TMI

When I saw an article last summer about a woman who took to social media to expose and essentially pressure a school to stop asking questions perceived as too personal on a kindergarten application, I didn’t read it.  I thought it would pertain to one school, or just a handful of schools that maybe don’t have it together, and one parent making a mountainous outrage out of a question she could just as easily have ignored.

Then I took my kids to the dentist, and I was asked during the intake process if there were any complications with the pregnancies.  Not exactly the place I’d expect to ever get that question.

I’m not opposed to answering questions like this when it comes to my children – not in a protected privacy setting like the doctor’s office.  After all, there’s lot of research that what happens in the womb and even during birth can have lasting lifetime effects on children – from chance of obesity to reaching developmental milestones – which is presumably why there’s a question on the kindergarten registration.  But teeth?  Really?  And, who cares?  Teeth can be fixed, right?

So when I’m asked the question, I quickly dust off my elevator speech.  “Intrauterine growth restriction.”  The nurse, who was sweet, kind, and only asking questions as they popped up on her computer screen, continued, “Do you know what caused it?”  “I have a unicornuate uterus.”  I could tell by her pause that she hadn’t heard it before.  “I basically have half a uterus,” I finished.  She smiled and thanked me for the explanation.  No more questions.

Now, I still kind of doubt that a dentist would really need to know about that but maybe there’s a reason for it.  And why wouldn’t a school want to know if a child is coming in at a disadvantage compared to other kids, particularly if that child might need additional services?  And wouldn’t you as a parent want to advocate for your child?

I think if I were to put this into perspective, imagine for a moment that it’s 1985 and the question on the form was instead, “Did you smoke while pregnant?”  A loaded question, for sure, but at the time lots of people still smoked around kids and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.  Three decades and lots of research later we know better to the point that legislations abound protecting kids from second hand smoke and a horde of other ills; but would you have blamed phys ed teachers in the 80s for wanting to know if a kid might have asthma?

So I went back to read the New York Times article after my experience at the dentist.  If suddenly people are probing into your kids’ health history as far back as birth then maybe there’s more I need to consider.  And it seems that the author of the article saw the question as an egregious invasion of privacy and didn’t like that the registration form wasn’t kept locked up under lock and key.  Okay, maybe that’s a valid point.  But is that really more egregious than search engines using information they know about you to sell customized ads and make money?  More egregious than apps on your phone wanting access to your identity, pictures, text messages, and location?  How do you think Google knows when stores are busy, or Instagram knows when one of your friends creates an account, or your phone gives you coupons for the supermarket you just pulled up to?  Is anybody wondering how secure any of that information linked to you is, where that is stored?  And I think my pictures, my messages, my email, my location are more valuable to me to protect than knowing if my kid was born through a C-section or not.  Especially if said information can actually help my child.

Here’s the original article about the kindergarten questionnaire.  And yes, my school district’s questionnaire asks the same question.

Bump-bump-bump…

This one is for the ladies with body issues; pregnancy wreaks havoc on your ability to accept your body both during and after baby.

I don’t have a pretty bump.  I didn’t the first time and I don’t the second.  Sure, it’s round and somewhat little – at 26 weeks people are just noticing that I’m pregnant at work – but man is it ugly in the wrong clothes.  And what makes it ugly?  To me, it’s that my belly button didn’t turn into an outie the first time and doesn’t look to be any closer to doing that the second time around.  The result: an unsightly jiggly flat and hollow spot at the belly button underneath stretchier shirts that makes you look more fat than pregnant.

