What I — A Totally Biased Mother — Think You Need For Your Baby

Note: Hello lovelies! If you are a regular reader here, you are probably used to my commentary on parenthood, family structures, social justice, and gender. TODAY IS A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT. It’s more of a classic “mommy blog” style post. Why am I doing it? Well, when we were preparing to have a baby, I read approximately one thousand “what you REALLY need for baby” lists and I found people sharing their perspective to be really helpful. Now that our little human is over seven months old, I feel like I have a little bit of insight (what we used, what we didn’t use, etc.) and I’d like to share it with others!
So non-parents, you may want to sit this one out, or maybe share it with friends on the verge of parenting? I don’t know.

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When I was in Junior High, in health class, there was a whole unit that should have been called Having A Baby Is Awful And Will Totally Kill You So Don’t Have Sex. When I pointed out that this unit actually had nothing to do with health, the teacher scolded me. Here she was, trying to convince teens not to be “loose” and the last thing she needed was my semantics!
Mind you, we could have easily talked about how horrible pregnancy can be, and it would have at least been related. But we didn’t. Instead, we each received a list of all the items we would need for a baby, and a catalogue for a department store. Our job was to find the items, tally up the total, and cry in fear because there was literally no way we could afford all that shit.

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When I showed my mother the assignment, she scoffed. She assured me that we could get most of those items elsewhere for cheaper, that I probably wouldn’t use them, that baby showers were a thing, and that if I was a teen mom I certainly wouldn’t be getting that four hundred dollar crib.

Basically, she didn’t understand that the assignment was not actually about baby furniture, it was about slut shaming.

(apparently I can’t write a blog post without social commentary!)

Ok, without further ado, here is what I, one biased mother on the internet, believe you probably need for your new baby.

 

Stuff You Really Need
This is the stuff I would suggest trying to have on hand, or mostly on hand, before there’s a baby in your house.

1. A Place For the Baby to Sleep

It could be a crib, a basinet, a cosleeper, whatever, but even if you are planning on exclusively cosleeping, there’s a huge benefit to having a dedicated plan to put the baby down when/if you need to. I suggest a crib, because the baby will grow out of all of the other options within three months (or two months if your kid is like mine) and a crib is safe even when they start rolling.

Speaking of safety, I also suggest buying the crib new. I know plenty of people who have got used cribs and been super happy with their children all survived. But you don’t want to accidentally end up with something that’s been recalled, and safety standards have changed. Beyond that, however, I don’t think what you spend or what you get makes much difference (outside of personal taste). We got our crib for something like $130 at target. We also used a moses basket in his first two months for the convenience of having him right next to our (low to the floor) bed. But we could have just put the crib mattress next to our mattress and that would have done the same thing.

2. A Carseat, even if you don’t have a car

Carseats are another safety issue, obviously. Even if you don’t have a car, it’s likely you’ll need to ride in a car with your baby at some point. If you give birth in a hospital, they won’t let you leave without one.

Do your research on this! What makes a carseat the safest possible way for your child to ride in a car is that it is installed correctly. If it’s not installed correctly, well, you almost might as well not have it. It turns out lots and lots of people are all installing their carseats wrong. Sorry. So you might not want to listen to your friends and relatives on this one, because they’re likely all doing it wrong. I know I sound like a jackass, but this is an area worth being a jackass. If you own a car, get one that’s easy to install in your car. If you don’t, get one that’s easy to install in lots of cars (it will still be harder in some). And for the love of — your child — take the time to learn how to install it correctly ahead of time. You can spend a lot or a little on your carseat, and spending more probably doesn’t make your kid any safer.

We don’t have a car, so we opted to skip the infant seat and start with a convertible carseat that supposedly was suitable for babies 5 pounds and up. Our baby was 8 pounds, and I will tell you getting him into that giant carseat was hell for the first month, and I deeply regretted our money making scheme. But after surviving that first month, it’s been great, and I’m routinely smugly happy that we didn’t get a seat we could only use for a year. I don’t know what to tell you, is what I’m saying.

3. Swaddling Blankets

You will need baby blankets. If you have a choice, get muslin swaddling blankets rather than those tiny receiving blankets. The reason is they will last longer if you are actually swaddling your baby, eventually you won’t be able to keep them in a receiving blanket at all (and that eventually could be soon, depending on your baby’s size). You will also probably be given blankets by well meaning friends and relatives, so you may be able to just coast on those. I like the swaddles though! We got a four pack of the a brand that isn’t that fancy brand everyone talks about. They’re cute, the baby still loves them, and sometimes my wife and I borrow them and pretend they are scarves.

4. A decent first aid kit

You’re going to want a thermometer, a nasal aspirator, a medicine dropper… maybe a couple other things? We got two different baby first aid kits that came in little pouches to keep everything in (handy for the diaper bag!) but honestly two is overkill. Also if you just have those items you could just put them in a small bag or container, then you’re good.

