Thursday, March 10, 2011

Me want food!

The most common question that I get asked during this pregnancy is whether or not I have any weird cravings.  Pretty much, the answer is "no."

Sure there was that little incident in the first trimester that had me sitting in the car in the Trader Joe's parking lot, digging through my purse to find the fork from lunch two weeks earlier that I knew was still in there so that I could eat the cottage cheese I had just bought RIGHT NOW.

But that's less of a craving and more of an emergency.  I think of cravings as those longings for a specific food so powerfully that you would sacrifice anything - even your partner's good feelings toward you -  to get it into your mouth right now.

I don't have that.  The one night that I wanted a cherry Hostess Fruit Pie, Jacob looked at me incredulously from the other end of the couch and I caved immediately, saying that we could wait until the end of the TV show and see if I still wanted it then.  Then, I ended up just making my own pie.  He did help peel and core the apples but didn't like when I responded to his complaint about how much he disliked peeling and coring apples by making a suggestion of how to do it more easily.

So, mostly I experience preferences.  During my first trimester, I ate a lot of whole-grain toast and butter.  I had a stage a couple of months ago where I preferred to eat snacks that involved cream cheese.  I eat a ton of oranges and other fruits right now.  Lately, I have been choosing grits rather than a traditional dessert.
I am lucky in that I think I have formed fairly healthy eating habits before I got pregnant.  I had eliminated most junk food and processed food from my diet so I didn't crave those.  I have been introducing whole grains and vegetarianism into my life.  Most importantly, I have been learning to listen to my body for what it wants.  I think I learned how to do this from Anne Lamott.  (If you haven't read her essay on recovering from her eating disorder, please go do it right now.)  Also, my mother, who taught me never to eat anything that was a waste of calories.  In other words, don't fill up on bad food that you didn't want in the first place.  You know, bad grocery store cake  or a big dinner when your big late lunch is still lingering on your tongue.

So, I think about what my body is expressing a preference for.  I believe that there is a science behind this somewhere that some goofy holistic medicine person somewhere has deciphered but cannot communicate in way that does not sound ridiculous.  Probably, when the body is deficient in iron, it craves meat.  When it needs fats and protein, it craves cheese.  I'm sure this is informed by emotional needs and experiences but for the most part, I figure my body is smarter than I am, so I listen to it.  It's actually kind of fun.  Someone asked me the other day if I enjoyed being pregnant and deciphering what odd, seemingly unbalanced thing my body wants is part of why I can say, "yes."

Today, I ate probably two cups of baba ghanouj over the course of the day.  I also ate half a cucumber, an orange, and fruit salad from the cafeteria over the course of the same 6 hours.  I figure that counts as lunch.  I do eat more meat than I used to, but not all the time.  Tonight, I pick up something vegetarian for dinner at Whole Foods while I buy another armload of produce before my Dungeons & Dragons game.  There is a wedge of brie cheese in the fridge and, at some point, that will probably get consumed in a similar way as the babs ghanouj.

I figure that as long as my midwives are comfortable with my weight gain and I don't feel food-tired (something I learned to determine before pregnancy), eating like a toddler is probably OK.

Let's not talk about how I consume baked goods, though, OK?  That's a little more embarrassing.  Two weeks ago, I walked in front of a woman giving a presentation to a group of 50 co-workers in the cafeteria that adjoins my office to get a piece of cake that I heard was on the other end of the room.

Then, I did it again.

On the third time that I did it, I just took the last two pieces to save myself that inevitable walk of shame one more time.

When I first saw the movie Fargo, my mother about fell off the couch laughing at how Frances McDormand's character ate constantly.  I thought it was funny but not that funny at the time.  Now?  I am grabbing a donut on my way out of a community meeting on the west side, knowing full well that this probably means that one of the local folks won't get one.  Hey, it was offered!  You shouldn't offer donuts to pregnant ladies if you were just trying to be polite.  I get it.  I have no idea why my body is deficient in refined sugar, fat and white flour but, hey, it's rarely wrong.

I checked out an amazing whole-grain cookbook from the library and am hoping to have the chance to make something soon to at least mitigate some of the harm these baked goods are doing by adding fiber.

That should help, right?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Becoming Ma Joad

What I have managed to collect so far for the baby's nursery.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at an event with a warm acquaintance from grad school. I was delighted to see her because, although circumstances weren't right for us to pursue an actual friendship while studying, I thought she was a neat person and would gladly pursue one now, especially since she has a 5-year-old and a 3-month-old. I would love to build a circle of intelligent women with children who sometimes think about the world the same way I do: through the lens of policy, economics, organizational theory and systemic incentives and limitations. This would calm my fears that I will become unbalanced after my child is born, thinking only about how many poops today and the price of laundry detergent.

