Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pregnancy and Food

No, this blog is not about what you think. Yes, many pregnant women are obsessed with food (either because they want it all the time or because they never want to see it again), but this obsession isn’t with food that you’re eating, it’s with the comparison of the size of a developing fetus and various food items.

One of the things that isn’t much different between when I was expecting Ryan and this pregnancy is that I love to look on the internet each week to see what stage the baby is at. And my favorite part is finding out how big Rutabaga is now – specifically, which food item the fetus is compared to every week. The majority of the items are fruits, but there is quite a variety of food products used, from seeds to fruits to vegetables to seafood. I’m not sure who decided that food should be the standard of comparison, but dozens of websites use the same standard. This week being week 12, I am told that Rutabaga is now the size of a lime. Last week s/he was the size of a fig. In fact, for your reading pleasure, here is the progression of fetal-food comparisons week by week, starting at 4 weeks: poppy seed, sesame seed, lentil, blueberry, kidney bean, grape, kumquat, fig, lime, shrimp, lemon, apple, avocado, turnip, bell pepper, “large heirloom tomato” (apparently just “tomato” would have been too vague), banana, carrot, spaghetti squash, mango, ear of corn, rutabaga (!!!! Really!!), English hothouse cucumber (again, “cucumber” would be too vague?), head of cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, butternut squash, head of cabbage, four navel oranges (apparently they ran out of appropriate vegetables – also, at this point they begin comparing weight rather than length), jicama, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, Crenshaw melon, stalk of Swiss chard (and we’re back to length again, for some unknown reason), leek, mini watermelon (many expectant mothers would disagree with the word “mini” by this stage), pumpkin, and finally, baby. Whew!

I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry after reading that list! The only problem is that now I can’t bring myself to eat a butternut squash or a pumpkin or a jicama without thinking, “Hey, this reminds me of an X-week-old fetus!” and then promptly losing my appetite.

But I’ll admit that it is a lot more fun to picture a tiny baby as being the size of a grape rather than the dry “3/4 inches” or the even drier “1.6 cm”. I can’t picture a length without physically spreading my fingers that distance apart and looking at them, but tell me “apple” and I know exactly how big you mean. Any woman who’s ever asked a hairdresser to take off half an inch and ended up scalped understands that everyone’s concept of a measured length is different. But a kumquat is a kumquat is a kumquat. I suppose that food items are universal enough that everyone understands them and can easily picture them.

So I’ll just have to avoid eating bananas, carrots, mangos, and Chinese cabbage for a few months. I just hope that no-one ever compares the size of my baby to the size of a bowl of ice cream!

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hello, Baby Bump, I've Been Expecting You!

I’m naturally a relatively slender person, but I have no muscle tone at all so I’ve never had what would be called a flat tummy. The gentlest way to put it is that I have a “softly rounded belly”. It was true before my son was born and it was definitely true after he was born. I got back to my pre-baby weight pretty quickly, but my figure was not quite the same shape. So with this pregnancy, despite all the conventional wisdom that second pregnancies show earlier than first pregnancies, I have been approaching the end of my first trimester with no noticeable baby bump, just my usual “soft roundness”.

Until this morning. I got undressed to hop in the shower, caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror, and thought, “Where did THAT come from? It wasn’t there yesterday!” There was definitely roundness, but it certainly wasn’t soft any more. I went from zero to baby bump in literally 24 hours.

Which means I’ve hit the stage that every pregnant woman dreads: the “Is she fat or is she pregnant?” stage. The stage where your regular clothes are too tight but maternity clothes are still ridiculous. The stage where you discover tricks like putting a rubber band around the button of your jeans, through the buttonhole, and back around the button to buy you another inch or two around the waist. The stage where you wear long sweaters and leave your pants unbuttoned. The stage where you dig out every blousy, empire-waisted top and oversized sweatshirt in your closet. The stage where you borrow your husband’s clothes. The stage where you live in low-slung yoga pants. THE FAT STAGE.

