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I like to collect data.  I heard once that you track what’s important to you, and I think this is really true.  When people are on an exercise kick, they usually have a record somewhere of which days they’ve exercised, or how far they’ve run, etc.  It seemed like the natural progression for me to track my efforts to get pregnant.  Additionally, I had to take  a natural family planning class when we got married in the Catholic church that traumatized me.  I had a lot of material on natural family planning and a lot of knowledge about taking my temperature and tracking other symptoms of fertility that would probably gross most people out, so I decided I might as well get my money’s worth out of that.

I think the fertility awareness education that I had undertaken (under duress) helped me become pregnant more quickly than I normally would have, especially considering that I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome not that long ago.   I was especially interested in becoming pregnant quickly because I had to stop taking medication like anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine months before even trying to become pregnant, with the knowledge that becoming pregnant could take months, and then being pregnant would take (at least) 9 months.  I was anticipating at least a year of having no access to better-living-through-chemistry, at a minimum, so you can imagine I was very invested in getting off of my medication, waiting the required amount of time, and then getting pregnant as quickly as possible.

The morning that I took my pregnancy test, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t pregnant.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw a faint line on the pregnancy test.  I hadn’t even taken the test when my husband was home!  And I wasn’t going to see him until about 12 hours later, so I had to wait an entire day knowing I was pregnant without telling anyone so I could tell him first.  That just about killed me because I’m terrible at keeping secrets.

It was a little disappointing when I did tell him, because the line was faint.  He wasn’t sure if it really meant I was pregnant.  I patiently explained that false positives are incredibly rare – in fact, when you test early you usually get a false negative.  I also explained that any line is not normal – any line at all means it’s detecting a hormone produced during pregnancy.  However, his reaction was pretty contained.  He didn’t want me getting excited before we were sure, and he didn’t want me telling lots of people either.  I was sure, especially looking in retrospect at symptoms I had been tracking.

The next day, I was adamant that I was going to tell my parents and a few of my close friends.  My philosophy was that even though it was early, I wasn’t going to tell anyone that I would be unwilling to discuss having a miscarriage with.  For me, I knew if I had a miscarriage I would want to be able to talk to my family and a few close friends, so I felt comfortable telling them.  When I told 2 of my best girlfriends, they were thrilled, and yelled, and looked at the picture of the pregnancy test and agreed I was definitely pregnant.  Predictably, they were knowledgeable about pregnancy tests and believed me.

When I told my family, they wanted me to go to the doctor for a blood test to confirm that I was pregnant, and they had the same contained and doubting reaction that my husband had.  Going to the doctor made me feel stupid.  The doctor asked me if I had had multiple positive pregnancy tests.  When I confirmed that I had, and that based on the other symptoms I was tracking I was pregnant, he told me to go home and that I was pregnant.  When I insisted on having the unnecessary blood test, it confirmed that I was pregnant…like I had already known.  At least my family finally believed me, even if the doctor thought I was an idiot.

Then my family exclaimed about how early I knew (the same week I missed my period).  How amazing modern technology is!  Apparently pregnancy tests have changed a lot since when my parents used them.

Heres’s a fun fact about pregnancy in the American medical system:  Doctors start counting a pregnancy from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period.  However, most women don’t ovulate until somewhere around halfway through their cycle, and the egg doesn’t implant until a few days after that.  This means that doctors are counting women as pregnant a full 2 weeks before the average woman has even released an egg to become a blastocyst, which is cray-cray.  This boils down to the fact that by the time a woman with a normal cycle misses her period, she is “4 weeks” pregnant to doctors in America.  But the egg probably implanted a few days ago.

None of this math works if you have irregular cycles because of a condition like polycystic ovarian syndrome.  But when I told my family I was pregnant, I was “4 weeks” along according to the way doctors count pregnancy.  (And I could tell you the exact day I conceived because of the natural family planning class I took.)