So, when she told me that she and another mom from grad school (whom I lovelovelove) were starting a business together and were making a presentation the next week, I didn't think twice about telling her that I would be there. I was a little distracted and didn't ask any questions. I just assumed: two U of C graduates + business presentation = something I would be interested in.

It probably won't surprise any of you that I showed up at her house to find a coffee table arrayed with cleaning supplies, cosmetics and "nutricueticals" and that I then had to sit through an hour and a half of a power-point presentation on the benefits of becoming a preferred customer by buying a subscription for $50-$70 worth of the stuff every month. A good percentage of the pitch was also focused on persuading us to host similar presentations in order to receive a cut of other people's subscriptions.

I was disappointed but not overly so and I was suitably impressed at a meta-level at the presenter's skill and earnestness at making what was clearly the company line sound like she was coming up with it on the spot.  I even thought I would actually sign up until I realized that we just don't spend $50 a month on those types of products.

The experience has me examining who I will be once this baby is born.  What will give my life meaning when I am exhausted but the dust bunnies keep piling up?  How will I keep from becoming selfish and forgetting that Jacob needs a partner, too?  How do I avoid becoming the type of person who sells non-perishable household products for a living even though they used to be passionate about changing the world?

I had dinner with a new friend the other night and she shared with me her trepidation regarding starting a family.  She said she just didn't feel ready.

I remember that once I said that to my own mother, years ago, as she peeled me a pear while I sat at the island in the kitchen and did nothing.  I commented that I didn't think that I would ever be able to serve my children so habitually.  My mom said, "No one is ever ready."

Can I tell you something, though?

I feel ready.

I feel like I've spent the last 8 years of my life acquiring a toolbox to help me realize when I have lost the plot and then to help me adjust and get back on track.  I have been practicing a spirituality of imperfection to come to terms with the fact that - because I am human - I am bound to make mistakes.  This is the way it is supposed to be.  So, I don't have to freak out or deny that I screw up every once in a while (or even every day, or several times a day).  Freaking out or denying won't change the fact that it happened or help me make sure that it won't happen again.  So, I acknowledge and examine mistakes that I make - including any feelings that come along as consequences - and try to mitigate the damage before moving on and trying not to do it again.

And then I do it again.  Because I'm human.

As far as I understand it, that describes parenthood, as well.  We do the best we can and still, we screw up often.

The parents that I do not want to emulate tend to be the ones who freak out or deny that either they or their children could screw up.  They go to great lengths to help themselves believe that they can control the outcomes of their actions.  Then, other people have to walk carefully around them so that they don't snap.

However, the fantastic parents that I know are the ones who laugh at themselves and move on.  Or they cry and move on.  Or they scream in frustration, break things, remember to breathe, call a friend and move on.  They set up loose systems to help calm the chaos and mostly remember not to get so focused on the systems that they forget the goal.  

I think I'm getting pretty good at that.  I feel like I have quite a few successful experiences in my history of rolling with the punches or recognizing when I haven't rolled with the punches and figuring out how to back up and fix whatever had broken because of my rigidity.

With this realization that my Batman Utility Belt is now pretty useful, I begin to get a sense of clarity about who I will become when working professionally to change the world is no longer the center of my life.  Last weekend, I wrote this note to the baby in his/her book that we write weekly notes:
I am just sort of trusting in good faith that spending my days changing the world on a nuclear level by helping you develop into a stable and loved human being will be equally fulfilling [to my professional work].  There will be the logistical tasks of making and keeping house around you, as well as the administrative tasks of creating a culture in which a harmonious family can thrive.  I want you and your father to be able to contribute to our life together as much as you receive from it.  I want to make sure that you both know how integral you are to all three of our lives now.  Life will be less good for all of us if any one of us is unable to be fully ourselves. So, I will work hard at encouraging the two of you - as well as paying attention to my own needs - to make sure this dynamic is possible.
Coming up with this mission statement has been very emotional for me.  It's HUGE.  To live my life for others, peeling pears because it makes their lives more pleasant?  I'm already good at living for myself and will continue doing so.  Professionally, I have been gaining expertise at living my life to achieve an objective (which usually involves helping others).  But to make my primary focus two other people?  There is something very noble and spiritual about that.  However, I am scared of it in the way an alcoholic is scared of getting sober.  I have no idea what my life will look like or who I will be once I start acting on that decision.

There are four, things that make me nervous about making this choice.  The first is that this is such a traditional arrangement.  The woman changes her focus from her career to her family and the man brings home the bacon.  In the case of our kosher home, the man will be bringing home the brisket.  Because the man is bringing home the brisket and this is stressful, he has less time and energy to worry about the social calendar, extended family dynamics and learning exactly which small crunchy snacks the toddler is allowed to eat.  So, because they are partners, the woman becomes the expert in those things to ensure that they are attended to.