Fortunately, I have one pair of jeans that has always been somewhat generous in the waist and is still comfortable. Unfortunately, they’re white denim so I can’t pretend I’m wearing a new pair of jeans every day like I could if they were standard blue denim. Anyone who sees me every day knows I wore the same pair of pants yesterday. (Fortunately, my husband and my son are the only ones who see me every day and neither of them really cares if I wear the same jeans for a month.) Also, white is not the most practical for wearing several days in a row when one has a 15-month-old who’s just learning to use a spoon and a cup. So yoga pants to the rescue! At least I can alternate the two until there’s enough laundry for a load – and it’s convenient that one pair is light and one is dark so whichever load is full first, that’s the pair that gets washed that day.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very excited about my baby bump. As lousy as I feel when I’m pregnant, I’m delighted to look the part, and I love seeing physical evidence of the little life that’s growing inside me. I have several friends who have had babies in the past week or two, and seeing photos of them with their newborns makes me even more excited to go through the whole process again. I had wondered if going through it a second time would be less awe-inspiring, if I would be less amazed by each milestone because I’d seen and felt it before. But I’m still astonished at the miracle of procreation, and my heart still skips a beat or two at each new development.

Welcome, baby bump, I’ve been looking forward to seeing you!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

There's a Day for That

Did you know that today (January 24) is Global Belly Laugh Day? Or that Penguin Awareness Day was last week? (I’ll admit to not knowing that penguins were, in fact, unaware.) You might have known that Talk Like a Pirate Day happens every September, but I bet you didn’t know that September also includes Be Late for Something Day (I suspect that was originally scheduled for August), Fight Procrastination Day (also originally scheduled for August) and Make Your Bed Day.

There really is a day for everything. In fact, a little bit of research results in the following list of days for January alone:
January 1: New Year’s Day (OK, this one gets a pass)
January 2: Run Up the Flagpole and See If Anyone Salutes Day
January 3: Festival of Sleep Day, Fruitcake Toss Day, and Humiliation Day (wonder if the third is directly related to the first two?)
January 4: Trivia Day
January 5: National Bird Day
January 6: Bean Day and Cuddle Up Day (ugh, not a wise combination)
January 7: Old Rock Day
January 8: Bubble Bath Day and Male Watcher’s Day (this combination could go either way, depending on the subject)
January 9: Play God Day
January 10: Peculiar People Day
January 11: Step in a Puddle and Splash Your Friend’s [sic] Day (too bad National Punctuation Day isn’t until September)
January 12: Feast of Fabulous Wild Men Day and National Pharmacist Day (double whammy for those fabulous wild pharmacists!)
January 13: International Skeptics Day and Make Your Dream Come True Day (need I even say anything about the juxtaposition of these two?)
January 14: Dress Up Your Pet Day
January 15: National Hat Day
January 16: National Nothing Day

I think I’ll stop at National Nothing Day. If you haven’t gotten the point by now, you’re not going to get it: If you want to celebrate something random and nonsensical, someone else probably thought of it already and assigned it an official “Day”. You can celebrate an officially-recognized theme every single day of the year, if you like. The fact that there are holidays that even Hallmark doesn’t make cards for is mind-blowing to me.

So what is the point of all these “Days”? The point is that there is always something to celebrate. No matter what other lousy stuff may be going on in your life, there’s some excuse to be silly and to laugh and to celebrate. If you’re into food, you could celebrate ice cream sandwiches (August 2), or crown roast of pork (March 7), or pastry (December 9), or angel food cake (October 10), or even moldy cheese (October 9). Maybe you’re thankful for working people and would rather celebrate mailmen (February 4), or cosmonauts (April 12), or waiters and waitresses (May 21), or even ratcatchers (July 22). Maybe what will make you happy is celebrating something musical like kazoos (January 28), or saxophones (November 6 – sorry, Dad!), or barbershop quartets (April 11), or tubas (May 6). Or perhaps you just need something completely goofy like wiggling your toes (August 6), or hugging your cat (June 4), or rubber erasers (April 15), or butterscotch pudding (September 19).