5. Some bottles, like three, and a drying rack

Even if you are determined to never give your kid an artificial nipple, something could go wrong. You could end up in the hospital like I did. It is better if no one has to run out and buy bottles in that case. Just have a couple. Not very many, a couple. I guess if you are exclusively bottle feeding, it makes sense to have more, but I don’t have any experience with that. In my experience, more bottles just means more dirty bottles in the sink. You don’t want that, that’s annoying. We ended up with hand-me-down bottles from friends and family, the bottles that came with my breast pump, the free bottles from the hospital, and the two bottles we registered for. We could have easily got by with just two bottles. Get three and you’re planning ahead.

Also get a dedicated drying rack. It doesn’t have to be one of those cute ones that’s FOR baby bottles, but it’s nice to have a separate place to put those things, especially if you are also washing breast pump pieces.

6. A breast pump if you are breastfeeding

Ok so your mileage may vary here. If you plan to formula feed, disregard.

I registered for a high quality hand pump and I love it. I also have a double electric pump, but I hate it. For whatever reason it hurts me to use, even though the hand pump doesn’t. I also don’t pump all that much, so using the hand pump isn’t a big deal. Friends who work full time out of the home assure me that they need the electric pump.

You can absolutely use your friend’s old pump, you just want to get new membranes for it, because they wear out.

7. Cloth diapers, like 25ish, a handful of covers

If you even think you might want to cloth diaper, I think it’s worth it to have some ahead of time. You could run out of disposables in the night and need something to put on the baby’s butt RIGHT NOW (this has happened to me) or you could decide disposables are too expensive for your family, in which case making the switch will be easier if you already have the stuff in the house. If you don’t end up cloth diapering, I hear the flat ones make great burp cloths. We got lucky and never really needed burp cloths, so that’s just what I’ve heard.

We like prefolds, and we got ours hand-me-down from a family that decided they were done with cloth. Do get enough to make a decent load of laundry, don’t get enough to make multiple loads. I think 25, 30 at the most, is a good number. The reason is you don’t want your diaper laundry to sit for more than 48 hours, so you don’t actually need to have diapers to last more than 2 days, unless you really really just like storing extra things you don’t use. I don’t. And if you’re anything like me, if you have more than 2 days worth of diapers, you’ll accidentally let the laundry pile up. It will get so gross. It has poop on it, for crying out loud.

Also obviously you need covers, but not as many as you need diapers, because you’ll probably only use 1-2 covers a day.

Before you buy a massive amount of fancy brand new cloth diapers, bear in mind that how much money cloth diapering saves you is variable. It was great for us when we lived in a house with a washing machine in the basement. Now that we live in an apartment with coin op machines, we save a whole nine bucks a month…

8. Disposable diapers, even if you plan to exclusively cloth diaper

The bottom line is you need to have a back up, kind of no matter what. They don’t have to be fancy, but they do have to exist. There are going to be times when you want to be able to just throw the shit away. Maybe you don’t have the energy to keep up with the laundry right now (I have been there!) or maybe you want to go out with the baby and don’t want to have to carry nasty diapers home (I’ve been there too!) or maybe  the baby wakes up in the night because their diaper is soggy (oh yeah) and you think the disposable will hold more of the moisture away from their skin (it will).

In almost everything else, I say skip the newborn size. But for diapers they’re actually kind of handy because they have a cut out for the umbilical cord stump. I’d get one pack of newborns, one pack of size ones, and see what you need down the line.

9. Washcloths/rags/cloth wipes/you get the idea

Pretty self explanatory, you want something you can wipe your kid with. I love baby washcloths because they are TINY and therefor a handful of the things seems to fit in any load of laundry no matter what.

10. Disposable wipes

Get the unscented/sensitive skin kind just to be safe. It’s better to just wipe your baby’s butt with plain water, but a package of wipes is hella convenient.

11. Baby soap

Yeah you are going to need gentle soap with which to wash that baby. We get hippie stuff because our child’s skin is so sensitive and because I hate Johnson’s. But you do you.

12. Something for diaper rash

I’m not going to get into the multiple kinds of diaper rash, the different schools of thought for dealing with them, the environment sustainability of various products and the baby-to-baby differences involved in dealing with diaper rash. Here’s the thing. It’s going to happen eventually. Treating it is going to be at least some trial and error. Get the thing you THINK you’ll like for diaper rash, that way it’s in the house and you can start by trying that one on that fateful day when you open a diaper to find a red butt and feel like a terrible parent.

13. A handful of toys

Your kid is going to need a few objects (that are safe for babies) to play with and explore. If you have any friends or family buying for your kid at all, you almost certainly do not have to worry about this, baby toys will just be a thing that happens to you. If  you want to get a couple of things, I’d suggest going for variety, but sticking to basics, as simple toys tend to inspire more creative play. It’ll be a little bit before your baby is interested in them.

14. Clothes

This is another area where, in all likelihood, you won’t actually need to buy anything at all and will end up with more than you need. If you are picking up (or registering) for items, here’s my two cents.