The next hurdle I encountered in telling people I was pregnant was scheduling my first visit to the OBGYN.  When I called, the receptionist asked me in a bored tone when I had my last menstrual period.  Because of the polyscystic ovarian syndrome, that’s not a good indicator of how far along I was.  The way the receptionist did the math, she thought I was more than 3 months along, and terribly irresponsible for not coming in sooner.  When I protested that I hadn’t actually gotten pregnant until much later than that, she ignored me and set up an urgent visit for me.  The nurses during that visit did the same thing, until they did an ultrasound that confirmed the due date that I had given myself.

Overall, telling the first group of people that I was pregnant was mostly frustrating.  I knew early on and with precision because of the charting that I was doing, but people didn’t believe me, and then when I tried to give the doctors the information I had carefully collected about my cycle, they ignored me.  I hate when people condescend to me, so it was a fairly unpleasant experience.  The next hurdle I had to overcome was when to tell people outside of that immediate circle of family and friends, like my boss and my husband’s little brother (who I didn’t want to upset if I had a miscarriage).

A few weekends ago I was informed that we would be going to a Yunsa festival as a family in Maryland.  I’m used to Peruvian culture and the way there seems to be a festival for everything, so when my husband explained that the Yunsa festival is when everyone dances around a tree with an axe, taking turns chopping at it, until the tree falls down and everyone grabs the presents hanging on it, I took it in stride.  A few years ago I would have wondered if he was making that up, but now it seems perfectly reasonable to me.  I was also informed that last year, my father-in-law was the last person to chop down the tree, and as a result of losing what amounts to a colossal, high-stakes game of jenga that’s played with an axe, our family is responsible for providing the tree at the festival this year.

We were meeting at 1 PM at a friend’s house, where the menfolk would cut down the tree and the women would prepare lunch.  Then we were all going to caravan together to the festival.  As you can imagine, what actually ensued was several hours of waiting around for the different families to converge at one house, a hurried meal, and then a caravan that finally left for Maryland at 5:30 PM, only three and a half hours behind schedule.  [Luckily, when we got to the festival, we discovered that there were 7 trees this year, so the whole festival didn’t have to wait for us.]  We started receiving frantic phone calls from my wedding godmother’s cousin, who had left the house at 2 PM (when we were supposed to leave) to go the festival, and didn’t understand where we were.  I asked my godmother incredulously if her cousin was Peruvian, and she answered that of course she was Peruvian, which left me baffled as to (1) how her cousin was actually capable of really leaving the house at 2 PM and (2) what on earth made her think that the rest of the family would actually be on time.  I concluded that she must have been raised in America, in isolation from her Peruvian brethren.

While caravaning to the festival, I was struck by an irrational craving for ice cream, but because we were being followed by several cars and an enormous truck containing a 15 foot tree, we could not go through a drive through to get me any ice cream.  My godmother admonished us (and the 2 teenagers we were transporting) to pray that we all arrived safely with the tree intact, and I admonished everyone to pray that there was ice cream at the festival lest I perish.  Then a dorky pop song came on the radio that my godmother insists she loves, so we rolled the windows down and blasted it and she bopped along and sang while the teenagers slouched down in their seats and insisted this is why they never want to go anywhere with us.

Later these two girls explained to me that they would be marrying American men and NOT Peruvian men, thank-you-very-much, so they could escape from the endless cycle of weird festivals and get-togethers they have to attend on the weekends.  I very reasonably pointed out that if they marry an American man, they should be prepared to pay their own way on dates and to never have anyone to dance with since American men can’t dance, and they assured me that these are sacrifices that they are willing to make.

When we arrived at the festival, there was no ice cream in sight, and I was the only white American there.  I think people were concerned that I was lost.  The festival was taking place in the parking lot of a very bad urban neighborhood, which seemed an odd place to spend a tree festival celebrating the spring time, but I set off to find ice cream.

