Thursday, June 30, 2011

Planning for Peanut: The Build-up to Birth, and "Buffy"

Sometimes it feels like everyone is fucking with the pregnant lady. The medical interventionists say that home birth is an insane risk. The home birth contingent insists that hospitals are traumatizing environments that can ruin your kid's introduction to the world. I've grown weary of all the books and websites, with their long lists of "don't, don't, don't" but then feel guilty that I don't spend more time reading about pregnancy. Various non-professional men have offered me unsolicited birthing advice, such as, "You should start practicing your kegel exercises while driving." Ugh, and the body assessments! Those have ranged from, "Hmm. You don't look that pregnant. The baby must be unusually small," to a certain acquaintance's typically tactless observation, "Well, now it looks like the baby's almost ready to come out." For real, dude? Wait til' you get a load of me in three and a half months... when the baby is actually about to come out.

This sometimes deafening chorus of "No, wrong way!" can be rather disheartening. I trust myself to do what's best for the baby and me, and I know I have good instincts. But I've experienced a recent increase in those Shit!-I-didn't-study-for-the-exam nightmares, and some days I just don't feel like talking to anyone. It's on those days, when I'm feeling down and defenseless, that I tend to think about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Specifically, I'm referring to the late 90s/ early 00s TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. It's certainly one of my favorite shows ever. Though I haven't re-watched it much since a DVD rental binge in 2005, I still consider Buffy to be one of the best heroines of all time. I now find her model especially inspiring, for two reasons ~

Buffy is never wrong Which isn't to say that she's perfect. She struggles with typical teen and college-age issues - school, dating, bouts of insecurity. More so, she faces the atypical struggles that come with being The Slayer, a young woman chosen to protect the world from demons and vampires. Endowed with a superhuman strength and healing ability, and assisted by her devoted friends (known as "The Scoobie Gang") as well as her trainer Giles, she usually comes out on top of any battle. But the singularity of her burden can be overwhelming, making her morbid and standoffish at times. It doesn't help that the love of her life, Angel, was a repentant vampire who turned evil after they slept together.

So Buffy's life is full of angst and she doesn't always react well to that. Who would? But even though her life can be super depressoid, it doesn't change the fact that her instincts and moral judgement are generally spot-on. This is perfectly exemplified in one of my favorite episodes, "Living Conditions". At the start of Season 4, Buffy and her pals begin their first year of college. Buffy's dorm roommate is Kathy, a chipper, annoying weirdo who listens to Cher's "Believe" nonstop, barrows Buffy's clothes without asking, openly clips her toenails, etc. As Buffy's anger and frustration mount, she insists that her roomie is dangerous and must be stopped. "Kathy is evil. I'm an evil fighter. It's simple. I'm gonna have to kill her." Fearing that their buddy has gone bananas, Giles and the rest of the Scoobie Gang trap Buffy so that she can't harm her innocent roommate, until it's revealed - SPOILER ALERT - Kathy is actually a demon. Even though this episode didn't fit into the larger Season 4 story arc, I see it as a major turning point in Buffy's character development. It's at that point I realized that when Buffy is actively trying to do what's right, she's never wrong. In fact, when other people try to dissuade her from doing what she thinks best, they are the misguided ones.

Given my aggravation with too much advice from too many questionable quarters, it's obvious why Buffy's correctness should comfort me. But may I just add that I can't think of another heroine who is portrayed this way. Consider two of my other favorites - Liz Lemon from "30 Rock" and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Both are hyper-intelligent women who make a joke out of everything. Lemon can be sloppy, arrogant and dour. Bennett can be a terrible judge of character. I like their flaws because they remind me of myself. But isn't it nice to have a lady protagonist who is both righteous and rightly confident, one who really ought to believe in her choices? Dudes have Superman. We ladies have Buffy.

Buffy is physically strong Okay, that's an understatement. She has innate superpowers, but she also works at it, training daily with Giles to make herself a better Slayer. While child-birthing may not be a superhuman ability (though it sure as hell seems like one!), it is innate; your body wants to push that little person out. You may want some drugs or need some instruments to help it along, or you may need a C-section, but I've decided I want to try to do it naturally. And I have to believe that nourishing my strength through exercise will help me give birth with greater ease.

That seems like common sense, right? I guess I won't know until I get there. At the very least, my fitness routine has helped me maintain my energy through these first five months. There's really no replacement for it. Unfortunately, pregnant women aren't much encouraged to work out. Most sources I've read recommend activities like "a brisk walk." That's great advice for someone who rarely or never exercises. But if you're used to running 5Ks every few days and you're in the low-risk category (which most women are), there's no reason you should stop running during pregnancy so long as it continues to feel good. I follow my doctors advice - "Stop if it hurts." Even when I'm avoiding pain, I can still break a sweat.