I have plenty of friends who switch this up because it works better for their personalities and their earning potentials for the man to safeguard the harmony of the family.  We don't happen to be one of those families.  This should be fine.

However, there is this whole historical precedent that continues to inform a culture where most women must take on this role; they have no choice.  If I choose it for myself and do not oppose the systemic injustice of misogyny that is still institutionalized in our society, am I contributing to the problem?

Ultimately, I will choose what is best for my family but I think I'll always be a little conflicted about it.  This weekend, I attended a conference with other members of my church's leadership team and we got to hang out a little bit with Bruce Reyes-Chow.  The conversation turned to enneagram personality types and I was reminded that I am very clearly a 1 - "The Reformer". Can I really make a choice for my life that will not directly and positively impact the suffering of others?  Is it selfish to have children of my own who will require me to take my eyes off the prize in order to be fair to them?  I can't see myself getting comfortable with this anytime soon.

Another fear that I have is that I will become a little unbalanced since every report of parenthood I've ever heard seems to describe unending exhaustion, isolation and insecurity. This makes me worry that Jacob and I will fall even further into traditional household roles, becoming Everyone Loves Raymond, where I have particular ways that things around the house must be done and Jacob's only option for navigating those obstacles is to become the bumbling husband who sometimes "babysits" his kids so mom can get out for a half-hearted book group that exists for the large glasses of wine served.  I know that women do this because they feel under-valued in their roles and so grasp for whatever power they can get.  This often means that they create territories where they are the expert and defend that territory fiercely, insisting that the dishwasher be loaded in a particular way and that Junior certainly will never be able to fall asleep unless he is sung to in a specific way that dad can't possibly duplicate.  I have always thought Hanna Rosin did an excellent job describing this trend in her article The Case Against Breastfeeding in The Atlantic.

Similarly, I fear going too far with the Defender of the Hearth identity, taking over too many tasks and making Jacob feel infantalized because of my low expectations of him, which might alienate him and drive a wedge between us.  I also want to always have the ability to see those things that make me admire him and respect him.  I don't want to lose my delight in the fact that I actually get to hang out with this hunk of a guy or lose the self-esteem boost that I get because this man thinks I'm awesome or lose the constant sense of gratitude I have that the universe aligned in such a way to help us find each other in just the right moment when we finally able to recognize the benefits of a life together.

Finally, I fear losing my edge and thinking that becoming a direct sales person is a good use of my time.  I love having smart conversations with people about education policy and local politics.  I care a lot about how Christians engage the world on topics of injustice and race.  If I need to make more money, I want to use these unique skills and passions to do so.  At the same time, I can understand how direct sales is appealing.  The more time that you dedicate to using your high levels skills, the more energy that you have to take away from cultivating a safe emotional space for your family to reach their full potential.  If you can work a simple job, all it costs is your time.

What I need to do is let go of these worries and trust that the type of person that I become as a result of my choice to be the glue that holds my family together will be someone that I like.  I like most of the people that I have been in my life and this identity shift will probably not deviate much from that pattern.

My mom told me once that when my younger brother and I were little, the three of us conspired to "surprise" my dad when he walked into the house after work.  We "hid" in the fort we had made of cushions and jumped out and ran over to him when the door opened.  Mom must have thought of it when she heard his car pull into the driveway.  Later, my dad told her that coming home was the best part of his day.

I want to be deliberate like that about the interactions my family members have with one another.  I want to create the space for it.  I included the picture of the nursery-so-far at the beginning of this post because I look at those newly-painted orange walls every day and get excited about the start I have gotten on tending to my family in this new way.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Look hard.

I have several friends on Facebook who have been actively lobbying to see pictures of me in my pregnant state.  Until recently, I had yet to give into their requests, not out of pique but simply because I’m a little lazy and because I did not understand the motivation behind their requests so did not place the task high on my list of priorities.

However, Facebook being what it is, another friend heard their pleas and offered to bring her fancy camera and her composition expertise over to my house on Saturday and document my growing bump.  How could I refuse? 
24 weeks
As you can see, she positioned me so that you can see my belly in the mirror while the camera looks over my shoulder.  She told me that this was so that people could see that I have only gained weight in my belly and that my ass remains its regular size.

I appreciate her attention to detail.

One of the Eastern European cafeteria ladies at work has recently declared that we are having a boy since my lips and backside “they do not get big, yes?”  She claims she has never been wrong when guessing the gender of a baby and who am I to doubt the folk wisdom of middle-aged ladies from Albania?  So, I've been thinking hard about boy names.