Yunsa tree

Instead, I found chicken being cooked in pots and trout being grilled, but no ice cream.  I used my GPS to locate a nearby bakery that was only 0.4 miles away, and was about to have a very serious argument with my husband about why it was inappropriate for me to walk to the bakery alone in that neighborhood, when we heard the sound of the ice cream truck.  I shoved a lady out of the way, ran out into the street, and flagged it down.  After buying 2 ice creams for me (1 for me and 1 for the baby, of course), and 1 each for the kids and teenagers, we convinced the ice cream truck to actually come into the festival, where the driver told me later he made a tremendous amount of money.  As I handed the ice cream out to the kids, I told them that God had answered our prayers and sent us our very own ice cream truck, and one child confessed to me that she hadn’t really prayed for ice cream.  In my benevolence, I let her have the ice cream anyway.

Meanwhile, the women had covered the tree in strange presents (laundry baskets, bottles of coca cola, fruit snacks, towels, etc.) and the menfolk had dug a large hole and “planted” the tree in it.   This is a picture of what our tree looked like while it was being unloaded from the truck:

The family Yunsa tree

What ensued is pretty similar to what I’m sure you are imagining.  There was a band playing live music, people wore traditional outfits, they danced around the tree using the traditional steps and taking turns swinging the axe, and everyone drank a lot of beer.  When the trees fell, the children were supposed to run forward to get the presents, but I saw a lot of brawls break out between adults over plastic balls and baseball caps and other weird prizes, so it was more  of a free for all.

Yunsa tree with dancers

After watching another family’s tree and our tree, I felt like I had pretty much seen everything there was to see, and retired to sit down for a while in the car.  My peaceful reading  was disturbed around 9:30 at night when my hysterical brother-in-law came back to the car, trailed by a pack of inebriated adults who were concerned for him.  It was hard to get close to him with all of their fussing, but once I had assured them that he was fine and I would watch him, they finally left and I was able to ask him what happened.  Apparently he was minding his own business, dancing around the tree and keeping his eye on a pack of chocolate he really wanted once the tree was chopped down, when the tree fell on him.  He was shocked, and appalled, and miraculously unhurt.  The adults were shocked and appalled as well.  Who would imagine that a tree would fall on him out of nowhere?  In a festival where people chop at the tree with axes?  I was actually just shocked that more drunk adults had not been injured by trees, and I admonished my brother-in-law to be quicker on his feet.  Really, it’s kind of embarrassing for an able-bodied 8 year old to be hit by a tree.

Around 10, when all of the teenagers were bored beyond their enduring, my brother-in-law was nursing his tree-inflicted wounds, and I was getting hungry (again), we told the rest of the family we would take the kids home with us and departed the festival.  We left the rest of the grown ups still dancing and drinking into the wee hours of the morning.

In case you are curious, my brother-in-law’s godfather ended up chopping our tree down (even though we all warned him not to take a turn because it looked like it was ready to fall), so our family is on the hook again next year for the tree as well.

This is a really sensitive topic for a lot of people, and I want to preface this post by saying that while we chose not to do prenatal genetic testing, I in no way oppose other people doing those tests.  This is a decision that we wrestled with, which is why I want to post about it here.  A few bits of background information:

(1) Neither my husband nor myself come from ethnic backgrounds that normally flag a couple for a lot of genetic tests.

(2) I’m relatively young (26), so I was not at a high-risk for having a baby with a genetic defect.

(3) My husband is from Peru, where I’ve heard anecdotally that genetic testing is not common.

The genetic testing that we were offered (a first trimester screen or nuchal translucency test) would not have told us definitively whether our baby had an abnormality.  Rather, it would have given us a set of odds that the baby would be born with such an abnormality.  Every baby would have a certain set of odds based on the results of the tests (like 1 in 1000 or 1 in 300), so I thought that however I looked at the results, I would have a nagging feeling that my baby could have something wrong with her.  I’m prone to anxiety, and being exposed to a lot of stress is supposed to be bad for a fetus, so I thought that for our family it was not a good choice.