*skip the newborn size, get 0-3mo instead
*if you want to plan ahead and get a few things in bigger sizes, stick to basics like onesies that your kid will wear year round. My kid is literally 7months old wearing an 18mo outfit right now. Growth rates and sizes cary vary so widely for babies… I tried to plan ahead and get him some bigger things for winter, but they all fit him in September and never even got worn.

5-8 onesies
2-3 pants
2-3 footed sleepers
2 hats (more for a winter baby)
2 long sleeve hoodies or sweaters (more for a winter baby)
1 pair baby leg warmers (seriously they are great)
some bibs, I don’t know, we always just had plenty
literally as many socks as you can get your hands on

15. Some books

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Stuff You Probably Need, But Not Right Away
Depending on your situation, it might make sense to get these items ahead of time, or register for them, or it might make sense to wait until when your baby is bigger and they will actually get used.

1. A highchair

I just found out the ikea one is only twenty bucks, and it’s easier to clean than the one we’ve been wrestling with for the last month.

2. A baby gate

Eventually that kid is going to be moving around and you will want the ability to contain them as needed.

***

 

Your Mileage May Vary Stuff
Whether or not you need or use these things will probably vary widely based on your family and lifestyle.

1. Stroller/s

Initially, we thought we wouldn’t need an infant stroller, but would want an umbrella stroller later on. Then, because of my health issues, I wasn’t able to wear him for most of the summer he was born, and we decided we did need a stroller. We managed to get a good used one (for free, thanks internet!) but it was so cumbersome that it wasn’t actually much easier on my body than baby wearing. I think we used it four times, maybe five. The umbrella stroller is lighter weight, and is easier to get out the door with. It would also be easier to take on the bus (though we haven’t done that yet) and collapses faster. We still haven’t used it as much as I imagined we would.

2. Baby carrier/s

Depending on your parenting style, you may or may not want a way to strap your child to yourself. We have a moby wrap, and an ergo carrier, which feels really luxurious considering how minimalist we are in other areas, but we really do use them both. The moby wrap was great when he was a newborn, and is still my wife’s go-to because she has back issues, and it distributes the weight in a way that is more comfortable for her. I like the speed of putting the ergo on, and that it has the back carry option. Although we DID get the newborn insert for the ergo, and we never even used it because the moby was so great. Because we don’t own a car, so far, if we’re taking the baby out of the house, one of us is probably going to be wearing him.

3. Diaper bag

We were given three, count them, THREE, diaper bags as gifts. We use one of them sometimes, but half the time we just throw what he needs in the tote bag I’m already carrying. I have plenty of friends who just put the baby stuff in a backpack… but then know other folks who prefer having a dedicated baby bag.

4. Those cute hooded baby towels

Yes, we use them. Yes, the hoods are kind of nice to keep his little head warm. Yes, we like the one that looks like an alligator because we are suckers. And yeah, we’ve just used an adult towel in a pinch and it was actually totally fine.

5. Swing

We wanted one and never got one. Honestly there were a handful of days when he just wanted to be walked around the house endlessly and we thought “if only we had the swing our lives would be saved!” but that got better within a month, and now I’m glad we don’t have one taking up space. I’m putting it in this category only because I know a LOT of people who swear by them (which is part of why I intended to get one). Bouncy seats are a similar issue.

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I would skip this stuff
I think you probably don’t need these things, we either had it and didn’t use it, or never got it and never missed it.

1. Playpen/pack n play

I didn’t know what a pack n play was until my sister explained that it’s just the new name for a playpen. Also sometimes called a “play yard,” we do not have one of these and that’s fine. I feel like it’s probably the kind of thing that you use if you have it, but our baby just plays on the floor and that works great for us. I guess the exception would be that some of them have like, a bed attachment thingie, so if you were using it as a regular sleeping place I could see it more.

2. Changing table

We have one. We have never once changed our son on it. It’s basically a funny shaped shelving unit in our home, now. I was told that changing the baby on the bed would hurt my back, but pro-tip: if you sit down on the bed with the baby it seems to be fine, it’s only when you stand hunched over a bed that it’s a problem.

3. Walker

Walkers do not actually help babies learn how to walk any faster, and depending on the style they can be quite dangerous. They’re also expensive, cumbersome, and take up a ton of space. Skip it. I promise your child will not feel deprived.

4. Sensory boards

These things are all over pinterest. Let me let you in on a secret. You’re baby is going to explore their senses no matter what. You can easily let your baby grab things that are different textures and learn what the world is by… just exploring the world. Whether DIY or store-bought, the sensory board is not actually going to make your baby smarter, sorry.

5. Baby shoes

Nope.

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So uh, wow. This is actually the longest post I’ve ever written? Also now that it’s done I’m not actually sure if anyone will even read it. Oh well, happy Friday!