Whatever it is that will get you out of your funk and celebrating, it’s out there. So go have yourself a good belly laugh today!! Don’t worry, you can get back to crying in a couple of days - Opposite Day is on Wednesday.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Physics of Spoons

There are many processes in life that are so deeply ingrained in us that we don’t realize how complicated they really are. For example, a trained dancer who is asked to do a “triple time step” will perform a complicated series of steps without thinking about each separate part. To her, a triple is essentially a single action. To a dancer with less experience, the process consists of hop, shuffle, step, flap, step, stomp, reverse. To a dancer who is just learning the step, the process is something more like hop on your left foot, brush your right foot back and forth then step back and put your weight on your right foot, brush your left foot forward then step with your weight on it, step back onto your right foot, stomp your left foot on the floor, then do the whole thing all over again in the opposite direction. Put that way, it’s easy to see how complex the sequence is – at least, until you know it so well that you do it without thinking about it.

For a toddler, using a spoon is just as complicated. We adults don’t think twice about using one: you grab the spoon, you scoop some food onto it, you stick it in your mouth. Easy peasy, right? But if you watch a child who’s just learning to use a spoon, you realize that there are a lot of tiny picky details that we don’t even think about.

First of all, where you hold the spoon is very important. If you grab the very end of it, not only does it take a lot of coordination to scoop something onto the bowl of the spoon, but the slightest motion flings whatever is on the bowl up into the air and very far away from your mouth. You need to find that “sweet spot” where you have both strength and control. Short-handled baby spoons make this a little easier to deal with, at least, but it still takes practice to find that perfect balance point.

Next, you have to contend with the whole “angle of attack” thing. Gravity is not in your favor with most orientations. Sure, if we’re talking about cold Cream of Wheat or pudding, something will stick to the spoon no matter what orientation you hold the spoon at. Even something a bit soupier like applesauce or yogurt is pretty forgiving. But dry, unsticky things like peas or rice have an unpleasant habit of jumping right off the spoon unless the bowl is perfectly upright. And I don’t mean just upright when you scoop. It has to stay upright for that whole precarious journey from plate to mouth. That’s asking a lot of a child who six months ago could hardly sit up without assistance.

And then of course, you have the whole scooping action itself. You can’t just randomly jab the spoon into the food and hope to come up with something in the bowl. Unless we’re back to Cream of Wheat or pudding, the random jab maneuver is not likely to meet with a lot of success. The spoon needs to start off deep enough in the pile of food to get a mouthful on it, and it needs to move steadily enough to avoid dislodging its contents during the whole scooping arc. Again, peas and rice are not cooperative with this step of the process, and often result in an empty spoon reaching the mouth.

Impressively, most children do not seem to be particularly frustrated or disappointed by the empty spoon. Ryan, at least, enjoys chewing on the spoon as much as he does chewing on the food, so an empty spoon in the mouth is merely a mid-meal toy break. (It is also useful as a drumstick, thereby leading to another type of mid-meal toy break.) Nor is he bothered by the fact that as much food lands on his shirt and on the table as makes it into his mouth. Occasionally his hunger overtakes his interest in the spoon and he shovels a few mouthfuls in with his hands, but generally he goes back to working with the spoon again pretty quickly.

As I watch his skills develop, and as I watch his surprising patience and diligence in practicing and honing those skills, I am once again amazed at how quickly children go from not even comprehending how something is done to mastering it completely. Within just a few months, Ryan has gone from tottering a few steps to confidently running all over the house. He’s gone from staring uncomprehendingly as us when we talk to him to eagerly responding to verbal requests and recognizing names and objects. He’s gone from sitting back and watching other people show him his toys to actively finding things (toys and non-toys alike) to amuse himself with. And I can only imagine what changes are to come over the next few months. I can hardly wait!

