Let the dreams begin

Last night was plain awful. I dreamt that Dick came to me and told me he’d been unfaithful numerous times but that this time he was in love and was going to have the Dave Matthews Band play at his second wedding. One of the worst parts was that my family was sure that it must be my fault because I am apparently as big a shrew as Elizabeth Edwards allegedly is, and remind me not to read about their twisted lives right before bed again.

I responded by draining our bank accounts (didn’t take long), getting cash advances on our credit cards (also didn’t take long), dropping off the kids at school, and flying to Europe. (I called my mom from the airport to ask her to pick up the girls). Why I thought slumming around Europe was a good idea with a severely troubled tummy, I don’t know. And really I’d never do that. This time of year I’d fly to New Zealand, not Europe.

When I was pregnant with Sally, I dreamt that I gave birth to a seahorse, and as I breastfed her she got smaller and smaller. Another time it was that I was able to take my babies out and look at them, only they were graham crackers, and I lined them up on the floor of my mom’s old minivan, and then I had to yell at Brad for trying to eat my babies.

Anyone else think it’s crazy that on top of peeing four times a night you have to dream about serial abandonment?

Love the one you’re with/the one you are

Last week on our walk I told Chrysanthemum all about Penelope Trunk’s complicated love life. I also told her about my favorite of Penelope’s posts ever — it has “language” but may be the truest elegy to motherhood ever written. If you don’t recognize yourself in her post, I envy you, but I also think you’re in denial. Or maybe perfect. I suppose that’s possible.

Then I told her all about Penelope’s discussion of The Pioneer Woman, because we both love The Pioneer Woman. (Who doesn’t?) Poor Chrysanthemum probably gets a little tired of my telling her stuff during our walks. But the juxtaposition of Pioneer Woman and Penelope Trunk is absolutely fascinating. Pioneer Woman lives on a ranch, has kids, writes a popular (understatement) blog. Penelope Trunk lives now on a farm, has kids, writes a popular blog. They’re similar in age and superficial candor and charm in their writing. Penelope writes about more hard things, more sad things, than Pioneer Woman, or maybe she just writes about them more darkly.

Penelope’s post about the Pioneer Woman pointed out several things that Pioneer Woman does on her blog that make her so likeable (presumably in contrast to Penelope’s more abrasive, though equally appealing persona). Pioneer Woman never “disrespects her guy” and she’s optimistic. The difference between the two blogs boils down to this: “that [Penelope is] drawn to writing about the fights, and the Pioneer Woman is drawn to writing about pies, and feeding the Marlboro Man.”

The women differ in other areas: Penelope works more than full-time at her fancy career and Pioneer Woman homeschools her four children (though surely she also has a lot of household help, and spends plenty of time working on her blog and recipe book business). But the thing I think they differ in most is that Penelope is so unhappy much of the time and Pioneer Woman is not only happy but content and satisfied (though never smug, which would be unforgivable). If I thought their blogs were mirror images of themselves and their lives, I’d want to talk to Penelope every day, but I’d want to be Pioneer Woman.

(I’m really not a blog stalker. I just take my fictional characters very seriously. If I could choose anyone to be, it’d be Anne, or Valancy, or maybe even Emily, though she was monumentally too proud. Probably Valancy. Because of all that money.)

Reading Penelope I always think of how I want to do this little or big thing differently. Even though, like her, I am drawn to writing about the hard things. Of course I love and appreciate my husband. Since he doesn’t wear chaps and I don’t know how to work my camera, and because of course I love and appreciate him, what interests me is the things he does that make my otherwise-fairytale life frustrating in the extreme. Like, he won’t take a class to learn how to finish our basement even though our fourth kid will be squished in our current 1600 square feet.

But I want to be happy, like Pioneer Woman. Somehow I want to retain my critical, curious thinking like Penelope but gain a joie de vivre over every little thing like PW. Because what I like about Pioneer Woman most, maybe, is that even though she’s obviously rich and lucky (and talented), I still don’t hate her. Somehow she has me convinced that even if she were stuck in a dingy tenement with four rickets babies, she’d still be making a beautiful life.

So I have a goal to disrespect my guy less. Beginning with three things recently that made me glad to be once again bearing his child. (Here, if I were Pioneer Woman, I’d say something about my ovaries singing, or something.)

