Category Archives: size

Pain, Leavened Only by Discomfort: A Labor Story, Part One

How is it possible almost six weeks have passed and I haven’t chilled you to the bone with my How I Had My Baby story? Well, grab your warmest blanket and a mug of hot chocolate, kidlets, because here we go.

By Labor Day in early September, I was ready. My belly had gotten so big I felt like a house on legs, like in those Russian baba yaga stories. Since I am not the type to sit around knitting baby clothes, I had very little useful to do to occupy myself while I waited.

Thanks to an incredible series of classes with doula and midwife-assistant Shara Frederick and some serious book learnin’, both on the subject of childbirth itself and, more broadly, on the question of what kind of parent I didn’t want to be, I felt reasonably prepared for what was to come. (As part of that intelligence-gathering effort, I reviewed a couple of the Bad Mommy Memoirs I plowed through for Cheek Teeth: Are You My Mother? and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?) I knew it would be difficult, especially for someone with so little experience dealing with enduring pain, but I also knew that putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier. So BRING IT ON, said I.

It was like shouting at the ocean. The baby had her own plan. In accordance with that plan, I found myself a week later still pregnant, still awkward and sore and quite tired of the ten-month gestation process. My “What to Expect” app had run out of even semi-useful tips and had started preparing me to “Start losing the baby weight!” First I need to lose the baby, I growled.

In an effort to lose it — or, more specifically, to loose it — on my due date, Monday, Sept 10, I got a prenatal massage from the fabulous folks at the Providence Day Spa on Atlantic Avenue and then ate a brownie the size of a cinder block.

I’m not sure which was more delicious.

By the time I was done, the contractions were both noticeable and regular,  and the birth team stood ready: Mr. Ben with his catcher’s mitt out, Charrow in a rubber apron and gloves. We expected the early stages of labor to be rather slow-going, since it can often take at least half a day to make significant progress. But again, the baby had her own plans. After just a few hours, the contractions had gotten stronger and closer together enough that Mr. Ben called the midwives and the midwives said head to the birthing center.

CONTRACTIONS. MIDWIVES. BIRTHING CENTER. There’s been an infant cooking in my belly or dangling from my breasts for almost a year now and I still can’t believe this is my life. [/end note]

We gathered the ten bags of stuff we had put aside to bring to the hospital, called a car, and got to Methodist at about 8:00 PM. The pain was still manageable; everyone was excited; it seemed like perhaps the baby could propel herself out that very night and avoid the trauma of having her birthday forever synonymous with national tragedy.We all squeezed hands and waited for the midwife to come in.

There were five women in the midwife practice, and whoever happened to be on call when I went into labor would be my sherpa for this arduous, uncertain journey. Five women, and I really liked four of them. Any one of them would be fine; I wasn’t picky! Just, please, I told Mr. Ben, not Grumpy Gail — she had the bedside manner of a 12-year-old boy.

Naturally, the midwife on call was Grumpy Gail, giving my laboring body a choice to make. Should I keep barreling forward and aim to have the baby on September 10th, or throw the process into reverse and (probably) have the baby on September 11th with one of the others? The decision was made before I was even conscious of what it meant. My labor shuddered to a halt. Grumpy Gail sent us home with instructions to drink some wine, get some sleep, and come back in the morning.

Unfortunately, it turned out, the baby could only be put off for so long. About an hour after I tried to go to bed a contraction woke me with the force of a sledgehammer. It was followed in short order by another contraction, and another, both of which made the contractions of the evening — even the ones that sent me to the birth center — seem like cuddly embraces. There was no going back to sleep; no vineyard on earth had ever made wine strong enough to help me now. But what could we do? If we went back to the birthing center, we would have to put our trust in Grumpy Gail to see us through, and that was why we had left in the first place.

We decided to tough it out until dawn, when we figured the shift change would bring another midwife. What I didn’t fully grasp was that I was also electing to go through what would turn out to be a night of back labor at home without any kind of drugs. Back labor. At home. Drug free.

That, friends, is where our story really gets going. Stay tuned for Part Two!

Here’s a reminder of what we did this for:

Posing in Repose

B is for Bulgy

When I was almost 7 months pregnant, and almost 3 months from D-Day, I was convinced that I looked like this:

I wasn’t too far off, either. I comforted myself with the knowledge that it could be worse, of course: I could look like Cookie Monster. Then I went to Vermont for my 2-week residency. The key to pregnancy self-esteem, it turns out, is:

1) wear maternity clothes from Brooklyn outside of Brooklyn (the other fellows exclaimed over my dresses, none of which would get a second glance in Park Slope);

2) be the only pregnant lady in the immediate vicinity, which guarantees you affectionate attention; and

3) live in an artificial, artsy, heady world totally lacking in full-length mirrors.