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How Not To Manifest Positivity

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I married an optimist. If you, like me, are a self identified pessimist, I highly recommend this as a life strategy. Sure, some days your optimist will annoy the every loving fuck out of you, but other days you will find yourself rubbing off on each other in the best ways. I don’t believe in moderation in ALL things, but maybe in this most basic part of our outlook, a little moderation can be a great help.
I swell with pride and joy when I see my wife, staring down a situation that she once would have barreled into with a smile and “everything will work out for the best, people are basically good!”, stop and proceed cautiously.
And I’ve also become a bit more willing to sigh and admit that it probably WILL work out just fine in the end. I guess that’s a good thing too.
***
I went into pregnancy with A Really Great Attitude. I thought my Really Great Attitude would shield me from the horrors, I thought I would be able to laugh stuff off because I was so HAPPY about the BABY. As it got worse, and worse, and worse, I kept up my relentless positivity. Surely next week will be better. Surely the next trimester will be better. It’s not SO bad, I just have to keep my spirits up!
But it was so, so, so, bad.
One night, I really wanted to have sex with my wife. It was scary, the very idea if sex, because my pregnant body was a foreign and unpredictable place. Anything could happen. But I wanted to. And she wanted to. And it had been so long. And I thought, you know, you can’t let fear stop you from doing things. You have to be brave. You can do this. Stop assuming it will go horribly, what if it goes great?
So we did it. And I was a little nauseous. But for once I managed to put my nausea out of my mind, and that was a gift. It was a good time. It felt like reconnecting with a part of myself I was afraid I had lost.
Immediately afterwards, when we should have been cuddling, I started to cough. Then I doubled over and started violently puking all over our bed. The force of the puke spasms made me pee myself. The pain made me sob. I couldn’t see.
There I was, in the dark, with my beautiful wife, pissing and puking everywhere, crying my eyes out, wishing I was dead. I hated that she had to see me like that. I hated that she would have to clean up the mess. I cannot describe the level of shame and wretchedness. If you know it, you know it. If you don’t, you can only look on in horror and pity.
So, you know, fuck positive thinking.
***
I don’t write about him much, because it makes me uncomfortable. He was my boyfriend. He was my boyfriend and he was a master manipulator, skilled in the fine art if gaslighting. I was young. When we first started dating me, he told me that he always lied, that way he could tell the truth sometimes, and nobody would know. He told me that he loved to control people, but that he would never do that to me because he loved and respected me.
I didn’t know which parts to believe. I believed the wrong parts. That was the point.
And he was a hippie. We would sit up late and have these Deep Talks. You manifest your own reality. You manifest your own reality. You make the world in your own image. If you put out positivity, the universe will bring positivity back to you!
So he did what abusers do. He isolated me from my family and friends. He did his best to keep me confused. I hated being with him, but I was afraid to leave.
But I kept trying to manifest positivity. You make your own reality, afterall.
It was a really great way to make it all my fault.
***
You guys, sometimes things just suck.
***
So a friend asks why things always seem to work out for me, and I’m torn. On the one hand, I love my life. I am grateful for so many of the wonderful aspects of my life, including my beautiful marriage, my delightful cats, my growing son. On the other hand, if things always seem to work out for me, it only seems that way because I’m a liar.
I’ve learned how to carefully edit my life for the internet, I’ve learned it so well that it’s automatic now. So you see that time I made those really amazing cookies.
But you don’t see me crying, puking, and pissing all over myself at the same time. You don’t see me have labor flashbacks during a transvaginal ultrasound. You don’t see me meekly filling out the postpartum  depression survey and admit that yes, I think about death every single day. You don’t see me get do anxious every time I have to make a phone call that I don’t get any of the therapy I need. You don’t see recoil from the infected c-section incision. You don’t see me battling the landlord over the cockroaches. You don’t see me finding out that my abuser moved two towns over and live in fear of running into him for WEEKS.
But hey, I made cookies!
***
Obviously, or maybe not obviously, both things are true. There is light and there is darkness. It’s all true. I have postpartum depression and PTSD and anxiety. I’m poor. I’ve had some really really hard times in my life, many of them in the last year. But I also have an amazing baby and I’m figuring out how to make a living off of The Written Word and some days I bake cookies. Some things are really really good, y’all. I have a roof over my head. My baby just learned how to bang two toys together to make them make a sound.
But things aren’t good because I’ve manifested so much positivity in my life. Things are good because sometimes I get lucky. And sometimes I don’t get lucky.
And that matters too.
I’m sorry.
So I guess just enjoy the good parts. Enjoy them as hard as you can. And if some sick fuck tries to blame the bad parts of your life on you, well, it might be my ex boyfriend. Tell him to fuck off.

In The Belly

I like to write about ideas and concepts. I like to pick things apart. I like to over-analyze the language we use and why we use it and how that affects the way we think even if we like to imagine it doesn’t. So I’ve been having trouble writing a lot lately. Because honestly, most of the time all I can think is,

“When will it be over?”

I’ve been sick again a lot recently, and as time keeps on slippin’ slippin’ slippin’* through the second trimester, my dreams of being a badass pregnant dyke who can do whatever she wants seem farther away. Hell, my dreams of being a pregnant dyke who can manage to make dinner once a week seem a touch unreasonable. I’ve had a difficult time reconciling my image of what pregnancy, and toughness, and myself, all are with their actual reality.