His touch: I have been less-than-not-interested in anything relating to connubial bliss for the past month. He brushes against me in the hall and my tummy quivers, and not in the good way. Then last week, as we lay in bed, him on the laptop, me reading a book, I reached for his hand and just felt his palm. His skin was warm and pleasantly dry. A little rough from work, but smooth and tingly. I rubbed it for a couple minutes and then turned back to my book. He laughed: “That’s enough holding hands, huh?”

His little women: Of course we want a boy this time around. Of course. But now that I know how different each child is, that we won’t be repeating ourselves with another little girl, I am eager either way. Tom said last Sunday morning that he’d had a dream we had our baby, and she was old enough to be crawling around, and she was so cute. When we think of names, at the dinner table, he says silly things like Zeus and Wolf, and then he says he really likes Mia too.

dick-with-girls

His devotion: Lucy had croup Saturday night, and Tom was up with her several times, wrapping her in a blanket and sticking her head in the freezer. She breathed easier downstairs (where it’s always cooler), and he wanted to be sure he heard her if she needed him, so they slept on the living room couch. Then he got up early and took the other kids to church.

dick-reading-to-lucy

(These are old pictures, but there’s something about snow that makes my camera not work.)

Don’t think about that, think about this

Today, though I didn’t much feel like it, I went to a quilting bee for Haiti organized by Kalli (with LDS Humanitarian Services). I wasn’t there long; I’m not an expert quilt-tier. But even that forty-five minutes of being with fun ladies and thinking about something besides my own complaints, really helped. I mean, physically I actually feel better. Maybe coincidence, maybe distraction, but whatever it was, I’ll take it. (And take it again and again if I can make it to Sue’s monthly service thingies. If you’re in Utah, join us! (her!)

It reminded me of other events that I’ve gone to in the past year even though my initial inclination is to stay home with a book even when I’m not gestating. Whenever I do get out and see new things, hear new people, take the opportunity to think differently or more about anything, I feel better, even if the event isn’t overtly “inspirational.”

This is not a stunning insight, I know, but I think I’m a bit of an all-or-nothing thinker when it comes to new things. Tom and I spent years moving to new places — Japan, New York City, Cairo, Florida — and every day in those places was an overload of “new,” a sensory and intellectual feast of “different.” Here in Utah, where I am glad to be settled (at least for now) I forget that there is so much to experience right in this familiar place.

One of my favorite things last year was the Moms Who Make It (MWMI) conference, though I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. “Entrepreneur” has always seemed like a vaguely dirty word to me, from my days idolizing Thoreau to seeing the shady side of my ex-brother-in-law. But MWMI was amazing. Tonight we were having FHE/scripture study with the girls, and discussing Moses 8, and I got choked up explaining to my daughter that we need to keep journals, and this is one reason I blog, so that my life as a woman is recorded, because sometimes the scriptures we have are really lacking when it comes to talking about women’s lives, about our hopes and motives and fears.

Listening to the amazing women who spoke and taught at MWMI, courageous women from different faiths and life circumstances, was awe-inspiring. I don’t throw superlatives around: it really was wonderful. It made me want to work harder in my roles as mother and wife, and also to pursue more diligently those talents and interests I have. And to be grateful, for all that I am and can imagine being in the future. I’m so glad to live in a time and place when we have opportunities, where we can gather in public any time we want without worrying about acid being thrown in our faces or about how we’ll feed our children tonight (though several of the women, who make “entrepreneur” look G-O-O-D, began their businesses as a way to provide).

I don’t know if there’ll be another Moms Who Make It conference, but if you get the chance to attend something organized by Quinn Curtis, go for it! (I was also especially impressed with Raw Melissa, Cari Greer,and Pam Baumeister.)

Anyway. That’s old history, but it’s why I’m excited about the Wasatch Woman of the Year lunch this Friday. It’s the kind of thing that I’m initially inclined to roll my eyes about or feel awkward about playing dress-up to attend (since I still usually feel like a little kid pretending to be grown up, especially around such accomplished women). It also takes some negotiating to leave the kids in the middle of the day; I don’t ask my husband to come home early from work unless it’s really important.

And this — celebrating women who are great mothers, great leaders in our community, great wives and sisters and daughters (and hopefully being inspired to be the same myself) — is important. You can come too (I think they even let men in :P).