Alas, advocating prenatal exercise falls under the "do" category. And perhaps because a misdirected "do" can get you sued, there's a lot more "don't" advice. Don't run. Don't drink coffee. Don't eat soft cheeses. None of these apply to every woman or every situation, but it's easier to assume that we're all physically inactive, caffeine chugging, raw milk guzzling morons who don't understand the concept of moderation (or pasteurization). We're just expected to distrust ourselves and follow lowest-common-denominator "wisdom" instead. This is the definition of infantilization.

Oh, it gets me riled up! That's just another reason why I have to work out. I can't afford to let this shit distress me. And ever since I identified Buffy as my pregnant woman's role model, I've been relishing my workouts with greater zest. When I think of her doing a back flip before slaughtering a demon, I find myself standing a bit taller on the elliptical machine or smiling as I carefully execute a proper squat. I now like to think of myself as Tara the Baby Birther, and my gut feeling is that I'm going to do just fine on the exam after all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Planning for Peanut: Frequently Asked Questions

Is it true that you're expecting? Congratulations!Yup, it's true. Thanks : )

Is it a boy or a girl?
It's a girl! Here name is Bernadette. She's due mid-October.

Why did you pick that name? Is there someone in your family with that name?
The Four Tops song was the inspiration. It is beautiful and intense, as she will certainly be.

I will warn her, however, that if any suitor should express their love in such insanely jealous terms, she ought to run the other direction.

I don't think Dan was completely on-board with this name until he discovered it means "strong, brave bear." That seemed to seal the deal.

Oh, and it turns out that my great-grandfather's sister was Bernadette Rousseau! What a coincidence. Coming from the French explorer/Detroit pioneer side of the family, it's a fun one.

How are you feeling?
Still feeling pretty good. I'm definitely transitioning into that third trimester state of periodic anxiety. I had a couple sleepless nights this week that messed me up for a few days. When I was watching a recent Mavericks/Heat game, I recalled a sad scene I witnessed at The Palace of Auburn Hills three and a half years ago and that made me cry. I guess these experiences will become more common in the next four months. I'm trying fall back on that coping mantra I learned from menstruation - "These bummer feelings arise from physical changes, not actual problems."

Are you still training at the gym?Why, yes I am - thanks for asking!

Okay, no one asks me this. But, I'm going to pretend because I'm proud I've kept up with my routine and I think it's done me a lot of good. A brisk workout is the best way to turn around an anxious mood. Since my current trainer doesn't spoil me with homework the way my old trainer did (shout out to T!), I've had to be more proactive in designing my program. At the end of the week, I don't tend to workout as often or as rigorously as I used to and that's okay. I'm still keeping up a good pace and challenging myself in little ways. Right now it's more about maintaining the less pregnant parts of my body and letting my belly do it's thing. Also, my generally liberal OB cautioned me against crunches, to which my response was, "You're giving me a medical reason to not do sit-ups? Yes, sir!"

I read "Exercising Through Your Pregnancy" by James F. Clapp, a very upbeat and carefully worded report on the author's study of physically active expectant mothers. His evidence suggests that working out throughout pregnancy can benefit the mother during labor and after pregnancy, and even bolster the health of the child on a long-term basis. Also, he found that a relatively high percentage of active women experience safe, early births (less than three weeks before the due date) - BOOYAH! That would be great, but of course baby can take all the time she needs (I say now). I already feel the benefits of exercise. It's energizing.

Have you had any of those weird, wacky cravings?
The unusual cravings are starting to kick in. I asked Dan to get me ice cream sandwiches the other night and all I want right now is a cinnamon roll. Those yearnings aren't that wacky, though I don't tend to have this much of a sweet tooth. For the past two months, the chief "want" has been red meat. Can't get enough of it. And it doesn't even upset my stomach like it used to. I was sampling sirloin at work last week, and when I tasted a juicy rare bit from the center I felt a warm fuzziness light up my whole body. It was like drugs!! I'm having fun with it.

But so far, no pickle and peanut butter sandwiches, or whatever. I'm kinda glad. That stereotype reminds me of a Cathy cartoon.

Are you going to have a baby shower?
Yes. We will definitely have one here in Chattanooga. Note the "we" - there shall be no gender sequestering. Nor will there be any silly games. I'm thinking Sunday brunch at our local karaoke bar. Dan and guests will be encouraged to imbibe.

