Week 18: Is That a Foot?

OK, I think C. finally gets it now. He’s seen with his own two eyes that there’s a living being in my belly, with a head, a spine, a tiny beating heart, and moving arms and legs. The ultrasound is one of the coolest pregnancy experiences so far. It’s like your own private baby cam! We saw the feet, the fingers, and the leg and arm bones, glowing white against the black background. We could make out the profile – oh, boy, it’s looking like it’s got C.’s nose already, and is that an overbite? – and see the baby crossing its legs and sucking its thumb. Amazing.

The nurse doing the sonogram was, inexplicably, not quite as enthusiastic as we were. Can you imagine? But she obliged when we told her we didn’t want to find out the baby’s sex. “OK, I’m going down there, look away,” she’d say, and we’d dutifully shield our eyes.

I was surprised to learn that we are in the minority among our pregnant pals when it comes to not wanting to know whether we’re having a boy or a girl. I thought most people wanted to be surprised. Instead, it seems most want to spare themselves the hassle of picking out two names and buying only gender-neutral baby items.

One of our friends claimed they didn’t want to find out – only to admit that they’d caved under pressure when they were in the midst of the sonogram. “It’s too hard not to find out when the nurse is right there and you know she knows,” they explained. Not only are they having a girl, but they stole our top girl’s name to boot! I suppose they have dibs because it’s a family name and they’re giving birth a month before us, but still. It hurts.

I’ve been carrying around the ultrasound pictures for days, showing them to anyone who will look. It’s both fascinating and freaky at the same time. It’s also probably the last time I’m going to see my baby before he/she is born. Will I recognize her? Will his overbite correct itself? Will anyone else steal our baby names? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


Week 17: Jump on the Baby Bandwagon

Once I became pregnant I started noticing pregnant women everywhere – at the grocery store, at the airport, at the mall. Were they there all along and I just never paid attention? In addition to the profusion of pregnant strangers, I also suddenly have a whole bunch of friends and acquaintances who are expecting. It’s like one started the trend, and then the rest jumped on the baby bandwagon.

First to announce the news was my friend T., pregnant with her second child, and just one week ahead of me. Then there’s J.G., due a month before me, and J.P., due two weeks after me. Pregnancy pals, how fun!

At a recent party, the conversation focused on J.G.’s newly visible bump and the search for cute maternity clothes. J.P. mixed up special non-alcoholic cocktails so we could at least pretend we were drinking champagne. And A., recently married and trying to get pregnant, listed with rapt attention as we recounted every last symptom and swelling. It’s nice to have a captive audience. Husbands and non-moms have a low threshold for that kind of talk.

It is nice to feel like you have companions as you progress through your pregnancy. The veterans are a little more laid-back, a lot more focused on what comes after the birth than the stuff leading up to it. That’s normal, I guess. Talking about the “terrible twos” beats gruesome birth stories any day. (Which many women are all too happy to share with you, whether they’re invited to or not.)

But I especially like chatting with the rookie moms-to-be like me. “Is your belly button sticking out yet?” we’ll ask each other. “What’s all this talk about food cravings? I haven’t had any, have you?” It’s uncharted territory for us, and endlessly fascinating. It’s heartening to hear that someone else is having similar experiences, and it’s also interesting to hear how pregnancy is different from person to person. (Thank god I didn’t have much morning sickness! How weird that no one else is constipated.)

This week, I think I felt the baby move for the first time. I say “I think” because most books will tell you that you won’t feel any “quickening,” as they call it, until at least week 20. But I keep feeling a sort of bumping, bubbly feeling in my lower abdomen. I suppose it could be gas, but it feels … different, somehow. J.G. says people described it to her as butterflies in your stomach, but she likens it more to a bug crawling around inside you. “It’s kind of gross,” she admits.

It is sort of weird to feel the first stirrings of what seems to be an alien life form growing inside of you. But also reassuring, in a way. I’m finally starting to believe there’s a real baby in there! Now if only my husband would start getting a clue … I’m still waiting for the foot massages and breakfast in bed.


Week 16: Dumb Stuff I Never Used to Care About

There’s a long list of topics I can honestly say never crossed my mind for a good 90% of my life. Yet many of these things have suddenly become massively important to me as an adult. For instance, I never thought I’d ever give a hoot about escrow or equity, nor did I ever imagine I’d concern myself with crown molding, fiber, gas mileage, or furniture shopping. However, I currently expend all sorts of mental energy on these issues, especially the last.

I’ve become preoccupied – no, obsessed – with finding the perfect upholstered rocking chair for the baby’s room. This room, mind you, is at the moment a rather cluttered home office. We’re leaving the light green wall color intact because we can’t be bothered to repaint. I may get some new curtains or I may not. I haven’t done a lick of research on cribs or changing tables. For whatever reason, I’m focused solely on this particular item, which in many people’s opinions (and they’re probably right) is an entirely optional addition to a nursery.