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday morning I got out of bed and wished I could turn around and crawl right back in. Or die. Either option was equally welcome. I was sick and tired and I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I thought I’d had terrible morning sickness when I was pregnant with my son but for the past three weeks I’ve hardly been able to function. On a good day I managed a shower (but had to lie down and rest before I had enough energy to get dressed). On a bad day (which was most of the time), I spent all day on the couch feeling sorry for myself. Fortunately the basement is baby-proofed enough that I could let Ryan run around and keep himself entertained while I “supervised” from the couch. When I didn’t have the energy to stop him from pulling all the videotapes off the shelf, I’d put him in his playpen for an hour or two to give myself a break. Sometimes I’d crawl in there with him and just lay on the floor watching him and chatting with him. The poor kid obviously sensed my distress and would periodically tug at my arm or my sweater (OK, let’s be honest: my nightgown) to get me to sit up. I felt like a horrible, neglectful mother, but it was all I could manage to keep him fed, changed, and safe.

But yesterday afternoon, all that changed. I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, and when I told her all my woes she gave me a prescription for Zofran. I had my doubts as to how helpful it would be, since my sickness was not only nausea but light-headedness, shakiness, and exhaustion, but I figured that even if it only took the edge off it would be a move in the right direction.

Oh, ye of little faith. Within an hour of taking the first pill (and it wasn’t even a whole pill, it was half a pill!), I felt like a new woman. Instead of lying miserably on the couch, I was sitting up. Instead of staring unhappily around the kitchen and being repulsed by the thought of food, I eagerly ate two servings of hearty soup. My husband and I were sitting in the study and for some reason I laughed at something, and he turned to me and said, “That’s the first time I’ve heard you laugh in weeks.” And I realized that he was right. I’d been trying to put a good face on things, but I didn’t realize how miserable I’d been (to myself and to those around me) until I was back to my old self again.

I did sleep late today, but when I got up I had breakfast, I took a shower (I didn’t even take a nap afterwards), I brushed my hair, I took Ryan shopping, I made myself real food for lunch, and then – wonder of wonders – I cooked dinner. I even tasted it while I was cooking it. And I’m even looking forward to eating it! I’m not ready to run a marathon or anything, but the fact that I’ve been upright for more than 8 hours in a row is nothing short of a miracle.

Only a little more than twenty-four hours ago, I was prepared to endure this pregnancy, to merely get through it - to enjoy it in theory but not in practice, so to speak. I am, of course, absolutely delighted to be expecting another child. This child was just as hoped-for, just as prayed-for, and just as longed-for as our first child. But the thought of feeling the way I did for nine more months (or even nine more hours!) was almost more than I could bear. But the relief and the joy of feeling healthy enough to truly enjoy and appreciate the miracle of another child growing inside me is almost more than I can bear in a good way.

What a difference a day makes.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Every Rutabaga Is Different

[The blog entry is dedicated fondly to my college advisor, Dr. Russ Camp, who taught me not only that every rutabaga is different, but who also taught me the "Linus Pauling Song", which is sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and includes the immortal lyrics, "Glory glory Linus Pauling, glory glory peptide bonding, glory glory polypeptides, that do the twist to form proteins, rah rah rah!" And a special shout-out to fellow alumni and now professors Dr. Craig Story and Dr. Dorothy Boorse, both of whom carry on in the tradition of Dr. Camp.]

When I was in college, one of my biology courses included a lab session in which we determined the enzyme content of a rutabaga. Each student was given a rutabaga to process and analyze. Naturally, at the end of the lab all the students compared their answers and immediately went into a panic because our results were all over the map. But the professor reassured us that we hadn’t necessarily screwed up the experiment; it was just that “every rutabaga is different.” And for the rest of our college careers, that phrase became our class motto. Any time something came out in a way we didn’t expect, we’d explain it by saying off-handedly, “Well, every rutabaga is different.”