I may want to do something extremely low-key when we visit Michigan in mid-July. In any case, we'll be registering online. This is weird for me because I don't like shopping and hate asking people to spend money on me (this is why I didn't do a wedding registry), but it isn't really about me. I will gladly cash in for my kid.

Will you buy sweatshop-produced clothing for your kid?
I should explain why this is a frequently asked question. At the start of 2010, I resolved to buy only sweatshop-free clothing or used clothing, and then blogged about my progress quarterly. I kinda regret writing about it, because documenting your principals can make people uncomfortable and act weird with you, and I'm pretty weak when it comes to dealing with that stuff. Nevertheless, these principals have made a big impact on how I shop for everything and I see that as a positive change.

I've always tried to acknowledge that this effort can be expensive and time-consuming, and that it's way more difficult for families and poor people. So, the short answer to the question is, yeah, probably some of it. I've already made exceptions for maternity clothes. I'll try to avoid buying sweatshop-produced goods for my kid, but more so, I'll opt for second-hand. I'm a huge fan of reusing. It's the most economically and ecologically sound option.

I think the best thing about shopping with a sweatshop-free mindset is that I just have less shit. I don't want to deprive my kid of any need, including fun and enjoyment. But, my mom taught me to appreciate minimalism and I'd like to pass that value down to her, as well. Or maybe she'll be a mall rat. That's fine, too.

Will you take a Lamaze class?/ Are you going to have a natural birth?
Yeah, I'm going for natural-as-possible. I'm looking into the Bradley method. The Lamaze breathing pattern seems weird to me.

Are you reading "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth?"
Yes, yes, but slowly. I like the birth stories - it's good to know what I can expect and to be reassured that I can handle it - but it's a lot to wade through. And then there are those wild hippie chicks. My favorite is the lady who said that when she started having contractions, she envisioned her yoni as "a big, open cave beneath the surface of the ocean, with huge, surging currents sweeping in and out." She continues -
I surrendered over and over to the great oceanic, engulfing waves. It was really delightful - very orgasmic and invigorating. Michael, my husband, was lying with me, and we experienced the wonderful rushing together for some time.

Finally, when it came time to call the midwives, the phone didn't work, so Michael delivered Jon himself. It all went very smoothly, and Michael and I were very clear, focused, and very high.

Whoa, lady! Is that some trippy shit, or what? I admit, I'm jealous. I will never be "far out" enough to have such a great time giving birth.

We thought about working with a midwife, but that just isn't where I want to put my money right now. I really like my OB. He's very relaxed and he works with midwives, which was one of the reasons I chose him. He knows that I want to go natural, but like me, he's into having a backup plan.

Will you nurse?
Yes. It's great for the baby and it's thrifty as hell.

Hmm, five months pregnant? ((stares at my body)) How much weight have you gained?
Let me answer your question with another question - where on Earth have your manners gone?!

Did I tell you about that horrible, scary thing that happened when my otherwise healthy kid was born?
No. Please don't. Why are you trying to freak me out?

Isn't it great to be getting all this attention?
Er, not really. Don't get me wrong, I love when family and friends check up on me and that everyone is so excited. But I've always hated situations in which lots of people are staring at me and/or I'm being interrogated; such experiences increase exponentially when you're getting married or having a baby. But I'm pretty good at protecting myself from that kind of thing. I stay at home a lot. And I'm lucky to live in a town where my condition is a cliche. Seriously, I see, like, ten pregnant women every day at work. Oh, and my boss is pregnant, too.

I've heard that the transition from center-of-attention pregnant lady to socially-isolated new mom can be really rough. Maybe it will help that I'm already such a homebody. We'll see. I never know exactly what's coming, but I trust that it will all be okay.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Find a city, find myself a city to live in"

- from "Cities" by Talking Heads

Ten years ago, I spent the summer working the opening shift at a faux-French cafe in Ann Arbor, MI. Waking up for the 5am start-time wasn't easy (and having no one to account for my presence, I often overslept), but once I got there I loved those first couple hours of alone time. First I would prep the frozen Vie de France pastries while listening to Talking Heads' "Fear of Music". Then I would get the kitchen and coffee bar set up, move the pastries from the proofer to the oven and unstack the patio furniture. If I made good time, I'd reward myself with a cappuccino and a cigarette as I watched delivery trucks pay their visits to all the Main Street restaurants in the brisk light of dawn. And as I enjoyed those last moments of solitude, I'd ponder the lyrics of my favorite song from my current favorite album. Sure, this gig and this town were okay, but I longed for a real city, with more than just a Main Street and breakfast pastries made from scratch. But where would I go and, more importantly, why?