In a dream (or perhaps a Pottery Barn Kids catalog) I saw my ideal rocker – it was big but not bulky, cushy, comfortable, and best of all, covered in the cutest oversize green-and-white gingham fabric you’ve ever seen. I envisioned myself nestled in the cozy confines of the chair, nursing my newborn babe, rocking him/her to sleep, perhaps even humming a soothing lullaby. I pinned my maternal hopes and dreams to that checked chair. Now, if only I could find it.

I scoured the Internet for hours on end and came up blank. I drove miles out of my way to visit baby furnishings superstores. I asked friends and colleagues if they’d seen my elusive chair anywhere. Then, while visiting friends out of state, I saw it. Right there in their pastel-decorated nursery was a green-and-white checked rocker – with a matching ottoman! And matching valances on the windows! I sank into the chair and it glided back and forth as if floating on a cloud. Heaven.

But here’s the thing: these friends of ours are loaded. We’re Target, they’re Neiman Marcus. We’re pizza, they’re bruschetta. We’re 3 bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, they’re 7 (!) bedrooms and 7 (!) baths. Turns out, the rocking chair came from an exclusive, local custom furnishings shop. I wasn’t rude enough to ask the price (I wish I had been), but it’s probably a safe bet that it was out of our price range.

A few days later, a sheer stroke of luck landed me on a web site that offered a nearly identical chair. And to my surprise, it wouldn’t even require taking out a second mortgage. In fact, the only problem was that I couldn’t test out the chair before I bought it since the seller was an Internet-only retailer. I mean, what kind of idiot buys a several-hundred-dollar chair without sitting in it first? Well, um, actually … But I didn’t buy it just yet.

First, I stalked their customer service people. I felt like I was calling a phone-sex hotline as I asked them to describe, in intimate detail, what it felt like to sit in this chair. “It’s very comfortable. And roomy. I can tuck my legs up under me and still have room on each side,” they’d purr. “I fall asleep almost every time I sit in it.” “Uh, huh, go on,” I’d say, salivating. They sent me swatches. I caressed my cheek with the perfect pale green and white cotton, visions of nursery rhymes dancing in my head.

So did I go ahead and order the chair and get on with my life? No. Why? Because at heart, I’m a practical person. You might even say frugal. The extra shipping and handling fees irked me, but mostly it was the no-return policy that made me uneasy. What if I ordered the thing and it was as comfortable as sitting on a bag of wet sand? What if the customer service ladies had tricked me with their dulcet descriptions? My life ground to a halt for several days while I debated what to do.

It occurred to me that two years before, I’d been gripped by the same dementia over which wedding cake to get. The $600 vision of loveliness with the satiny, two-inch-thick buttercream icing and three different-flavored tiers? Or the $300 homemade vanilla one iced with a half-inch of sugar and shortening? I ended up choosing the latter, and I’m guessing no one but me noticed or cared. The thing about the chair is, instead of being devoured and forgotten in 20 minutes, it will be a fixture in our house for probably the next 20 years. We will sit in it, sleep or not sleep in it, every day for the next several years.

In the end, I just couldn’t take the chance. I settled on a homely, albeit comfortable, glider/recliner from JC Penney that was 30% off. Sure, I sprung for a nice sage green fabric for an extra $50, but it’s no green-and-white gingham. Sure, it swivels and reclines, unlike the chair on the web site, but there’s no cute matching ottoman. Sure, I can sit in it and sing lullabies to my baby, but it’s more like the type of chair a guy named Norm would sit in to drink beer and watch the playoffs.

But, like the wedding cake, I realize a chair is not the most important thing in the world. I’m going to be a parent soon. And parents are practical, right? I just hope our child never comes across a Pottery Barn Kids catalog. All that pastel and gingham would just break her heart.


Week 15: Pregnancy for Dummies

The other day I was having lunch with a couple of friends with small children. The littlest people in our party turned out to have a big impact on the day’s plans. First of all, lunch was delayed 45 minutes because 10-month-old Ava had napped longer than usual. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, except there were two pregnant women in our party, including me. So we were ravenous by the time the others showed up. I was drooling enviously at 18-month-old Addie’s Tupperware container of Cheerios, which she was gummily snacking on in her stroller.

Then we had to find a restaurant that appealed to 3 ½-year-old Olivia, whose current diet consists solely of chicken fingers and pizza. When we finally found a place, there was a minor situation when it turned out they didn’t allow strollers in the dining room. But high chairs were procured, strollers were stowed, and we were finally shown to our table.

When our meals arrived, I had heartily tucked into my tacos when I noticed that neither of my mom-friends had taken so much as a bite. They were busy laying out disposable plastic placemats, fastening bibs, retrieving sippy cups from the floor, and cutting up chicken into bite-sized chunks. The one poor mom with two kids said, “It’s always like this when we go to a restaurant. I never get to eat.” No wonder she’d lost all the baby weight already.

Sitting there, I was in awe of these women. How did they know how to do all this stuff? How did they know that the baby was grunting for her milk and not more chicken? How did they know to pack placemats and individually wrapped snacks? I know it sounds stupid. I guess they just figured it out along the way. And I’m sure I will. But at that moment, it was like I was an interloper in some mystical world of mommies – a world that I’m going to become a part of in a little over six months.