Returning to the real world took some adjusting, of course, but it was good practice for the summer’s real challenge: attending, at 8 months pregnant, my brother’s wedding to a bona fide Santa Barbara princess at her parents’ ranch. I knew she would look gorgeous, and she did.

All hail the bride!

My brother was no slouch either in his custom-made three piece suit — he looked, as I told him, like a young Roger Sterling. The setting itself was as lush, flowering, spacious, warm, and sunny as anyone could have wished. The female guests, not to be outdone by the wedding party or location, tottered around in blow outs, tiny, brightly-colored cocktail dresses, and heels that were almost as high as their hemlines. The one pair of fancy sandals I attempted to compliment turned out to be Miu Miu; after that, I realized I was unqualified even to express admiration.

Were all the girls blond, or did it just seem that way? Regardless, altogether it was the best-looking wedding I’ve ever attended. And there I was, the groom’s short, curly-haired, boob-splosion of a sister in platforms from Aerosoles and haute couture from Madison Rose maternity that may well have cost less than my corsage, and a belly that looked like it contained a Thanksgiving turkey. In a way, it was a gift. How can you be expected to compete with a bunch of tanned, skinny Real Housewife-types when there’s a second, almost-full-term human being inside you? I probably got more sorta-compliments (“You’re carrying so well!”) than those glamazons got actual compliments.

Now I’m back and heading into the home stretch. Wedding accomplished! I made it across the country and back again, lugging around a 4.5 pound, very energetic octopus of some kind, and I even managed to dance. (The band was incredible and also, duh, attractive. Total hipster chic.) In two days, I turn 30 — THIRTY — and after that, in mere weeks, I unceremoniously expel Squee from her comfortable, portable bio-dome and become a parent. What should I be doing with my last precious minutes of youth and freedom?

What to Expect: Complete Inanity, Fat Shaming, And A History Lesson

Thank God for What to Expect When You’re Expecting! Without their daily emails, I would only spend one out of four minutes every day worried about body image and the bizarre physical manifestations of pregnancy; thanks to their constant carping on issues of weight, however, that increases to one out of three.

Today’s fat-phobic screed was the worst I’ve seen so far. It begins:

Here are some other [points] that might motivate you to keep your eye on the scale — and your hands out of the cookie jar (unless, of course, you’ve wisely stocked the cookie jar with soy chips).

Reader, I love you, and I even love potato chip substitutes, but if you keep a cookie jar in your house filled with soy chips, I will plant a bomb under your carriage and you will go up in flames like Archduke Ferdinand.*

*Fascinating historical note: the Archduke never did go up in flames. I just learned, doing some cursory research, that although bombs were thrown at Franz’s carriage, the assassins were incredibly inept, and none of the bombs managed to do the intended damage.

According to Wikipedia, “The motorcade passed the first assassin, Mehmedbašić. Danilo Ilić had placed him in front of the garden of the Mostar Cafe and armed him with a bomb.[60] Mehmedbašić failed to act. Ilić placed Vaso Čubrilović next to Mehmedbašić, arming him with a pistol and a bomb. He too failed to act. Further along the route, Ilić placed Nedeljko Čabrinović on the opposite side of the street near the Miljacka River arming him with a bomb. At 10:10 am,[61] Franz Ferdinand’s car approached and Čabrinović threw his bomb. The bomb bounced off the folded back convertible cover into the street.[62] The bomb’s timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car, putting that car out of action, leaving a 1-foot-diameter (0.30 m), 6.5-inch-deep (170 mm) crater,[61] and wounding a total of 20 people according to Reuters.[63]

Čabrinović swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka river. Čabrinović’s suicide attempt failed as the cyanide only induced vomiting, and the Miljacka was only five inches deep. Police dragged Čabrinović out of the river, and he was severely beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody.”


Franz was shaken up but all right. He went about his business, complaining a little (and who can blame him?) about the attempted murder. Then, however, he echoed the mistake made by so many heroines in horror movies: HE WENT BACK INTO THE HOUSE. Er, well, car, in this case. That is like if the bullet had missed JFK and he decided to just keep joy-riding through Dallas to feel the wind in his hair. Sure enough, that decision was the death of him and the start of World War I: he was shot to death on the road.

