Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Confessions of a bad mom: I don't like ultrasounds

When your OBGYN calls at 4pm on a Friday following your ultrasound and says "Don't worry, but..." the natural reaction is of course to worry. A lot.

From what I remember, the rest of the conversation came in whooshing bits and pieces. "We found a small issue"... "Nothing to be alarmed about".... "Just need to monitor."

It took a few seconds but when my brain stopped spinning enough to process those pieces it did in fact realize everything was more than likely going to be OK. Just a little hiccup on the last ultrasound, a very common issue called a "placental lake" that rarely, if ever turns out to be a true complication.

"And the good news is, you get to have lots more ultrasounds!" my doctor enthusiastically cheered into the phone.

"Oh, that's... uh... great," I lied, through clenched teeth.

Worried that I was still worried, she did her best to continue to reassure me about the growing baby's health. I finally had to interrupt. "I believe you, Dr.X., really I do. It's just that...." (deep breath) "You see I don't really..." (how do I put this so I don't sound like the worst mom in the world?) "Ummm...." (come on, just spit it out) "I don't actually enjoy ultrasounds. They really creep me out. The baby looks so waxy and see through and bony and then there are all those TEETH, I mean, who knew that fetuses have teeth? It's the stuff nightmares are made of. Really scary nightmares!!!" It was like a geyser erupted: I couldn't stop gushing about my neurotic, Bad Mommy feelings about a diagnostic exam.

And there was silence on the other end of the phone.

I steeled myself for the inevitable, certain she was about to call Protective Services to have my children removed from my custody, or at the very least refer me to a psychiatrist. But instead, she burst out laughing. While this was her first experience with Ultrasoundaphobia, she did seem to understand where I was coming from, and didn't judge. The same is not true for the rest of the Mommy Universe. I've tried explaining myself to my ultrasound-loving friends and I'm either greeted with blank stares or flat out hostility. Moms are a tough crowd.

This is now my third time round the pregnancy carousel and in my experience, ultrasounds are one of those things that moms-to-be are just "supposed" to love. The same way you're supposed to bring baby home to a fully-decked out nursery (oops) and you're definitely not supposed to ever have a sip of alcohol while pregnant (oops...hiccup).

I'm not sure when it happened but ultrasounds have become quite the cottage industry. The pictures you get from your appointment now come with instructions about proper care for scrapbooking purposes. I have seen those pictures used as cell phone screen savers, even Facebook profile pics. The test is available in 3 and even 4-D (I have no idea what the fourth "D" even is, but it still scares me). There is a whole chain of "drive-thru," non-medically ultrasound businesses that have popped up, including one in my town, to offer parents-in-waiting another opportunity to sneek a peak at baby in his/her cocoon, often set to music and available for your purchase. It's Glamour Shots: Fetal Edition.

And that's all fine and good. I'm thrilled for those of you out there who love your ultrasounds. Frame those pictures! Pop some popcorn and pop in that souvenir DVD one Saturday night, or every Saturday night if you so desire. Just don't judge me if I don't turn into a puddle of goo every time that goo is applied to my belly and the fuzzy images begin to appear.

With Baby #1, my husband took the morning off work so he could attend the ultrasound with me. The brochure from the office said we could bring up to three additional people with us. I remember thinking that was odd, since I couldn't think of one, much less three, other people for whom I would raise my shirt and show the outside of my belly, much less the inside. Maybe it was a Mardi Gras special?

After I was appropriately gooped up and the exam was underway, the technician turned to us and excitedly said, "Oh, the baby is staring right at you! Quick- take a look!"

I turned my head toward the screen, naively expecting to see a chubby, waving Gerber baby holding a sign that said "Hi, Mom!"

"AHHHHH!" I gasped, a little too loudly. It was Casper the Friendly(?) Ghost in fetal form. Since then I've typically gone solo to appointments, and have even endured questioning glances and what feels like scorn from the office staff.

"Are you sure there's nobody else coming?" one tech asked at my last appointment, as she looked behind me in surprise.