Of course, before I even get to the Cheerios and Pampers, there’s that little thing called labor and delivery. And I admit, I’m ignorant about that part. I mean, obviously, I know the basics. But when my mom-friends start going on about Braxton-Hicks contractions, mucous plugs, back labor, and episiotomies, I draw a blank.

One friend, after taking in my blank stare, suggested, “You might want to get a book or something.” I have books. I have a whole library! I just haven’t quite gotten to those chapters yet. I’ve purposely been holding off because I don’t want to scare myself. I don’t really need to know all the gory details, do I? I figure I’m better off being in the dark about some of that stuff.

On another note: I noticed for the first time this morning that my stomach now sticks out even when I’m lying on my back in bed. There’s a little, unmistakable bulge around my belly button. There’s really a baby in there! I swear, I’m not stupid, I’m just a slow – and sometimes reluctant, at least when it comes to gross medical stuff – learner.


Week 14: The Name Game

One of the most fun parts about being pregnant is coming up with baby names. I can spend hours on the subject with my friends, debating the benefits of “Emily” versus “Emma” or “Carter” versus “Connor.” For a guaranteed laugh, flip through the baby name books for the outlandish entries like Caradoc and Sachaverell.

And there’s all sorts of fascinating trivia related to names. For instance, it may interest some people to know that my mother visited cemeteries for ideas of what to christen her children. Sounds morbid, but she wanted traditional New England names, so where better to look than the final resting place of a bunch of old Yankees? And, while Abigail wasn’t even in the top 25 in 1974 when I was born, it now ranks among the top 5 most popular names for girls. Who knew?

Unfortunately, the one person who doesn’t find endless enjoyment in the name game happens to be the only other person whose opinion really matters – my husband. He’s a bit of a procrastinator, so it’s no real surprise that he’s not itching to get started on a task that, technically, could wait another six months. Still, his reluctance to participate is annoying.

It usually works like this: I’ll suggest names I like, and he wrinkles his nose in disgust, repeating the name with the most unflattering pronunciation possible. “Cuh-LAIR? Are you kidding? Claire’s a fat girl’s name.” (Turns out he was quoting from “The Breakfast Club,” frequent movie quotations being another annoying husbandly habit.) Sometimes, if I wear him down enough, he’ll toss out a couple suggestions of his own – Seamus? Deirdre? Franz? – which I inevitably hate. I’m not even sure if he’s serious half the time.

It doesn’t help that his last name is a big part of the problem when it comes to selecting the right name. It just doesn’t sound right with a lot of names. Since it starts with “F,” forget Phoebe or Finn or anything else starting with F. The kid would spray spit everytime he said his name. In fact, anything with a “v” sound in it is pretty much out, too. Then there’s the issue of mixing nationalities. C. has a very Irish surname. It sounds good with nice Irish names like Colleen and Danny. But tack on Greta or Irina and you’ve got a cultural mishmash on your hands. Might as well name a kid Boris Garcia or Keiko Schwarzkopf.

Thinking it might be fun to research ancestral names, I browsed the family history my grandfather put together years ago. He traced relatives back to the 1800s and mapped out our whole family tree. Turns out, lots of folks hailed from the South – hence the predominance of Ida Maes and Earlenes. To be honest, there were only a handful of palatable choices in the whole bunch. (I thought Gracie Lee was kind of cute. C. refused to even consider Daisy or Jasper.) I know old-fashioned names are back in style, but there’s no way I’m naming my child Edna Maude, family name or not.

Speaking of family, ours was only too happy to jump in with suggestions – especially what names NOT to pick. My mom started out by saying, “Whatever you choose will be wonderful” before adding, “I just hope you don’t name the baby George. There are way too many Georges in the family already.” Then she went on to disparage the perfectly acceptable name Noah before suggesting – with a straight face – we might name our son Deke. DEKE!!

The problem with opening up the whole name issue to other people is that they feel free to tell you every bad association they have with every name imaginable. One person knew a bratty kid in school named Kyle. Another hated an aunt named Eileen. Yet another has heard of more than one pedophile named William. And once you’ve heard these stories, you, too, will forever make that same association with the name.

The other snag we’re running into is that all the names we like are already taken. If not by someone else’s child, then by someone’s pet. I kid you not. I really liked the names Sadie and Alexis until I discovered those are the given names of a relative’s dogs. Big deal, you may be saying. But do you want your child to be humiliated at the family reunion when someone shouts, “Sadie! Did you make this puddle on the floor?”

If C. and I ever do manage to agree on a name that’s not already taken by someone’s pet ferret, that’s not associated with a hated teacher or convicted felon, that sounds good with his last name, that has the right number of syllables and the correct cultural connotation, I’ll let you know. At this point, it’s looking like the child’s going to be named “Baby X.” Though that could cause some problems for him or her at job interviews someday…

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