An Update and Some Thoughts (catchy, huh?)

Several weeks ago I went to my first prenatal visit. I told the doctor I was either seven or eleven weeks along, and we did an ultrasound to get a better idea of just how unreliable my memory is. It was early morning, I was drinking water like mad so I could give a sample later, and when the doctor put the wand on my lower belly, there was nothing to see in my uterus.

Five months before that, I had gone in at seven weeks because I was bleeding, and we saw a potato-shaped lump in there, but no heartbeat.

This time there was nothing. No pole, no body, no heartbeat. I wondered aloud if I was having one of those psychological pregnancies, or if I’d read the home test wrong, after all (I felt heartbroken, and also foolish). We did a urine test, which was positive, and figured my body could have already resorbed the embryo (the “products of conception”) or maybe it was ectopic, or something.

Thirty-two hours later I was at the hospital for a fancy ultrasound. I told the tech, as she led me back, that I wasn’t expecting good news, that we hadn’t seen anything on the machine at my doctor’s office, that this would be my third miscarriage, and that I was okay with it, really.

She turned on the machine, squirted me with the cold jelly, pressed on my belly, and said, “I don’t know what to tell you pumpkin, but there’s something in there, and it’s got a heartbeat.”

A heartbeat of 152, in fact, and confirmation that I was seven weeks and four days along.

(I have a very retroverted uterus, which I knew, but didn’t think of, and also, turns out that you cannot emphasize enough how important a full bladder is for ultrasound imaging.)

Since then I’ve been miserably, gloriously nauseated. Well, more miserably, but I’ll say gloriously for the purposes of posterity. It’s certainly better to be nauseated and pregnant than nauseated and not-pregnant. During the thirty-hours I thought I had miscarried again, I was so angry to be still nauseated. Luckily I didn’t turn to drink or start smoking crack, but I did refuse to take my prenatal vitamin that night. Sorry, baby.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my desires for a more natural labor this time around. I’ve had three children, three epidurals, two inductions, and until a couple years ago, I thought my labors and deliveries were just about ideal. There were no major complications, no forceps or vacuums or c-sections (and my babies were all healthy, no small consideration).

But my epidurals were never wholly satisfactory. Though I usually started with a “walking” epidural, I have a small scoliosis in my spine that makes the numbness affect only the left side of my body until second and third doses are given and I lie on my right side and then end up flat on my back, afraid to so much as shift or I’ll fall off the bed, I’m so numb. This makes for awkward laboring.

I’ve been thinking, since following Rixa‘s and Heather‘s blogs (and even Dooce‘s), and researching more about the effects of medical intervention on labor, that I would love to have a a less-interventioned birth. More importantly — a more prepared, educated birth, a more aware-of-my-options and in-tune-with-my-body birth.

My two ultrasounds at seven weeks are so metaphoric (illustrative?) in this context. The second, more invasive (including a vaginal wand) ultrasound (intervention) was even more unnecessary than the first ultrasound/intervention, and yet, once I had had the first, I could not forgo the second. I was glad after the first, I told my mom, that at least I had found out early, and that we could do something about it instead of suffering severe nausea and delusional happy baby daydreaming for no reason. And I was even gladder for the second, for obvious reasons.

But I can’t say that I honestly wish I hadn’t had the first ultrasound, or that I would not have an (early) ultrasound with another pregnancy. My previous miscarriages make me unwilling to “trust nature” or “trust birth” to the extent of not needing (emotionally) — medical proof that there is a tiny heart beating away in my belly.

In thinking of my previous labors and births, I have felt ashamed that I took so little responsibility for or control over what happened. That I took as much initiative in childbirth as I did in going for an appendectomy at age fourteen. Why wasn’t I more curious to learn about the actual process, more empowered, more determined to experience, more eager to do it well? Why was I so passive? (I am not a passive person usually.)

So I had a stack of books to read and grand plans to see if I could find a midwife (preferably one who would know of a woman who would let me observe her birth — despite being delivered of three babies myself, I really have no idea what a natural birth would look/be like). Or maybe I would just watch Ricki Lake‘s documentary and listen to Hypnobabies.

But I have been so sick and snappish, so despairing and disgruntled and unhappy, I have not read a single book or written a single line in my birth plan.