/end note

Back to fat and how bad it is. Perhaps you were unaware, you fat fatty, that fat is bad, perhaps because you missed your regularly scheduled Fat Shaming Class or didn’t you do your reading on the Obesity Epidemic. Let’s go over the high points, shall we?

Excess weight gain increases your risk for developing hypertension and diabetes — both of which make your pregnancy much harder to manage, while creating risks for your baby. The heavier you are, the more likely your baby is to be larger, increasing the odds that a vaginal delivery will require the use of forceps or vacuum. That’s if you can deliver vaginally at all, since being overweight increases your chances of delivering by C-section — which makes for a more difficult recovery after your baby is born.

Obesity and ongoing health issues: Gain too much weight and you’re likely to retain twice as much after your baby is born than you would have if you gained within the guidelines. And if you think all you need is time and willpower to lose the extra fat, research has weighed in with a different idea: Women who gain excessively and don’t lose the extra weight within six months after the birth are at a much higher risk of being obese ten years later. Obesity often leads to significant health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

YOUR FAT WILL LEAD TO DEATH AND SHAME, not necessarily in that order, so get it together, you fat fatty! What defines a fat fatty, by the way? So glad you asked. “If you’ve been instructed to gain the standard 25-to-35-pound total in your pregnancy [i.e., by 22 weeks, or five-and-a-half-months], by this week you’re likely to have gained anywhere from ten to 16 of those pounds.”

Here is a picture of Nicole Ritchie at around 22 weeks. If that represents a weight gain of only 10-16 lbs, I’ll buy a hat just so I can eat it.

Ritchie at 5 mos

What to Expect is saying you should strive to be thinner than NICOLE RITCHIE. And look at that picture! You can still see her ribs!

Say you haven’t managed to restrict your gain to only 10-16 lbs at this stage of pregnancy. What should you do to avoid the terrible fate outlined above? Now that you’ve larded your body with all this extra fat that’s going to ensure that you’ll have a C-section and be obese forever until you die young and your corpse has to be airlifted out of your bedroom with a crane, how can you rid yourself of those pounds? TOO BAD, SUCKER. You can’t. As the email goes on to note in a parenthetical, “losing weight is always a bad idea when you’re pregnant.”

Thank you, What to Expect. I will be forwarding all further correspondence to the dumpster, where it belongs. In the future, I will be getting my health news and information from Gretchen Reynolds and the NYT.


NOTE: Because I am as vain and neurotic as the next person, I feel the need to mention that I have not actually gone off the deep end, weight-wise. But what if I had? Or what if I do soon? What if other people getting this email have been trying their hardest and yet have been putting on more weight than they would have liked? These kinds of emails are gross and unhelpful. Fat shaming is not productive, not even when it comes from a “good” place, as these pieces of advice ostensibly do.

Why I’m Starving: A PhD Tackles the Question

FRIEND, PHD:  hunger relates to calories needed vs calories consumed.
ME:  yeah, but calories burned => calories needed. we don’t burn calories sitting at our desks!
FRIEND, PHD:  if you are gestating a baby presumably you do.
ME:  presumaly, cuz otherwise, this [i.e., eating like a Sumo wrestler in training for a marathon] is ridiculous.
FRIEND, PHD:  maybe the baby is more of a manual laborer type, not a diaspora Jew
ME:  hee! or a little sabra in training.
FRIEND, PHD:  exactly. farming the land inside you, building towers and stockades, fighting off the natives, etc. that takes calories.
ME: fleeing cossacks, crossing the seas …
FRIEND, PHD: right, maybe it is fleeing persecution. let’s not assume it has already achieved proud sovereignty in its homeland.
ME:  the story usually begins with trauma and adversity, the overcoming of which brings the emigrant to the holy land
FRIEND, PHD:  that’s the typical teleology!
ME:  and prepares him/her for the toil of settling this new empty* barren country
FRIEND, PHD:  nowhere in this story is there a desk job at a nice American Jewish foundation.
ME:  that’s several generations later. why am i giving birth to the past, anyway?
FRIEND, PHD:  ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny
ME:  sesquipedalianism obfuscates pellucidity
FRIEND, PHD: shut up
ME:  my journalism teacher in HS had that on her wall 🙂
FRIEND, PHD:  no, but really! don’t you remember that from high school bio?
FRIEND, PHD:  I think that was actually very clever of me, if I don’t say so myself. the development of the fetus somehow mimics the status of human evolution from fish to human, or amoeba to human. ontogeny = fetal development, phylogeny = development of the species. recapitulates = looks something like.
ME:  uh huh.
FRIEND, PHD: i.e., your fetus first has to flee the Cossacks before it can work at [your small Jewy nonprofit]!