It took several years, but getting together with Dan helped answer those question. His career landed us in Chattanooga, TN and we look forward to going other places from here. Our mutual wanderlust has introduced so many possibilities. I'm apt to say that each new place is my favorite of all; Austin, Nashville and the Pacific Northwest have all held those honors. New York is magical, of course, but unless I run into a big pile of money I'm way past the point where I'd try to hack it there. And if money were no object, I'd sooner choose San Francisco for its better climate, stunning architecture and proximity to fresh produce.

But truly, none of those places made as much an impression on me as New Orleans, which I first visited a couple weeks ago. In just 42 hours, I fell in love. As David Byrne sang, "There's good points and bad points," but it all adds up to the most beautiful and civilized city I've ever encountered. Here were the highlights ~

A Serendipitous Meeting with a Faraway Friend Our buddy A happened to be ending a conference week the night we arrived. We picked him up from his Canal St. hotel and headed for the gayborhood bar next to our B&B in the Marigny. Though I've hung out with him only a few times (he and his beautiful wife L live in Chicago), A is definitely one of my favorite grad-school-friends-of-Dan. It helps that he loves talking about pop culture.

One of the first things he said was, "Have you guys been watching Treme?" Ah, yes! Dan and I are obsessed with this program (we don't have HBO, but we're catching up on the first season via Netflix). Anyone who loved The Wire will surely appreciate writer/producer David Simon's tribute to post-Katrina New Orleans and particularly its music scene. "You know Kermit?" Kermit Ruffins is a local jazz trumpeter who is prominently featured on the show. "I met him! He performed at one of our conference dinners." Oh, and Irma Thomas was there, too. Dan and I were practically drooling with envy. "You know that Black Eyed Peas song that goes, 'I got a feelin', that tonight's gonna be a good night'-"

"Oh, yeah!" I said. "I hate that song."

"Well, after playing a lot of jazz standards that was the last song he did, and it was ridiculous and awesome." I could appreciate that, but the story wasn't over. "I saw him in the parking lot afterward. He was wandering around with this gorgeous woman, carrying a beer in his hand. He looked like he was pretty high. He was about to get into an SUV and I knew I had to say something, so I went up to him and said, 'Wow, that was a great show. It was really an honor to see you perform.' All he did was smile, point at me, and say, 'I got a feelin', that tonight's gonna be a good night, that tonight's gonna be a good, good night...'." The three of us cracked up, Dan and I continued to laugh over that for days.

A Walk Without a Destination I hardly slept that night. I felt like a five-year old on Christmas Eve. Finally at 7am, I accepted that there would be no more rest and I'd just have to nap in the afternoon (never happened). Being so excited but tired, feeling so suddenly pregnant (I swear little peanut's "apartment" doubled overnight), the sultry, early summer air seemed like it could overwhelm me. So I took a deep breath, drank some coffee and plenty of water, armed myself in sunblock and determined that I would just let the city wash over me. From that point on, I seemed to be wandering through a dream.

We leashed up Dulce and headed toward the French Quarter by way of Washington Square Park. As the innkeeper told us, "You'll see a sign at the park gate that says No Bikes, No Alcohol, No Dogs, and then you'll see all three there." I could already tell that the people of this city have an excellent attitude. And he was right. Despite the mild lawlessness, the park was lively and green, and Dulce got to meet a few new friends.

We meandered along Decatur toward St. Louis Cathedral. Once I'd satisfied my minor craving for touristy sight-seeing (yup, there sits an actual American cathedral; no need for a tour), I was content to just absorb the bright pastel cityscape surrounding me. The architectural style - largely influenced by late 18th and early 19th century Spanish rulers - is unlike anything I've seen in this country or abroad. This shot taken later that night shows a common ironwork gallery

I love the ways that some buildings and porches abut the sidewalks, forcing interactions between residents and pedestrians, while other establishments are shielded by mysterious, brick-walled courtyards. I could spend a whole day peeking through the cracks between walls and under gates, catching glimpses like this

We wandered north toward Louis Armstrong park, then through the lower end of Treme and back toward our inn in the Marigny, just east of the Quarter. That's about the time we encountered a Banksy mural. What a fun surprise, not to mention that the work itself was quite lovely

Days later, I encountered this Goete quote - "I call architecture frozen music." It's the perfect expression of how I feel about beautiful buildings. To live and walk about a city that has long dedicated itself to prettiness seems to me a dream come true. Oh, and the oak trees! Don't get me wrong, there's dirtiness, too, and the roads are terrible, but that's all part of the package*. That town just aches with romance.