Perhaps I am merely lazy. Thinking of this concentratedly enough to write about it, I remember my former passion to make this birth special, but when 3 pm (or 11 am, lately) rolls around, and with it, the turbulent esophagus, unsettle-able stomach, and general misery, I am sure of two things: that I just want this to be over, and that maybe I should be easier on my pre-enlightened self. Maybe she just wanted to lay down and rest, too. (And who could blame her?)

Disconnect

One of my best friends came to stay with us for a few days. She planned her trip before I was struck down in the afternoon and evenings by this first-trimester-stomach-unhappiness, and I have been hoping that I can be cheerful enough to not rain on her vacation. (I am great in the mornings, which is why I am up writing this.)

So we were talking about pregnancy last night, because I wanted an early start monopolizing the conversation. I am sicker this time than ever before, and I weigh a lot more. I weigh more at the beginning of this pregnancy than I did at the end of my first pregnancy nine years ago. Though I am only 8 1/2 weeks along, I feel encumbered when I bend over, out of breath when I climb the stairs, and nauseated beyond belief at food that smelled good an hour ago.

My body image/contentment is at an all-time low, especially as I know how important good health and activity are to my labor/delivery/recovery and mental well-being.

Also, I just feel fat and ugly, and it makes me sad.

I mentioned my friend Beth who is suffering the hemorrhoids at the end of her pregnancy, and how she can’t understand how some women love being pregnant. I love feeling the baby move, hearing the heartbeat, and thinking about the new baby, but I do not enjoy being pregnant.

So my friend who is staying here told me that she liked being pregnant because it was the one time she was proud of her body. She’s pretty happy with her legs and arms in general, but her middle has always been a trouble section, with dips and rolls and when she is pregnant and that’s all smoothed out by the baby bump, she is happy with her body. She feels beautiful.

She is in awe that her body can work so well to grow a beautiful baby, and she just feels happy and proud, Look What I Can Do!

Good point, I thought. It will sound even better in the morning, when I am on the other side of this nocturnal barfiness.

About an hour later Chrysanthemum was here to watch Fringe with us, and we came across a post inviting shocked! outrage! over these Cotton Mother Dolls that Rixa highlighted (very favorably) a year ago.

CMD holding baby

My friend obliged, saying there was something wrong about that, the dolls are gross, and why would you want your kids to see that? My initial reaction to Rixa’s post was that the dolls were a little scary, but that was a year ago, and I am always ready to disagree, even with myself.

Because life is not as neat as a blog post, I stumbled around, settling with: “Would you rather your daughters played with Cheerleader Barbie who’ll teach them anorexia?”

These dolls are graphic, anatomically correct; they’re probably not for everyday play, though it’s hard for me to articulate why. Certainly they’re better than boob-job, impossibly-long-legged Barbie. Would it harm my daughters in some way to see and hold a realistic representation of a mother giving birth, on hands and knees, to a baby? Or to play with a doll that models breastfeeding?

Why don’t I worry about it when they worship everything princess, sparkly, and fake? Why don’t I cringe when we pass mannequins at the mall with Victoria’s Secret bodies and push-ups?

If pregnancy is the one time you’re proud of your body, shouldn’t that be an image to cherish?

I understand if modesty is the main concern, the feeling that the body (and its form) is too sacred to be played with on the living room carpet by cheerful, irreverent toddlers. But I hate to tell you: our Barbies are more often naked than clothed. And my girls just really don’t need to be seeing that.

What a mother should look like

It took two short weeks of sitting in Sunday School together for Dick and I to paint ourselves as faith-deficient troublemakers. (At BYU, this length of time was usually unnecessary; everyone knows that English majors like to ask critical questions.) The teacher today was very nice about it. He probably made a mistake in acknowledging that we had a point; others in the class were not about to make that mistake.

And I remembered, after several years in primary, why it is often simpler to save my questions for later, if one does not want to be treated like a . . . well, like a faith-deficient troublemaker. (When in fact one is merely curious and intrigued by inconsistencies.)

Anyway, by the time Relief Society rolled around, I was properly chastised. Chrysanthemum, having taken Dick’s spot, may have heard mutterings, but mostly I was good.

Our lesson was a discussion of New Year’s resolutions, based on the three goals in the Introduction to Relief Society: increase faith, strengthen families and homes, and serve the Lord and His children. So far, so worthy a list of endeavors.