I’ve been out of college for twenty years (gulp!), and I still catch myself using that phrase now and then. In fact, I’ve used it several times lately in reference to my second pregnancy. I find myself thinking, “By the time I was 9 weeks pregnant with Ryan, my pants were tight. Is something wrong with this pregnancy? No, it’s just that every rutabaga is different.” Or, “I never had trouble with food tasting funky with my last pregnancy, why do so many things taste weird this time? It must be because every rutabaga is different.”

I think the fact that symptoms can be so different from pregnancy to pregnancy is God’s way of preparing a mom for the fact that her children are likely to be completely different from each other, as well. My husband often found himself comparing our son’s development with that of his older daughter: “Rosemary used to squirm in the bathtub just like that!” or “Rosemary pulled herself up at the same age!” It bothered me sometimes, because I wanted to say to him, “He’s not Rosemary! He’s his own person!” But I realized that he was just recalling her childhood with all the joy and excitement with which we were both enjoying Ryan’s. And I have no doubt that I will do exactly the same thing with this new baby: “She’s squirming in the tub just like Ryan used to!” or “He’s pulling himself up just the same way Ryan did at that age!”

And I’ll just have to remind myself that this new baby isn’t Ryan, she’s her own person (or he’s his own person). After all, every rutabaga is different.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Morning Sickness Diet, or, What Can I Eat Today That Won't Make Me Throw Up?

Ever since Ryan was born – actually, ever since Ryan was conceived – I hoped that my next pregnancy would be less fraught with morning sickness. I read all kinds of articles in hope that someone would tell me that second babies cause less morning sickness. And I found articles that said exactly that. I also found articles that warned the exact opposite. I spoke to friends who had subsequent pregnancies with symptoms nearly identical to their first pregnancies, and to friends whose pregnancies varied wildly from child to child. So I had no idea what to expect from this pregnancy.

Until I hit the 6-week mark, at which point my body totally rebelled. I was nauseous morning, noon, and night. Not only did I have bionic nose, but I developed an aversion to many smells. One night my stepdaughter made Brussels sprouts and I actually went outside and stood on the porch in the freezing cold air to escape the smell (actually, the fresh cold air felt wonderful). I borrowed my husband’s toothpaste one morning and gagged as soon as the toothbrush hit my mouth. The mere thought of the grilled chicken that had gotten me through my last pregnancy made my stomach roil. I spent my days lying on the couch and praying that this stage would be short-lived.

Fortunately, things eased up just a tiny bit at the 8-week mark. I still have nausea on and off through the day, but it’s a bit less severe. And I’ve even discovered a few foods that I can manage to get down. It’s rather an eclectic menu, though, and consists mainly of starch and dairy. Come to think of it, I think it consists entirely of white and beige foods. Here’s an example of what I had to eat today: For breakfast, I had a piece of toast, which I washed down with a vanilla Ensure. Around lunchtime, Ryan and I shared some vanilla yogurt and I had a bite or two of his grilled-cheese sandwich (white American cheese on white bread, of course). This afternoon, I had a coffee-flavored Ensure and shared Ryan’s string cheese. And for supper, I think I might be up for a handful of elbow noodles and a glass of milk. Oh! I almost forgot that I had an afternoon snack of a couple of Christmas cookies (one shortbread and one M&M – and the M&Ms were green and red, so it wasn’t a completely white and beige day).

Every once in a while, I can get wild and crazy and manage a few bites of squash, or some soup, and Spaghettios with franks are still a good bet most of the time (although everything from a can tastes a little funny this time). So I’m fitting in the vegetables and protein wherever I can. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t fun, but when I’m at the end of my rope, all I have to do it look at my precious little boy and I remember the prize at the end of the journey. And that makes it all worth it.

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