I don’t know why I happen to have this particular shape bump and so many others don’t.  But it makes me look at other pregnant women with envy at the their perfectly shaped bumps, that kind without any flat spots.  I don’t know if it has anything to do with your fitness level, the amount of jelly already on your belly, how stretchy your skin is, the kind of cocoa butter or oil you use on your belly, or even genetics.  I don’t know if it’s because people have bigger than average babies versus those of us struggling to put on literal baby weight.  At the end of the second trimester (when the belly button is supposed to have popped) it’s not like I can do anything about it anyway.  I guess I’d just like for there to be an honest discussion about different bump shapes… like how shorter women’s bumps tend to go out further because of a short torso, versus taller women with more room to stretch.  Or how one bump can be low and the other can be high and it means absolutely nothing at all.  Or how it’s okay that your bump isn’t a perfect half-circle.

Nevermind the fact that your bump tends to be a little bit bigger earlier with subsequent pregnancies.  So here I am feeling like a beached whale with three more months to go, bumping into things, hitting my bump with the car door, and starting to get uncomfortable bending over to paint my toenails and put on shoes.  I don’t seem to remember this happening so early, but maybe the mind is forgetful.  Someone I know told me the “pregnancy brain” forgetting effect is there to help you forget how uncomfortable you are during pregnancy so that, to ensure survival of the species, you’ll willingly do it again.  I’m beginning to think he was right.  He’s got a flat gut that sticks out, too.

The secret lives of moms: Mall shopping

Now that my son is a little bit older, he’s slightly more portable.  Though he still eats every three hours, if I time things just right I can make it to the mall and back without too much of a meltdown.  He takes a long early-afternoon nap so any trip to the mall must be done before it or after it.  Snacks help too.

I’ve begun to notice, from the few times I’ve made it to the mall, that there are two different types of weekday mall moms.  There are moms like me, who are out with the kid(s) and no other support.  And there are moms out with their kids and another adult, like grandma or a friend.  Moms like me walk fairly quickly throughout the mall: we know we are on a time-limit and we were lucky to get out of the house looking somewhat put together.  Moms with support are more relaxed, walk slower, and give me pitiful looks.  “Look at that poor, lonely mom.  Man, it’s a production getting to the mall on your own with a kid!”  I feel it every time.

But apparently there is an unspoken bond among moms like me, who have the courage to go it alone in public.  Like motorcyclists who give each other the low left-hand air 5 secret signal when they pass each other on the road, moms like me give a little smile and head nod.  It’s a mutual acknowledgement of the sheer strength – if not madness – it takes to make it to the mall and enjoy yourself.  Because let’s face it – the mall is for mommy, is it not?  It’s a relic of the carefree spending days, of the days spent looking for the perfect dress.  Those days may still exist – they just have a little different shadow to them.  A mom pooch, a mom bag, a mom budget – whatever the case is, the mall holds for it the promise that you are still yourself, maybe even better for the chatterbox trying to pull things off the shelves from the stroller seat.

Maybe I’m projecting towards the moms-with-friends with a little bit of jealousy.  It’s always nice to have extra hands on deck, and I wish I had that whenever I wanted it.  I wish I could either fit into my skinny jeans again or at least not feel guilty enough to splurge on a new pair.  I wish I could look cute at the mall again, not just presentable.  But moms-with-friends don’t give you a smile.  They don’t give you the head nod.  They just size your kid up (as you size theirs up), then size you up, and keep walking.  And all I can do is vow to be a little bit more forgiving if I’m ever lucky enough to be in their shoes.

The infertilite marriage and divorce

When I got married, one of my vows was “to accept children lovingly” into my life.  I saw that on paper and cringed.  I was 26 and I didn’t want kids.  I thought kids trapped you, wrecked your body, sucked your bank account, turned your life into one full of mom-jeans and sensible flats, tripping over Tonka trucks and Legos and other endlessly messy toys strewn about.  When I repeated that vow on my wedding day six years ago, a voice inside me screamed, “Eeek!  No, I don’t!  No, I don’t!

A year later my niece arrived and she only reinforced my beliefs about children.  She was exhausting to babysit.  She never stopped crying.  She didn’t sleep anywhere but in your bed.  She played with loud toys that she left everywhere.  I didn’t see the joy in parenting.  That and I felt completely incompetent as a woman around her, unable to read her cues or understand her needs.  I never really babysat anyone before – a hazard of being among the youngest in the extended family – so I didn’t even really know how to change a diaper.