My husband felt strongly that regardless of whether we knew something was wrong with her, she was our baby and we were going to have her.  It was very black and white for him.  He made me feel a bit morally inferior, because even though I am opposed to most types of abortion, I wondered about bringing a baby into the world that I knew would suffer and have medical problems.  I thought that the advantage of knowing in advance about a defect was being prepared and having time to do a lot of reading and meet with a lot of specialists.  But the disadvantage would be a long period of worrying and being upset, and perhaps I would be less likely to bond with my baby/pregnancy.  My husband seemed like he could still fall in love with a pregnancy that we knew would have medical problems, but I wasn’t sure of my own fortitude in that area, so it seemed better just not to know.

I was praying a lot about the decision, wavering and debating and discussing with people, when I finally decided that primarily because of my tendency toward anxiety, I didn’t want to know.  I once I made up my mind, I felt peace about the decision, and decided that the trade-off was worth it even though if there was something wrong I wouldn’t have months to prepare and educate myself.  Then I read this beautiful post about a woman who gave birth to a daughter with down syndrome and she did not know in advance.  For me, reading her birth story reinforced the choice we made.

Most of the people I’ve talked to have opted for the test.  In fact, everyone I’ve talked to except for one person opted for it.  It was more because of my own personal struggles with anxiety that we chose not to.  If you’re reading this post because you are trying to decide what to do, I hope that you’re able to make a choice that brings you a sense of peace as well.  You should also feel free to hit people who admonish you not to worry too much while pregnant because it’s bad for the baby.  Hitting those people is probably an excellent stress reliever.

[On telling a friend I’m pregnant]

Friend: How did this happen?

Me: The normal way…

 

[On telling a coworker I’m pregnant]

Coworker: Are you happy?  I mean, was it an accident?

[As context for this, I’ve been with my husband for 7 years, married for 3 1/2, so it seems kind of weird to assume I showed up at work knocked up and unhappy about it.]

 

[In the kitchen at my office]

Coworker: How far along are you?

Me: 6 and a 1/2 months.

Coworker: Oh, I thought you were farther!  I have a friend who is 9 months and she’s not as big as you are.

 

[While people are speculating about the baby’s gender]

Mother-in-law: I think it’s a boy.

Me: Why?

Mother-in-law: Because of how wide you are.

 

[On telling a coworker I’m pregnant]

Coworker: Did you do genetic testing?

Me: No, we chose not to.

Coworker: When I get pregnant, I’m reserving the right to do that.  And if there’s something wrong, you better believe I’m aborting that baby.

 

[On telling a coworker I’m pregnant]

Coworker: I thought you were pregnant!  I’ve never seen your face look so broken out.  I thought to myself, there’s a girl who’s not taking any medication for acne.

 

[On discussing maternity leave with my boss]

Boss: When is your maternity leave starting?

Me: I want to try to work right up until the baby comes, so I don’t waste any of the time I could have had off when she’s born.

Boss: Okay, so what date is your maternity leave starting?  I need to put it on my calendar.

Me: I don’t know exactly when she’s going to be born.  [awkward pause while my boss waits for date with calendar]  You know, 95% of babies are born 2 weeks before or 2 weeks after their due date, so I could give you a 4 week window with a pretty good confidence interval.

 

[On telling a coworker I’m pregnant]

Coworker: I knew it!  Otherwise you were just getting fat.

 

[In the kitchen of my office while several people are preparing their lunches]

Coworker: You really shouldn’t take medicine before you get pregnant, either.  Were you taking the pill?

Me: No, I stopped a few months in advance.

Coworker: Okay, so were you just using condoms then?

 

I feel like I could do this all day.  After telling the first few people, I really came to dread having to tell anyone because I knew there was a 67% chance they were going to blurt out something inappropriate.  Don’t even get me started on the people who didn’t believe me because I knew so early.

I’m back!