"Oh, I did bring this baby in my belly, is that OK? I couldn't find a sitter." I tried to joke. Silence.

Don't get me wrong, I am nothing but grateful for the advances in modern medicine and imaging that make ultrasounds possible. They are incredibly valuable diagnostic tests that provide a host of critical, often life-saving information on the health of both baby and mother. But so does a colonoscopy, and I don't happen to get mushy about that either. I believe that if God had intended ultrasound images to be a necessary part of the mother-child bonding process, He would have equipped the uterus with a partial window, much like the one on my oven.

I know many women say the ultrasound makes them feel more connected to the baby or makes the pregnancy finally feel "real," and again, I'm happy for you if that's the case. For me, the 9 straight months of nausea, fatigue and banging on my internal organs is about as real as it gets. Believe me when I say that not loving ultrasounds has nothing to do with how I feel about my children. There will be plenty of time for photos once this precious child is on the outside. I don't need to see an image of developing limbs to look forward to the day I'll one day hold tiny hands in mine, or play piggies with little toes. For now, I'll just close my eyes and rely on a combination of good old fashioned imagination and pure love to conjure up images of this growing piece of my heart.

Now that's my kind of picture.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In Defense of Valentine's Day

Candy hearts, paper doilies and boxes of cards emblazoned with loving images of cartoon characters. It all used to turn my stomach. Yes, I was an anti-Valentinian for years. Make that decades.

In fact, I can't remember a time in childhood or young adulthood I actually liked the big red holiday. Even in elementary school when every child was required to give a Valentine to every other child in the classroom, I didn't get it. I had a few playmates but for the most part I was a loner, and while we didn't use the term back in the day, I endured more than my share of bullying. Was a little piece of paper with a picture of Strawberry Shortcake hastily signed "Love, X" or a chalk-flavored candy heart with the words "Be Mine" supposed to change that? Even a 6-year-old wasn't born yesterday.

It was never a big holiday at home, either. My Egyptian parents are probably the most generous, loving people you will ever know, but the particular expression of love in the form of balloons, cupcakes, cards and other assorted sundries is just not part of their cultural vernacular. It was a quiet day at our house, much like any other.

In high school, I remember the infamous flower deliveries that would take place on February 14th. At some point during Algebra II a student from the National Honor Society or Key Club would show up at the door bearing a bundle of red and pink carnations they'd been selling at a table outside the cafeteria. They'd call out the names of the lucky recipients, with the pretty, popular girls ending up with a veritable bouquet on their desks. That's when I'd start fumbling through my Trapper Keeper, trying to look busy in an attempt to hide the obvious fact that I wasn't getting any of those blossoms.

So I quickly learned to loathe the annual February love fest and began dreading it as soon as the Christmas merchandise hit 75% off and the store shelves turned red. In college and grad school I buried myself in my textbooks and did my best to pretend it didn't exist. One year, the pipes burst in my apartment on Valentine's Day (an appropriate homage to the gushing tears of loneliness?) Another time I arranged to have my wisdom teeth pulled on February 14th. It seemed like the perfect occasion for a painful procedure (in particular one accompanied by prescription drugs). But the year my neighbor's Valentine bouquet was accidentally delivered to me was the last straw. Stupid Hallmark holiday, I muttered to myself as I transported the giant blossoms back to their rightful owner.

So that's how I came to be a Valentine hater. By the time I was in my late 20s I was fully convinced the day was a commercial conspiracy designed largely to make me feel like a lonely, incompetent fool. Until one day I realized, it wasn't. I'm fuzzy on the exact date but I think it was around the time I lost a friend in a horrible accident. Or maybe it was when my mom was diagnosed with a horrible disease. Or when my dad was diagnosed with a horrible disease. It might have been the year I finally said "no more" to a relationship that was painful and unhealthy. No, I didn't have a boyfriend, I still didn't have anyone asking me to be their Valentine, but I did have love. Love for others, for life, and perhaps most importantly, for myself.