Meanwhile, my husband started saying weird things, like, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have four squirts?”  He was loving my niece and I was jealous he was so good with her (he being the oldest had a lot of experience raising kids).  But mostly we had these conversations playfully, to the point where we’d start categorizing activities as “things we couldn’t do with squirts.”  And every year we were married, he came down on his number of squirts.  And every year, I started moving more in his direction, particularly as both of our careers stabilized (though nothing is really stable in this economy).  Kids didn’t seem like a sentence anymore.  And I reached a point in my life when I found myself asking, “There’s got to be something more.”  I sensed a gap in my life that I knew would not be filled by experiences or things.  And that’s when we started trying to conceive.

That was three years ago, three years into our marriage and seven years into our relationship.  My husband and I are now wrapping our minds around the fact we’ve been together for ten years… but we’re also watching friends’ and families’ marriages fall apart.  And falling apart in part because of the baby question.

The average U.S. first marriage lasts 8 years, and the second lasts 10 years.  So our friends who married in their early to mid-20s are starting to divorce.  In two of the most recent cases I know about, babies and infertility are chief among the sticking points.  In one couple, the wife’s sisters and mother have all been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and have experienced heart-wrenching and life-threatening complications in the last two years.  No doubt the fear of having your opportunity to have children kicks your biological clock into high gear…  but her husband didn’t reciprocate the feeling.  Another couple discovered some minor complications while trying to conceive, and as a result the husband wants to talk about their options for growing their family and the wife doesn’t want to deal with it.  Both couples are now separated, and guess what?  They were both married for eight years.

When I tell people this story they ask, “Wouldn’t they have talked about kids before getting married?”  Sure, that’s what you’re supposed to do.  You’re supposed to talk about your finances and spending habits, your expectations for living together, your hesitations about each others’ families, your values, your ideas about having a family (or not).  But even if you did that, sometimes circumstances change your mind.  You lose your job, you travel abroad, your family moves away, you develop an allergy to cats, you find out you’re an infertilite.  And sometimes a couple can recover from that fundamental change and sometimes they can’t.

Being an infertilite alone is hard work enough.  When you are with a partner, it will challenge the foundation of your relationship.  You will have many long tearful conversations.  You will both feel pulled in so many different directions, and sometimes those directions are polar opposites.  You both deal with the stigma and with the difficult conversations with the outside world.  Focus on the love you share for each other to help you dig in.  Be honest.  Listen unconditionally.  Withhold your judgment.  Get a professional to help you communicate if that’s what you need.  We’ve all been there.  You are not alone.

How Modern Family isn’t modern

I loved Modern Family during the first season.  It was hysterical.  TV critics said it had single-handedly saved the network sitcom, edged out by reality shows and cable television productions.  I watched it, I loved it, I rented the DVD and watched the season again.  As time has gone on I have watched it less, mostly because I don’t have time to make sure that I watch it, but also because it wasn’t as fresh after a while.  And now it is in competition with inspired shows like The New Normal, all of which have (hopefully) begun to change American’s understanding and acceptance of families that look very different from the homes of yesteryear.  Whatever that is.

But for all its breakthrough power, particularly with adoption and same-sex couples, there is a side to Modern Family that makes it seem stuck in the same pattern as the homes of yesteryear.  When I really thought about it, I don’t know why I had been so blind to it before.  Maybe because the stereotype is so commonly used in storylines that I didn’t think to question it.  I didn’t think it was so weird to see on tv.  In fact, I began to question myself and my own choices…. am I the weird one?

So what is it that pervades the lives in the Modern Family?  Divorce?  Same-sex couples?  Three generations happily living within the same school district?  Remarried older man and trophy wife?