But today is Imbolc. It’s the day that we celebrate the quietest and earliest stirrings of spring, the ones that happen below the surface that you can’t even see yet. And yesterday there was a big snowstorm here in Michigan, and after shoveling all of my neighbors’ yards look like snowy mountains, all blue and white and clean and distant, even though they are right here with us. You can’t see the earth under all the snow, you can’t see a single hint of the spring that is coming, and yet we know it is coming.

All of this reminds me to be kinder to myself. It reminds me that pregnancy is just like winter, it’s a slow and steady march towards spring, even if some days it feels like you’ll never get there. It reminds me to find some joy in myself as my body as it gets larger and rounder, rather than getting angry at my body for being tired or sick. And it reminds me that I will not be bedridden forever.

Someday I will be able to dance without getting nauseous again.

That’s really all I have to say. I hope you are all having a lovely day.

*when I was seven, I convinced myself I wrote this song while on the swings on the playground of my elementary school.

Living On A Prayer

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I’m about twenty weeks pregnant this week, which means a few things:

1. According to Baby Center (and many other thrilling pregnancy websites) this is the week our baby has jumped in size from “Heirloom Tomato” (because apparently they think the “heirloom” part in there just means “large”) to “Banana.” The fruit measurements are supposed to make it easier to visualize and imagine the fetus, but I just find them confusing and weird. They know that fruit sizes can be wildly variable, right? Also why does the baby keep dramatically changing shape? Ok be honest, y’all just sent someone to the produce section with a list of measurements and they picked random things that corresponded that day, didn’t they?

2. Twenty weeks is halfway to forty! Therefore I am constantly singing this Bon Jovi song I don’t even actually like in my head.

3. I’ve been experiencing some mild (or, ok, not so mild) panic regarding things I’d like to have done before birthing this child.

4. I’m feeling a lot better than I was in the first trimester, and am considerably more functional. But but but. I’m still not as functional or as capable as I, frankly, expected I would be for the entire pregnancy. As the second trimester ticks away, I’m more and more frustrated and resentful that I can’t get the things done that I’d like to. Which I’m sure sounds like perfectly normal “oh I wish I could do more” type talk, and maybe in some ways it is. But we aren’t talking about “jeepers I wish I could clean the house top to bottom” here, we’re talking more like “sometimes I can go down to the kitchen to get my own snack, but sometimes I still have to ask for help.” Bending over still makes me nauseous. Overexerting myself still makes me throw up. I’m working again, but only one day a week, and that is, frankly, still very trying. And people keep reminding me that the third trimester will be even harder and so I’d really like to be able to do a couple loads of laundry here and there. I’m also typically the kind of person who likes to do a lot of from-scratch cooking, and we have a beautiful kitchen, and damn it I want to use it.

5. I am definitely, very much, showing. The other day me and the missus went out for brunch, and apparently someone she knew asked about the pregnancy while I was in the bathroom, using the phrase “well I thought so, but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to assume.” When this was relayed to me I just laughed and laughed and laughed. Lady, you were sure. Thanks for trying to be nice, though.

6. The creature kicks, wiggles, and last night had the hiccups for at least ten minutes.

7. I’m basically strictly in “maternity” clothes at this point. A loose fitting dress that I thought would work for all/most of the pregnancy, at least for around the house, while it fits fine in the belly, has basically run out of room in the boobs-area.

8. We had another midwife appointment the other day, and it basically confirmed that we adore our midwife. Not only did she spent forever listening to my anxieties and fears, and confirm that everything is looking good (growth on track, heartbeat strong and awesome, etc) but she complimented me on my symmetrical stretch marks. I am a beautiful pregnant flower, or something.

9. I’m getting really really excited about getting to meet this new human I am growing in a few months! What will they be like?!?!? Well, like a newborn baby, probably, but still.

10. I have to go lay down again.

Reflections – “Making” Babies, The Work of Gestation

For days now, I’ve had this one quote from Free Willy running through my head (just stick with me here a minute):

Randolph: 300 years ago, my people only had to spend one day a week gathering food, and everybody ate like kings.
Jesse: So what’d they do the rest of the time?
Randolph: Told stories, made music, made carvings. Made babies.
Jesse: Sounds good to me.

When I saw this movie I was probably 8 years old, and I remember this part distinctly. Partly because I was sort of fascinated with native cultures in an unnuanced and problematic way, and partly because this quote was totally thrilling because, you guys, they were talking about SEX!

I’ve been thinking about this cultural assumption, the way that we use language when discussing procreation. We mostly think like I did when I was 8 years old – people make babies by having sex. If we allow space for queer baby-making, we maybe expand the definition of “making babies” to include conception outside of heterosexual sex. We include things like artificial insemination, then. Oh hey, there’s a Tig Notaro joke about that!

So actually, I wrote about the first assumption, that we all know how babies are made and that it’s by heterosexual intercourse, way back in my first (not very good) post for this blog!
But I still kind of accepted that when we say “make a baby” we are talking about the moment of conception. And besides that having some pesky implications in the matter of choice and abortion rights (and oh boy, we are going to talk about that stuff, just not today, ok?) I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that this idea is unfair to those of us doing the work of gestation.