Cochon Butcher Our research pointed to Cochon as one of the best restaurants, but A clued us into Cochon Butcher, the more economical deli next door. After Dan wisely steered my away from the roast beef (they specialize in pig) I settled on the pork belly sandwich, which reminded me of the rich, succulent pork roasts my mom would make on special occasions. The best part was where the juicy meat met the braised surface. That's exactly what was in my sammy - thin slabs of tender yet slightly crispy meat, layered with mint, cucumber and chili lime mayo. It was one of the best things I'd ever eaten.

I enjoyed another one of the best things I'd ever eaten twenty minutes later when we split their bacon praline. I'd never had a praline before and I think the best way to describe this Louisiana version is "pecan fudge". The big chunks of smoky bacon within were salty prizes at the end of every creamy, sweet bite. I chewed those bits of pork like bubble gum, and the flavor lasted just as long. $2.50!!! I'm kicking myself for not buying thirty more. It makes that $7.50 Vosges bar seem like silly kid stuff.

The Best Pregnant Cocktail EverHaving discovered weeks ago that the Virgin Bloody Mary is the best non-alcoholic cocktail for a pregnant lady (it doesn't taste any different than the vodka version, and I love me some brine), I was quite pleased with the ones they were serving at the bear bar where we had taken A. The innkeeper informed us of their dog-friendly policy, so we took Dulce in the afternoon and I ordered a couple more. It was the perfect blend of spicy and salty, garnished with olives, dilly beans and pickled okra! It was practically a meal in a glass.

We sat at the bar near the open corner door and watched a gentle rain fall upon Elysian Fields. The owner approached us and introduced himself, shaking Dan's hand and giving me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Then he showered the dog with affection as she wagged her tail and shed white, feathery fur all over his floor. He hushed our apologies. "With the things that happen in this place, trust me, dog hair is nothing!" He chatted us up for a while and then a periodic parade of kindly, middle-aged gay men came over to pet Dulce. We just don't get this kind of society in Chattanooga.

Pennies from Heaven
Feeling so sleepy, I wasn't inclined to see a live show at a smoky bar, though fortunately Dan convinced me anyway. After dinner we set out for the Bywater District to see Kermit play his regular Thursday night gig at Vaughn's. By then it was pouring outside, but there was a sense of celebration amongst the crowd as it was the first rain in nearly two months. Waiting for the show to begin, we hung around inside for a while (got to see the table where Elvis Costello sat in that scene from the first episode of Treme - my favorite moment is when Steve Zahn's character, Davis, tries to make Kermit understand why this is a big deal and the only response he gets is, "Elvis?!"). Then we retired to the veranda to watch the rain and the gathering crowd. Kermit came out for a moment, stood in front of Dan and sparked a big joint, which he then passed to the guy collecting cover at the door. A couple nerdy dudes approached him, trying to strike up some casual conversation, but they were clearly as awestruck as we were. I don't think we were the only Treme fans in the house.

The show was a blast. In honor of the rain, he began with "Pennies from Heaven" and continued with a long set of other fun standards, alternately singing and playing trumpet. I got to dance to "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Skokiaan", and I think the heat I was emitting from my pregnant body had a way of moving people out of my way, because I was able to get pretty close to the stage. You see, there is some advantage to seeing a live show when you are with child.

Nevertheless, I was pretty wiped out after an hour, so we listened to the show from seats on the veranda and watched drunk people act silly. One more obligatory tourist trip to Cafe Du Monde and we returned to our room for a real night of sleep before our long drive to Dallas


I kept saying to Dan that I was glad we had more adventure awaiting us after New Orleans or I would have found the return to Chattanooga quite depressing. I'm glad to say that being back hasn't been depressing at all. I'd missed our cat, my workout, my routine. This is where my home is now, and home makes me feel complete. I also have a stronger desire to make the most of what I have here - for instance, instead of bitching about the lack of great restaurants in this region, I'm going to take advantage of the excellent local ingredients available to me and become a better cook. I still don't want to stay here forever, but now that I've met the city that suits me best, I don't feel so desperate to figure out where we're going. Whatever happens, it feels good to finally know what I want.

*Coming from Detroit, I don't feel comfortable in cities that aren't somewhat dirty, or where living well means spending a lot of money. For instance, I never feel like I'm dressed nice enough when I'm in New York. SF is kinda that way, too. And then there are places like Austin or Portland where it's cool to be a freak, but I suspect that really means "dress like a hipster". Being in New Orleans, I truly felt that you could be whoever you are- whether you're young or old, skinny or fat, chic or dorky - and as long as you don't act like a jerk, it's cool.