Nope, nope, no, and nope.  It’s that each couple has a stay at home parent.  Both Claire and Gloria stay home, even though all the kids up to this point were school age (of course now Gloria has an infant).  And Cam, one half of the gay couple – and the one without a permanent career – stays home.  How is this modern?  Especially when the nation has gone through a recession that puts even more strain on families, even dual-income ones.

Maybe because I work – which means I work with parents who balance family and career daily – I don’t see this side of American life.  I didn’t go through college to start and then give up a career.  And over 60% of college students are women, and have been for the last decade or so.  So are they all dropping out of the workforce once they hit mommyhood?

Don’t get me wrong.  Given the choice, I’d much rather stay home with my little one.  But I do like working, and being useful, and using my brain.  If I were Claire Dunphy I would have hopped back in the workforce saddle the minute Luke went to pre-k.  I know people who have become stay-at-home moms and dads, but mostly because their wages were so low it wouldn’t have made sense for them to go back to work and pay for childcare.  And, most of those stay-at-home parents (both moms and dads that I know) each have some other job on the side, whether it be selling jewelry, an Etsy shop, or DJ business.  Other than Cam’s stints as a clown or drama substitute, I don’t see Gloria or Claire bringing in any kind of extra income for their broods.  So is it modern or realistic that that would be the case for any one of those suburban, middle class (one would argue upper middle class) families on that show?  I find it hard to believe, considering the cars they drive and the houses they live in.  Unless they’re up to their eyes and ears in debt.

I don’t mean to be a hater.  I thought the show was pretty quality stuff.  It just doesn’t represent my family or my choices.  It doesn’t show the heartache of going back to work and being separated from your little guy, entrusting him to the hands of strangers day in and day out.  Spending only a few hours a day with him – an hour in the morning, maybe two or three at night if you’re lucky, and you’re even more lucky if he’s awake for some of those hours.  Packing family time, home maintenance and chores, and errands like shopping into two-day weekends is just as exhausting as having to go to work every day.

But I should also be clear that I know I am fortunate to work as a choice, and not as a necessity.  And while I have moments where I’d like to be a stay-at-home mom, and I thoroughly enjoyed my three months home, I recognize my skill set as a mom.  My son is likely to be an only child.  We don’t live in a neighborhood with younger children.  His next oldest cousin is 5 years old.  I see a huge benefit in having him in day care because he is a wickedly social guy, and he gets to play with toys he doesn’t have at home, go on walks and play outside, and learn to be cared for by someone other than Mommy and Daddy.   I never felt I was missing “adult interaction” by being at home and not being at the office, but it is nice to have a place where I can solve problems, make connections, look at the wonderful students I work with and think, “How do I get my son to be just like them?”  My days home with my son are, to be super cheesy and cliche, chicken soup for my soul; my days at work are chicken soup for my brain.  Without both being cared for and nurtured, I wouldn’t feel like a whole person.  I am thankful I live in a modern enough world that I am able to satisfy both.

Saying “yes” to maternity dress

Let me start this post by giving you some context: I stand about 5’2” and although I’m petite, I have long legs for my height and a short torso.  Depending on the store, I wear a size 0 through 4, and finding sizes and clothes that fit has always been a battle for me.  Now, add to that a smaller than usual uterus and an obsession with Jillian Michaels and we have a recipe for hilarity brewing at Destination Maternity.

I was one of those people who really didn’t see the lure of running out and buying maternity clothes right away.  And until the end of my third month, I was still fitting into my normal pants and shirts, though they were getting a little tight.  I purchased two of those “belly bands” at Target and thought that would be enough.  But then as my stomach grew, my shirts started not fitting well and weren’t long enough to hide the fact I using a hair tie to keep the button closed.