The work of gestation, how come nobody talks about that?

The thing is, we describe gestation in fairly passive terms. You are pregnant. It is not something you do.

But that’s absolute bullshit.

To get a baby at the end of nine long months requires much, much more, than sperm meeting egg to form a zygote. It requires a real physical body to do real physical work. And that body is a person. And that person is working. Whether that person is an excited new mother, a transman working towards becoming a father, a gestational surrogate, a scared teenager who’s decided to give the child up for adoption, or any other identity, that person is working.

We, as a society, have a history of trying to find ways to define work seen as “feminine” as anything other than work. I know this. As a feminist I think about it a lot. And yet this one, this one is really under my skin right now.

Because I am working my ass off over here.

I am making a baby every day.

We do not consider a plant grown simply because we have a seed in our hand. We do not consider a house built because the contractor has the plans and some of the materials. We consider those things the start of the work.

First I made a tiny cluster of cells, and then I grew that bigger and bigger. Eventually I began to make proto-organs, and arm and leg buds, and I made an entire placenta to help nurture and support this new thing I was making. Now I’ve made fingers and toes, and bladder and heart, and even tiny eyebrows. And still I am working, working, working. My child needs me to do this work so that they can grow strong enough to one day make themself with less of my direct assistance (though, you can bet your ass I’ll still be working then).

And this is work. And this work shows. For three months I was so sick that I could hardly function. I found myself utterly exhausted even though all I had done on the outside was lay in bed and read a book. I was exhausted because I was working. And even as the sickness has eased (somewhat, it isn’t gone), still, I continue to work. I struggle through the insomnia, I find ways to cope with my ever expanding uterus, with my total loss of my normal center of gravity. I deal with the insomnia and the heartburn and the nosebleeds and the itchy boobs and the tiredness and comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. All of this is work.

Maybe instead of considering “making a baby” a magical moment that happens on a cellular level, and the subsequent nine months of pregnancy mere passive incubation, we should start honoring gestating people for the hard work they are doing. Maybe we should start acknowledging that we don’t live in Brave New World and absolutely none of our babies grow in bottles (although I’d point out that even in Huxley’s imagined future, there were people caring for those fetuses, and everyone accepted that those people were, ahem, working). And yes there are political implications for how we treat pregnant people (poorly) in this country, but maybe we should just start by acknowledging that they exist and that they are, you know, actually doing something.

From now on, I am not pregnant (adjective), I am gestating (verb).

It’s The EXPERIENCE – First Trimester

Sometimes, I rediscover blogs I used to read and have, for whatever reason, sort of forgotten about. The other night that happened, and I ended up in bed, on my phone, reading about another person’s less that idyllic early pregnancy experience.

It got me thinking. I started this blog partly because, despite my best efforts, the first trimester was extremely isolating. I wanted to be one of the brave souls actually talking about the hell that so many of us go through in those first weeks of pregnancy. But then, I was so sick, and had so little energy, that I didn’t manage to actually start writing until things were looking up a little bit for me. At the risk of being thought of as melodramatic, it’s much easier to write if you can sit up. And it’s been much easier and more comfortable to focus on looking forward to the baby, and to rant about gender, and I think I’ve even become a little bit embarrassed about that whole first trimester thing. Can’t we just put it behind us?

No. We can’t.

***

I wrote before that I always wanted to be a mother. That’s true, but it isn’t the only true thing about me and this wild ride I’m on. It glosses over a bit and with a near perfect smile says “well, I always knew I’d be a mom, one day…”

Another truth is that I have spent a good part of my life fascinated by and fixated on pregnancy and birth, both as scientific functions of a certain kind of body, and as emotional experiences. This is not to say that my interest in the physical act of gestation followed by birth supplanted my interest in motherhood – I don’t really think it did. But. I particularly wanted to be pregnant. I wanted the experience. I saw it as a great challenge, a fascinating adventure, and an excellent opportunity for personal growth. So today is about all of the personal growth I have been doing during this magical experience.

My fixation on gestation is one of the main reasons we, my wife and I, never really had the “who will carry our sought after child?” conversation that so many relationships with four X chromosomes and a desire for children must have. I would. Duh. I had this weird deep need to experience this thing, and felt (and yes, I realize this sounds far fetched) that the only possible way for me to ever fully self actualize was to Do This Thing. Chelsea, on the other hand, carried none of these weird associations and obsessions (at least not about the physical act of reproduction) and instead sensibly thought that it all just sounded like rather a lot to go through. She knew shortly after we met about my motherhood aspirations. While we were still DATING she bought me a zine compilation of birth stories for my birthday. I read it and cried. I couldn’t wait for my turn.

Despite all of my feminist leanings, I felt that this very much was what my body was for. I believed in my body, I believed it was ready, had been ready. It would take the torch and run with it. And so, almost a year after our wedding, we started trying. And to my intense relief, my body did take the torch. I conceived quickly. We told everyone, despite social conventions saying we ought to wait.

ourtest

And then, reader, I got sick.

