicality (“geez, you’re big!”). Boundaries ‘they’ would never have crossed if I wasn’t obviously pregnant.

So, what is it about being pregnant that blurs those otherwise transparent social margins? And what happened to the old rule; ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’? Perhaps, all this time, I’ve only known the shortened version. Maybe it’s really ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, unless you’re directing your insult at a pregnant woman – they don’t mind!’ We know that most humans have a need to feel connected, part of a community. We also know that the limited skill sets of individuals we meet on the street should be nurtured, not condemned and that their seemingly innocent jabs of opinion are just their way of sharing their excitement, and feeling a part of it. But, in our own minds, there are lines that can be crossed and emotions that can be summoned from the deepest recesses of our psyche, and when we’re already struggling against nature’s gestational cocktail of crazy chemicals, we can burst into tears over the smallest, unassuming things.

Of course I don’t loathe every minute of it, some of the attention is quite well placed and genuine and really makes me realise I’m doing something special. But, then there’s the occasional intrusion that leaves me angry, upset and full of self doubt. Gasp. Sob. I’m not that big, am I?

My lesson for the day, one I’ve learnt and implore you to share with me; next time you cross a pregnant woman on the street, comment on your excitement for her and her journey to motherhood, tell her she’s gorgeous, tell her she’s doing a great job (unless perhaps she’s drunk and smoking a joint), just don’t ask her if she’s having bloody twins!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Don't let me go over!

Induced. It’s just a word. It’s not hard to pronounce or even difficult to understand, we all know what it means, and can even insert into sentences with varying contexts in varied conversation. But, no other word can ‘induce’ the same horrors in the minds of mothers-to-be as that one little word. In. Duc. Ed. Shudder.

A friend of mine is, like me, pregnant with her first baby. She was due a week and half ago. She’s irritable, uncomfortable, aching, over it, and most of all, just desperate to meet her little one (and probably get her body back, though she’s not admitting to that). Her last check-up suggested that if she hasn’t ‘gone’ by the end of the week she’ll be induced [insert sharp intake of breath here].

For me, induction conjures images of days of frustration at home, heaving around a massive belly, with swollen face, hands and feet to match. I imagine being short-breathed, huffing and struggling to get up off the couch, wrestling with my own legs to get a pair of socks on, pointing my fat accusing finger at the next person who suggests a bath, a walk, a curry, a dose of castor oil, or God forbid, a romp… I’ll acquire glances of a pained mix of sympathy and dread from unknowing strangers, scare the poor dog with my thumping waddle on the back patio, and need help getting off the toilet seat. Then I’ll arrive at the hospital, where, in my mind, a miniature doctor whom I’ve never met cowers beneath my enormous frame, and politely attempts to insert a probe resembling a crochet hook into my vagina ‘to get things started.’ I visualise an almighty gush as my waters emerge, knocking mini Doc off his feet at the end of the bed, and immediately being overcome with a contraction so intense I could operate a small power station. At this point, I grip my poor husband by the collar and scream like a wild banshee; “get me drugs!” From there, I endure 37 hours of agonising labour before my 11lb baby tears it’s way out, leaving me with 43 stiches, haemorrhoids and a hoarse voice. Oh, but it was all worth it, of course…

Hmm, drama queen much?

Ok, so obviously not all labour inductions are like that, maybe none are like that, but, and some of you mothers reading this can probably take some accountability here; I didn’t simply imagine that story. Somewhere, at some point, more than one lady has relived an experience, centred around how hideous her labour and birth was. Why was it hideous? Not because, as you might suspect, she squeezed a 7lb baby out of a small hole, no, it was because she was induced. Because for her, it all happened too fast, or not fast enough, or she wasn’t prepared, or it felt out of control, or, or, or…

What is it about our psyche that commits us to sharing these stories? Is it a subconscious need to feel connected? To attempt educate, or warn? Maybe we want to know that there are others worse than us, and are desperate for our story to ‘topped.’ No doubt for some of us it comes from a deep seeded martyrdom fixation, and we’re probably not even aware that we’re committing that most dreadful of sins – instilling fear in others. The lesson I urge here is; when recounting your story, invoke the waiver; “but of course, it’s different for everyone.” Needless to say, this won’t end the panic that can surround this most wonderful and frightening phenomenon, but it just might help us first timers put it into some greater perspective.

Having said that, I can still employ my rational mind (sometimes) and have no reason to believe it will be outrageously awful. I am visualising a serene, natural, relaxed labour and birth experience. I’m prepared that it might not go as hoped, and realise I may need to re-assess my birth plan at some stage. Just please, please, don’t let me go over…!