Just buy your normal clothes but bigger, was some of the advice I got.  It sounds like a good, logical idea.  Here’s my issue with that philosophy though: your body is going to expand in unpredictable ways.  Issue 1:  I carried extremely low; only until a few weeks ago the entirety of my bump was exclusively below my belly button.  I own normal clothes in much larger sizes – I have work pants in a size 11 from my “big girl” days that are just so comfortable to wear on days when I don’t care.  Size 11, people.  I can’t button them.  And I’ve only gained 10 pounds – less than what I weighed when I bought those pants in the first place.  Had I bought larger “normal” pants when I first got concerned about clothes I would still be in the same place I am now – with nothing “normal” fitting.

Issue 2: Even if you are wearing “normal” shirts, you’ll need them to be much longer and roomier.  First, your stomach’s surface area will continue to increase inch by inch.  If your shirt is too tight around the waist, especially in early to mid pregnancy, people might just think you’re carrying a spare tire, not a baby.  Second, if you’re wearing a “belly band” or otherwise jerry-rigging your pants to stay up, you’ll want to cover the evidence.  (I don’t even zipper my pants anymore).

Issue 3: Even yoga pants can become uncomfortable, and dresses will only get you so far.  Anything that’s too tight around the belly might give you discomfort physically and gastrointestinally.  Elastic waistbands are the way to go.

Borrow your boyfriend’s/husband’s clothes.  Incredibly this advice is from pregnancy magazines.  Really?  I mean, really?  He’s one foot taller than me.  Do you really think that’s going to work out well?  (Our legs are almost the same length, actually…)  Isn’t wearing larger, roomier clothes and sweaters frumpy enough?

With all these issues in mind, I decided to try my luck at the Destination Maternity.  I walked in – about four months pregnant – wearing a summer dress and was greeted with, “Hi, how can we help you?” and a quizzical look.  “Are you looking for something in particular?” meaning, “Why are you here, exactly?”  I explained that I was pregnant, it was my first time shopping for maternity clothes, and I had no idea what to do.  She explained that I should look for clothing in my “normal size” and that all the cheap stuff was in the back.  I started rifling through racks and she started a fitting room for me.  Once I had collected an armful of clothing, she showed me the assortment of bellies to use to see what the clothes would look like.  She handed me the biggest belly they had – the “7 months more” belly.  Even though she knew I was 4 months along.  Seriously?  I took pictures of me in the clothes with the belly for future reference.  Later, another saleswoman said to another first-timer, “As they say, you’re not going to start any new fashion trends while you’re pregnant.”  Damn straight.  Bring on the sweatpants!

I haven’t gone bonanza making maternity clothes purchases.  I did buy two pairs of work pants, a few t-shirts, and a few long-sleeve lightweight shirts.  My normal clothes are hit-and-miss with fit, and it’s a daily chore to create an outfit that looks presentable in the morning.  It’s even harder to find weekend wear.  I found a website called “Borrow for Your Bump” which I will be using for a formal event I have to attend in November.  I’m tempted to look into purchasing maternity jeans next, but maybe I’ll see how much further I can stretch in what I’ve got.

Blessed are the barren

It’s Ash Wednesday and with Lent approaching I’m feeling a little repentant.  I’m thinking of confessing my sins and trying to establish a tabula rasa. I want to find meaning in why my path is not as direct as, well, everyone else’s.  In my attempt to think this through and figure out what I am meant to do in life, I began to realize that in my quest to getting to someone that I think I should be (aka: a mother) I lost sight of who I was.  In my paranoia of taking every precaution to get pregnant, I’ve all but abandoned my exercise routine.  Now in the nicer weather I ache to go for a run outside, as much as I ache to start a family.  I know it sounds simple but it came as a big realization to me.  Who was that woman?  Where has she gone?  To get back to where I’m meant to be – to be in that place where I can trust that things are as they should be – I will need to get back to my old self.  The self that made time for exercise regularly.  The self that felt good about herself.  The self that didn’t beat herself up for everything she didn’t have, but instead was thankful for all the wonderful things she does have.  The self that didn’t dread speaking to her family, knowing how that conversation will lead to details about a relative’s pregnancy.  The self that didn’t mind sending her niece back with her parents after a sleepover.