Be that as it may, although there are pregnancy resources up the wazoo, I haven’t found anything to help me deal with the fact that suddenly, under these circumstances, big does not equal bad. Having a belly has been a source of shame since I was little. Once, I remember, I was looking in the mirror in my bedroom and my mom came in. “Look, Mommy, I have a belly!” I said. “I know,” she said. “That’s because you don’t exercise.”

Of course it’s not her fault — the world she lives in, and knew that I’d have to live in too, measures your self-worth by your waistline. You over there! You’re taking up too much space! Only in clothes sizes do we strive to be zeroes, but we strive for that nothingness with energy and resources we dedicate to few other endeavors. For almost two years, I forewent dinner except for vegetables, and in the process I lost two dinner companions, because they ate hamburgers and couldn’t stand sitting across from me evening after evening as I picked morosely through my salad.

Pregnant women laughing with salad!

A fixation on appearance — specifically, wanting to be slim down as far as possible — is a common affliction among women in my cohort. That being the case, why isn’t there more attention drawn to the fact that it’s destabilizing to get pregnant, wake up every morning feeling like a stray dog who hasn’t eaten in weeks, and visibly expand? It’s just so strange. Suddenly, I’m supposed to listen to my body and eat what it wants. (Up to and including two [2] cheeseburgers, my first since I was 13.) When my pants start feeling tight, that’s a good thing. When I look down and see the beginnings of a dome, I’m supposed to rejoice. I keep thinking, “Really?”

I’ve been sucking in my stomach since high school and now I’m supposed to throw my shoulders back and bear my belly proudly. The cognitive dissonance is intense, and it’s taking me time to adjust.

A quick assignment

1) Take a look at this picture.

2) Read the accompanying short article.

3) Then read the comments. Yes, I know, there are over 300 of them. Here’s a handy trick I learned in college: Pay attention to what comes first and last and skim what’s in between. Or, to get straight to the point, relax your eye to see only the word “health/y.”

Whoa, right? Who knew it mattered that women who are paid to look a particular way are “healthy” — and also that we all agree about what that word means? Maybe I’m sensitive to this issue because I’ve been so recently immersed in the randomness of cancer. My father was far less healthy than my uncle and he died three years older. From farther away, their deaths are indistinguishable, despite one’s purported health and the other’s neglect.

Another example comes courtesy of Jezebel: Carrie Fisher, who, as she puts it, used to be “pretty” and isn’t anymore. Of course, when she was bikini-ready, she was on ten kinds of drugs, and she’s now fat because of psychiatric treatments that keep her moderately sane. (“This is my medication overweight. I barely eat anything and I wind up looking like I’ve been combing the city for donuts.”)

All of which is to say: Health is not as easy to read as we assume it is from a person’s physique.

Okay, I hear you saying, rolling your eyes. But these people are exceptions! Or, as my friend Jenn put it, “The AMA would disagree with you.”

I’m sure it would. But that doesn’t make the AMA right. Jenn and I went on to discuss the issue:

me: these things are averages, not destinies. in any event, i don’t think a woman’s health has any impact on her ability to model clothes. skinny or fat, i think the only question is Does she look good? and Do the clothes appear to advantage on her body?

Jennifer: I agree. Also, i’ve seen enough runway shows to confidently say that size zero models still have cellulite

me: … thank you, honey.

My favorite comment, which I think takes the health fixation to its natural extreme, says, without any apparent irony, “Models ideally would be women who ate right, exercised regularly and managed their stress.”

ROLE MODELS, ideally, should eat right, exercise regularly, and manage their stress. MODELS should show up, look purty, date Leonardo diCaprio, and be of whatever size works for them professionally. Models are more than billboards. But they are less than superheroes. I don’t care if Kate Moss has a coke habit the same way that I don’t care if politicians get their kicks from necrophilia (though I draw the line at screwing with socks on).

Diabetes! Heart disease! OBESITY EPIDEMIC! I’m just saying it so you don’t have to. But feel free to say anything else.