So what has the experience of pregnancy been like? In my experience it is mostly sitting up quietly in bed next to my wife at three in the morning, holding my iPhone in my teeth so I can use it as a light while I try to stab a straw into a juice boxes correctly. Juice boxes have saved my life. It is discovering that there are actually at least 18 different kinds of nausea and maybe 5 or 6 distinct ways to vomit. There’s vomit in your mouth a little and swallow before you realize what you’re doing, vomit in your mouth a little and swallow WHILE REALIZING EXACTLY HAT YOU ARE DOING AND CURSING YOURSELF FOR BEING SO GROSS, there’s vomiting a tiny bit on the sidewalk next to planned parenthood and then immediately feeling famished and eating a muffin as fast as you can, there’s vomiting that breaks over you like waves and forces it’s way through you until you are shuttering and crying, there’s vomiting through your nose, there’s vomiting INTO your nose but it gets stuck because your nose is plugged up. There’s probably more.

I have an honest-to-goodness-phobia of vomiting. Like, on most days it is the worst thing I can imagine happening to myself. Like, I’m 29 years old and I’ve been drinking socially since I was 19 and not always in responsible moderation, and I still have never been so drunk I puked. I have a laundry list of “tricks” to avoid vomiting, and they mostly work. I’ll do basically anything.

I started having extreme nausea at 4 weeks, 2 days pregnant. That’s a touch early. In two more weeks, I’d started puking in small amounts once in awhile at odd times. By seven weeks, my life was a blur of bad feelings that I wasn’t sure how I was making it through, but I was, somehow, making it. Right after that was when I got literally, way to sick to work. I called in, hoping it was a one time thing, but it got worse. I was literally afraid to walk down the stairs in my house because it would so often trigger a bad bout of vomiting. I couldn’t go into my kitchen. Soon after that, showers became impossible without a major puke session followed by dry heaving. Eventually, I just stopped getting out of bed.

That’s hard to write. I stopped getting out of bed. I was exhausted, any movement or any smell made the (always intense) nausea worse. I was afraid of being out of reach if my trusty puke bowl. And yes, before you ask, I tried whatever it is you’re about to suggest, so please just don’t.

I was completely isolated and cut off from nearly everyone in my life (excluding the people I live with, and my mother, who was the only person who didn’t seem alienated by the level of my sickness, as she’d been quite unwell in her pregnancies). I wanted to reach out, but I couldn’t. There was literally no space left in my brain for dealing with anything except for the physical discomfort. And when I did talk to other people, they would ask. They would ask “aren’t you excited????” and I would just stare straight ahead. This wasn’t the magical journey I wanted to be on.

Eventually it started to ease up, but so slowly that it was hardly noticeable. I would have “good days” (days where I could make it all the way downstairs at least once) followed by multiple “bad days” (days where my stomach was such an churning and aching mass of pain that leaning over in bed was scary). I’m still not where I want to be. Last week I texted my lovely wife at work to announce that it had been four whole days since I’d puked my guts out.

***

So what have I learned? It isn’t as pretty as I wanted it to be. I think I’ve learned that independence is a sham, that I was never as self sufficient as I wanted to imagine I was. Before I met Chelsea, I imagined that I would most likely be a single mother, and now I laugh at that, because there is literally no way I could have made it through the last three months without help. I’ve learned to encounter my own helplessness. At first I thought I’d learned to be less ashamed, but honestly, it doesn’t feel that way. It just feels like powering through the shame because there simply isn’t another option.

And then, one day, I felt something that I thought was the baby moving. And then I was sure. And then I learned that some experiences can be wholly horrible and wholly beautiful at the same time.

Six Reasons For Not Knowing, And One That Doesn’t Matter

Earlier this week I wrote about why making gender assumptions about fetuses (and in particular, the fetus that is currently residing in my uterus) bugs me, and especially about my least favorite phrase used in that way – “what you’re having.”
It was a pretty good time.

Right now, I just want to take a quick minute, and list a few of the reasons we will in fact, not be finding out what we’re having prior to the birth of our child. Ready? Let’s go!

1. As mentioned in Monday’s post, literally the only thing we can find out from an ultrasound is “can you see a penis?” Considering the fact that this *highly scientific* method of determining sex is sometimes not 100% accurate (sometimes, the penis is there, but they don’t see it, for example) and is almost never accurate in the case of intersex children (your ultrasound tech is going to tell you “boy” or “girl” and be done with it, if your child is somewhere in between no one is likely to notice until the birth, and in some cases not even then) we’d just…. rather not.

2. We don’t actually need to know. Since we’re not planning on buying our child all pink things or all blue things based on their genitalia, finding out what kind of genitals our kid has (or, rather, seems to have) won’t actually help us prepare for their arrival in any way.