I have been feeling pretty good during this second trimester.  The nausea and utter exhaustion are behind me and I’m not so large that I’m uncomfortable yet.  I’m able to swim 2-3 times a week and I have gone back to my regular yoga class, which is equipped to modify my regular, fairly rigorous practice for safety during pregnancy.

I’m pretty lucky.  I am definitely not willing to congratulate myself on this turn of events.  Other women make the exact same nutritional and activity choices that I make and are having a terrible time at this point.  Every baby plants him or herself differently in the torso and every woman’s body responds differently to the influx of hormones and structural changes necessary to manufacture a tiny person.

In other words, there are way too many variables for me to narrow down the cause of my relatively successful experience as my own efforts.  That would be like when super-models tell their interviewers that the reason they ended up on the cover of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition was that they drank a lot of water.  It probably helps but it’s no guarantee.

Where does this impulse to take credit for good things come from?  I’ve noticed it in parents with “good” babies, too.  The reason their kids sleep so well is because they co-sleep.  Or they don't.  The reason their children are so content being held by new people is that they socialized them early.  Or they didn't.  I rarely hear someone give credit to luck or chance when they had "easy" babies.

My experience so far tells me that this is a defense against the fierce judgmentalism that comes down on new parents from the moment they announce their pregnancy.  And this judgment doesn't only come from mean-spirited people.  Lots of people lots of the time imply that a new parent's choice is the wrong one simply because they don't know what else to say but want to say something. Or, I know that I have twice already said something truly ugly to each of my sisters-in-law because I was feeling insecure myself.  I mean, come on, at Christmas one of my aunts was upset because I didn't have to wear jeans with big elastic belly panels like she had to wear when she was pregnant.  The chain reaction was that she made me feel bad and I turned on my sisters-in-law.  Beware anyone who wasn't expecting to have to defend themselves against my raging incredulity that anyone would not prioritize a well-informed and self-advocated natural birth experience, complete with a detailed understanding of the history of modern medicine and how it has marginalized women's knowledge of their own bodies.

Yeah.  I know.

Luckily, my sisters-in-law are beautiful creatures who allowed me to make amends so I probably didn't cause too much harm to the relationships.  Luckily, it's no longer the holidays so I only have run-of-the-mill judgment to deal with and not additional extended family judgment.

So, if we as new parents have a proactive defense against these attacks, like claiming that the good things are a result of our own choices, we hope to diffuse potential advice givers/failure imply-ers.  You see, we're already doing it right.  We don't need you to tell us what you think we should be doing.

I have been thinking a lot lately about my own capacity to judge others unfairly. 

Awhile ago, I commented on a guy named Andrew Marin and basically stated that until he came out a declared his beliefs regarding sin and homosexuality, I couldn't trust him or his ministry.

However, after listening to his interview on Moody radio, I began to realize (yet again) that my condemnation was coming from someplace inside of me rather than being prompted by him.  I realized that he answers questions like my pastor.  By that, I mean that he reframed the questions people were asking him and pointed out the larger issues at stake.  When someone asked him point-blank whether homosexuality was a sin, he talked about how Jesus often got asked yes or no questions but only answered them on two occasions that we know of.  All of the other times, he told a story or asked another question in response or answered what wasn't being asked.  I was impressed by how well he knew scripture and impressed at the way he used it to redirect the question to what was more important: the role model Jesus was for how to deal with beliefs that could potentially divide people rather than helping them to see one another as sisters and brothers. 

And of course, when I heard my own question come out of an angry conservative's mouth, I had to re-examine myself.  I realized that if someone had labeled Andrew "emergent," I never would have been so hard on him.  I would have defended his right not to be defined by his beliefs but rather to be judged by his practice.  That is what my church is all about: finding a new Christianity that is practice-based rather than belief-based.

And yet, I find that I still must not be quite confident all of the time in my spiritual identity.  I needed to define this guy as "other," probably in defense of my own choices.

Glennon, over at Momastery, has posted a follow-up to her original post about bullying, homosexuality and Christianity.  I was so moved by the original post that I plan to print it out, frame it and hang it in the baby's nursery.  In her follow-up, Glennon details her own spiritual realization that she was doing what I was doing: dividing groups into good and bad that God has declared to be unified as loved.

Luckily, I got a chance to have lunch with Andrew and I found out that he is a fantastic guy.  He's doing good work and trying hard to do it with integrity.  He tells his story and works hard not to exploit the stories of others.  He is funny and good-hearted and went with me to Hamburger Mary's to satisfy my baby's trayf craving for red meat with cheese.  As Glennon says in her post, "Do not be afraid of people who seem different than you, baby. Different always turns out to be an illusion. Look hard."

I am lucky to be getting to learn that lesson over and over and over again.  I think I'll need it as a parent.