One husband and two little blessings (with a 3rd on the way) later and I'm a convert, a full-fledged Valentine-o-holic. Our house is decked out in red, we've baked heart-shaped cookies and gotten our fingers covered in pink glitter glue while making cards. Yes, it's a bit much, and yes it's a bit silly, but I don't care. I've finally learned what unconditional love means, and I'm not afraid to wear it (along with assorted other sticky things) on my sleeve.

Don't get me wrong, our love and our life are far from perfect. My two adorable little Valentines throw more than their fair share of tantrums and most days leave me feeling so completely drained I can barely drag my giant, pregnant self up to bed. And after 7 years of marriage I fear my husband and I have become a wee bit too comfortable, and more than a tad unromantic, as evidenced by a clear violation of bathroom etiquette in each other's presence. Our day to day life is hardly the stuff that fills a Lifetime for Women Valentine Movie Marathon. But I love it anyway.

If you still hate Valentine's Day and argue we don't need a special day set aside to show love, I can only hope you feel that way because your life is absolutely overflowing with love already. But even if that's the case, what's the harm? I refuse to believe this is a case of "less is more." But if on the other hand you are feeling like I did for several decades- that love hurts, that love is something for others to enjoy, and that Valentine's Day is just a chocolate-coated reminder of it all, I understand. And my Valentine's wish for you is that you find the love you're looking for inside yourself.

Because mate or no mate, kids or no kids, it really can be a happy day.

Cross my heart.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Maternity Clothes

They're frumpy, they're stretchy, they're gigantically ugly. But there comes a time (or two, or three) in every woman's life when she has no choice but to put on those awful maternity clothes. Well, I suppose you do have a choice but that involves wearing your husband's t-shirts with your stretchiest sweat pants and hibernating in your home for 9 months. Like I said, no choice.

With my first child, I went a good 26 weeks without having to pull that panel over my burgeoning belly. With #2, it happened a teensy bit earlier. And now, with baby #3 cooking away, I find myself digging those dreaded clothes out of the closet and at least contemplating putting them on even sooner.

I still remember my first maternity shopping experience. I'm not a huge shopper to begin with and I don't own a lot of name brand clothing, so I wasn't exactly thrilled about the prospect. But I do value how I look (and was also going through pregnancy in front of a camera lens as a TV news reporter) and figured it wouldn't be too hard to find stylish, reasonably priced maternity clothes. HA! No matter what store I was at, what rack I searched, It seemed the merchandise came in two varieties: muumuu and muumuuer. Not to mention the giant, flowery prints. It was like everything was designed for the star of TLC's "Pregnant at 70." Bleccch. And then there was the cost. You want me to pay what??? To wear this garbage for maybe four months??? Talk about morning sickness!

Over the course of two (and now a half) pregnancies, I've realized there are ways to survive pregnancy in a somewhat stylish state without breaking the bank. A few stores like Target and Old Navy do carry affordable maternity wear, although I personally have found the fit of both brands to be a little... odd...if you happen to be on the petite side, and my tall friends have had similar complaints.

One of my favorite discoveries is the Bella Band, a stretchy piece of fabric that you can wear over your unbuttoned pre-pregnancy pants. At about $20, it will not only help you extend the life of your regular wardrobe but it will also allow you to get back into it faster post-baby. Because nothing says "baby blues" like having to wear maternity clothes when you're NOT pregnant.

I've also learned to put aside my slight OCD issues surrounding other people's clothing when it comes to maternity wear. Ebay, craigslist, consignment stores and Mom-to-Mom sales are all wonderful places to find great deals, as most women are more than happy to part with their lots when the baby-making is done.

And that brings me to what I hope will become a new tradition among women: paying it forward. When you find out a friend is pregnant, why wait until the baby is almost out to shower her with gifts? Go into your closet, dig out those elastic waistband pants and blousy blouses, call up your other friends and ask them to do the same, then throw her a maternity shower. I guarantee it will be one of the most useful, generous gifts you can give. Heck, throw in a pedicure for her giant swollen feet and your pregnant friend will be SO grateful she'll name the baby after you, no matter what the gender!