With each goal there is a quote from last year’s Ensign or Church News. The quote under “strengthen families and homes” is:

Although parenting is hard work, it is made a little easier with the gospel, said Joselyn Akana . . . from Hawaii. ‘It helps me when I have the gospel to anchor me in the caring of my family,’ she said it is important in mothering to consider what a mother should look and sound like. The key to motherhood, she said, is having patience and relying on the gospel for guidance” (Lisa Christensen, “Convert Says Gospel Helps with Parenting,” Church News, June 13, 2009, 15). [sic]

I agree with a lot of this. Parenting is hard work, and the gospel makes it easier by infusing it with eternal significance and providing both interesting examples of parenting and the desire to be a good parent. And I believe whole-heartedly that the key to motherhood is patience. What dominated our discussion, though, was the middle part, that:

it is important in mothering to consider what a mother should look and sound like.

If you have read this website for any amount of time, you know that I am rather preoccupied with what a mother should sound like, or rather, my regret over too often not sounding like what I think a mother should sound like.

But, no. We discussed what a mother should look like. The teacher (also our great Relief Society president who I personally love not only because she drives Sally to school every morning) started by saying her mother always got up 30 minutes before the rest of the family, no matter how early that turned out to be, even on camping trips, to do her hair and have full makeup on before anyone saw her. And (this is why I love her) she said that that always seemed like a huge waste of time to her, and that she is personally much lazier, etc, but now (and this is where things took a downturn) she thinks she maybe  should definitely be doing this.

Several sisters shared similar stories and proclaimed the virtues of treating motherhood like any other job (you’d get dressed up for a real job, right?) and having lots of mirrors in your house so you could check your hair and lipstick and your shirt to make sure you looked good all day, especially if your husband is retired and can see you anytime.

The 15-minute to one-hour power session of cleaning the house, grooming the children, and having dinner on the table right before dad comes home was extolled, and the testimonial given that if we only cared for our appearance we’d feel better about ourselves, and don’t our children (and husbands) deserve to see us looking our best?

I think about this a lot. I think about what my children, my daughters see when they look at me. I think about what they deserve, what they need, what will equip them best for life as they look at me. Especially when Susan makes some statement of discovery and description in the car about how being a doctor like grandpa or a writer like daddy are boy jobs and being a mom is a girl job.

Of course, being a mom is a girl job, and in some ways I do it it the traditional girliest manner possible. But I want Susan to know that girls can be doctors or writers too, and sometimes I worry about how I can ever really teach that to my daughters if all they see me doing is being a mom. On the other hand, I want them to see that I value them and our family enough to devote so much of my time and energy to being a mother. If this is the girl job I choose to show them, then what a mother should look like becomes fraught with meaning.

What should a mother look like?

Should a mother look like a clean home and dinner on the table and clean-faced toddlers and Mary Kay cosmetics?

In some ways (surprisingly), yes:

A clean house is worth pursuing because the cleaner and more organized things are, the easier it is for kids to play, create, and feed themselves, which leads, of course, to a messy house, but it’s a worthwhile cycle because the more the kids can do for themselves, the more I can do (and the more they are learning and growing), not because with a clean house I can be “unafraid to open the door if someone drops in.”

A table set for dinner when Dick arrives home and happy smiling children is worth working towards because it means the girls have learned to cheerfully help in the kitchen and that we have successfully worked together to create something we will all enjoy, not because it means I’ve worked behind the scenes to set a pretty stage.

Three daughters groomed for church or school (or dad’s homecoming) is a triumph when it means I have exchanged meaningful words with them while the hairbrush was in my hand, not when it means I’ve harped impatiently for them to JUST HOLD STILL.

And the Mary Kay cosmetics? Few things feel better than a hot shower after a hard workout or hours spent languishing with the morning sickness in bed.

Some things do, though. There are days, too infrequent, when Dick comes home and I look up from the book I’m reading or the story I’m writing, and I see the clock says 6:30 pm, and there are legos and Barbies on the carpet, paint and glitter glue on the table, clementine peels and yogurt containers all over the kitchen. Perhaps wet snow clothes are draped over chairs and I am smelly and muzzy from forgetting I even have a body. Dick is unperturbed (I chose well), and I wonder if I look then as a mother should — lost in thought.

I think I do.