3. We can’t actually count on everyone respecting our wishes with regard to gendered gifts for our child. I’ve seen this play out many times. Young, idealistic, parents inform friends and family that they’re hoping to go more gender neutral with regard to their baby’s clothes and nursery etc. Then they decide to go ahead and find out their child’s apparent sex anyways, because the technology is there and it is easy. Then they’re excited to know something, anything, about their kid, and end up sharing. Baby-shower time comes around, and maybe HALF of the gift givers respect their wishes. The other half all thought that just one pick dress wouldn’t be a problem! The unborn kiddo now owns like, fifteen pink dresses, a smattering of yellow and green items, and virtually nothing in colors considered “masculine” by the bizarre industry that sells us baby clothes.
The reality is, since the 1990s, the makers and marketers of baby stuff have been trying to convince us that the fact that there are no obvious differences between a dressed baby boy and a dressed baby girl means that they need completely separate wardrobes with zero overlap in order to more easily differentiate. And they’ve done a remarkably good job on people. Recently, while perusing some of the offerings big box store websites, I discovered that in many cases even the washcloths come in gendered sets, and a quick google search turned up how drastically differently they expect you to dress your baby, again, based on their genitals.

babyboy babygirl

I hate capitalism. But I also live in the world. I don’t have a ton of money, and I have relatives who are excited about a new baby in the family and want to buy stuff for said baby. Since we will, in fact, need stuff for this baby, we have no desire to refuse their generosity. And we don’t expect every single relative to have thought about how screwed up all this gendered baby marketing is. So, this one time in our child’s life, we actually have the power to stop them from receiving either “all girl gifts” or “all boy gifts.” If we don’t know our baby’s apparent sex, neither does anyone else, and they’ll have to find a way to think outside the boxes or ignore them, just this once.

(No, I’m  not sure how to manage this after the baby is born.)

4. We don’t need gender markers to bond with our child. I’m really into being pregnant, so I’ve been reading several weekly-pregnancy-update type things every week. It’s been sort of cool to follow along with the fetus’ progress as it does new and exciting things like peeing, and having fingerprints! As I get closer to the point at which the *very scientific* “hey can you see a penis?” test can be performed (I really hope y’all are picking up on my sarcasm here…) some sites are including some info about how to decide whether or not you want to know.
One of the biggest reasons listed for finding out the baby’s apparent sex is that many parents feel this helps them to bond with the baby. They can picture a little boy, or a little girl, and those associations help them feel more connected to their child before they meet them. Since we live in such a heavily gendered society, this makes sense. But my wife Chelsea and I have many friends and chosen family members who aren’t comfortable identifying as “men” or “women,” people who are trans, genderqueer, or genderfluid, and often identify as “other” or “in-between.” Because we love our friends, we’ve grown used to bonding with other humans without putting those humans into gendered boxes. And since we don’t plan to raise our child with rigid gender roles, we can imagine a lot of things about our child’s future (teaching them to read, taking them to the park, helping them learn to ride a bike, etc etc etc…) without having to picture a “boy” or a “girl” doing those things.

5. We have access to perfectly good gender neutral pronouns with which to discuss our baby. Many pregnant people hate thinking of the baby that they are growing and bonding with as “it.” That makes sense! In our culture, “it” is a pronoun typically reserved for objects and almost never used for people. After finding out the apparent sex of their baby, they’re able to refer to the child as “he” or “she” with confidence and ease. There’s nothing quite like seeing a quiet smile creep across an expecting mother’s face as she says, “awe, he’s moving around a lot today!”
But “he” and “she” are not the only pronouns in the world, or even in the English language. Many people use gender neutral pronouns such as ze, hen, and they. Personally, my wife and I tend to default to they when discussing our fetus, for the simple reason that we know more people who actively use they as a pronoun, so it feels more natural to us. Of course, every once in awhile we’ll casually refer to “they” or “them” and some eager person will go “oh my goodness did you say ‘they’? Is there more than one in there???” but usually confusion is minimal.

6. As far as we’re concerned, it’s the least interesting thing about our baby. I also got into this one in Monday’s post. But seriously, even if I do occasionally wonder about our baby’s sex and gender, it sort of pales in comparison to all the other wondering I do about this child. Will they be a picky eater (like I was, sorry mom)? What will their favorite color be? Will they be athletic (like neither of their parents, and what will we do if they are…)? What will their eyes look like? Will they be shy? How will they get along with our cats? Will they enjoy learning? Will they look like me? And how will I feel if they do? Will they be afraid of the dark? Will they want to be a parent one day?
There are all of these exciting and fascinating things, that we, as parents, get to learn about our child slowly, as we all grow together. I don’t feel terribly hung up on the one thing I can find out now.

***

And now, as an added bonus, here is one reason that did not play a role in our decision not to find out our baby’s apparent sex.

1. We don’t want to make it a surprise. The surprise is everything else. The surprise is life. What kind of genitals our child has may be among the first things we find out about them after they are born, but it isn’t this singular huge thing that we’re waiting in anticipation for. If anything, when I look forward to the birth, I’m hoping for one quiet moment where I can hold my child and let them just be a child, just be a person, without a ton of gendered assumptions (my own included) weighing them down.