I took a hiatus from blogging for a while to focus on passing the translation exam.  I’m back with good news… I passed!  And… I’m pregnant!  And … she’s a girl!

I’m due in late July, which means that according to how doctors reckon things, I’m about 6 and half months pregnant.   (The way doctors calculate pregnancy, you can be pregnant for 10 months.  That’s a whole post unto itself for another day.)

I think it’s too overwhelming to try to write retroactively about everything that has happened since I stopped blogging last summer, so I’m just going to tackle topics that interest me as I have time.  Right now that looks like this:

-Pregnancy (everyone lied to me about what this was going to be like)

-Researching bilingualism, child language acquisition, and biliteracy

-Peruvian festivals

-Immigration reform

Stay tuned…

 

I read an article today in Oprah magazine by Allison Glock from February called “Hiding in Plain Sight” that made me break down and cry.  It had the most succinct and poignant summation of why people are willing to risk their lives and break our laws to live in the US:

“For immigrants, heaven is minimum wage.  Heaven is clean water.  Heaven is an end to the constant threat of violence….the heaven bar is pretty darn low, which is why so many immigrants embrace the thankless jobs most native-born Americans refuse to consider.  If you can find paradise working in a meatpacking plant or emptying bedpans, imagine what your hell must have looked like.  Now imagine raising your children there.  What would you do to escape?  What wouldn’t you do?”

Seriously.  What wouldn’t you do?

Water bottles left in the Arizon desert

That’s a picture of water bottles left by activists for those who cross the border in Arizona.  The Border Patrol empties those water bottles into the dirt when they find them.

In 2009 alone, the Border Patrol deported the members of 869 families separately, which means that parents were split up from their children.  Almost 200 teenagers and 94 children were “repatriated” after dark, which means they were dropped off alone at night, in areas where they probably knew no one.  Some of these children had been in the US for almost their entire lives and did not speak Spanish.  Between January and June of 2011, the Obama administration deported more than 46,000 parents of children who are U.S. citizens.  Some of those children were sent to foster care.

Why don’t these immigrants just fill out their forms and wait in line?  By one estimate, it would take some Mexicans 131 years to get to the front of the line.  I’ve said it before, but this bears repeating: the majority of illegal immigrant workers pay property and sales tax; they pay social security and other payroll taxes.  Studies like those done by the Pew Hispanic Research Center in 2006 have found no relationship between the employment rate of native-born Americans and the number of immigrants living among them.

So many illegal immigrants in this country hide in plain sight, going about their lives quietly despite the unrelenting worry they live with every day.  As Glock says, “To live the life of an undocumented immigrant is to master the art of compartmentalization.  You go to work, you grocery shop, you take your child to soccer. You carpool and pick up batteries and forget to buy milk.  You do exactly what every other American family is doing.  Only you do it in a fog of fear.”

I remember that fear.  Now that it’s been almost 8 months since my husband was granted a green card, sometimes I forget what it was like to live like that, and then I read something like this article and it’s like being punched in the stomach.  I remember the panic and the desperation suddenly, the tension that you hide from other people and the way it never stops.  I’d like to leave you with a visual of the lengths these people will go to in order to come to this country:

Crosses representing those who die trying to cross in the US

What did I do to deserve being born here?

Normally I post on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays as sort of a writing exercise because my hobby is books, and someday I’d like to do creative writing.  Also, it’s a good outlet for things that I can’t talk about IRL.  However, I’ve switched focus to preparing for a translator’s exam, so I’m going to be posting less often for a while.

Also, I’m just kind of a downer in general at the moment, which makes it hard to write.  Normally I lean hard into religion to get me through times of madness, but I’m dealing with a lot of doubts right now, so that makes most of my normal coping mechanisms less accessible.  I’ll try to check in periodically and keep you posted on things that are pissing me off (like what the Supreme Court justices have been saying about Arizon’s immigration laws) or things that interest me (like the way watching TV works in a bilingual household).

 

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