Hm.  It’s definitely getting harder to just pull off looking “fat” and not “pregnant” at this point.

I am frustrated with maternity clothes because they have to be the only women’s clothing in the world that is designed to make a woman look extra fat.  My maternity clothes are definitely comfortable, but with the extra pounds they add and accentuate, especially with the maternity belt that lifts my uterus into an even more prominent position, I don’t wear them often unless I’m at least halfway covered with cardigans.  I am frustrated with my closet because the clothes I used to wear suddenly don’t fit anymore.

My supervisor at one job thought it would be best if no one knows I’m pregnant since she doesn’t want things to be awkward for me.  On the one hand, I agree.  It is really hard to be surrounded by people constantly talking about baby things when you don’t know how you’ll respond to it.  (Some days I’ve had to call in sick at the library because I can’t handle the thought of looking at children’s books and hearing other people’s babies crying and laughing.)  She also figures that if people know now what the diagnosis is, they’ll still make it awkward for me by always talking about it when I might not feel up to talking about it.

My mum seems to have the same attitude.  I don’t think she wants the rest of the family to even know I’m pregnant.  I haven’t told anyone outside of my parents, though my husband’s family all know (all of them who communicate with him, and even his mother, who he doesn’t have a good relationship with–or any relationship with most of the time).

The thing that no one seems to recognise, though, is that I am still getting bigger.  I’m starting to look pregnant.  I haven’t experienced the can’t-see-my-feet syndrome so many women talk about, and most of the time I feel like I must look like I just don’t know how to say no to chocolate (which is sometimes true, I admit…).  It still feels so strange to be covering up the fact that I have an expanding belly when I’m at work to keep the questions at bay.  It seems like I’m supposed to be ashamed of being pregnant, which is so frustrating to me because I’m not ashamed.  I’m not ashamed of my baby’s condition, and there’s certainly nothing shameful about the circumstances of how I got pregnant.

I just have to think about it as protecting myself from further unnecessary emotional hurt.  It is usually easier for people to not know, to not say anything.  But sometimes it’s harder, like having a coworker who’s just a few weeks ahead of me, and who everyone talks about and coos over because she has a baby coming.  It’s hard to not feel jealous sometimes.

I am thankful, however, for a strong support system at church, and for my parents (and those of my husband’s family who love and care for us so much) because as much as I hate talking about the specifics sometimes (especially since my head is constantly spinning with all of the different things the doctors keep telling us), it is good to know how much they love us–all of us, baby included.

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Looking Pregnant

Almost 32 Weeks

On mornings like this morning when it is grey and frosty out, I wish I could lie in bed all day and just feel the baby kicking, squirming, and stretching.  I love feeling its movements and knowing it’s still doing OK in there.

Almost to 32 weeks now.

One of my coworkers at the library is starting her maternity leave early next week.  She’s due in March, like I am.  One of the supervisors asked me to work extra to cover her absence.  I couldn’t believe he’d ask me to do that when I can barely come in every day as it is, can barely physically handle my job as it is.  Besides, I will be having my baby before she does most likely.  It would be pointless having someone cover someone else for a couple of weeks and then need to be gone for a while, too.

I’m technically on “light duty” at the library, but that doesn’t mean much.  Unfortunately my job doesn’t involve many things that qualify as light duty.  If I got paid more, I would have a more sedentary position, but since I have a minimum wage, no benefits job, 99% of the job description involves manual labour.  A lot of days, I just don’t feel physically capable of doing my job well and I wish they could give me something else to do.  I really like working there, I love the people I work with, and they need me and we need the income (especially since my husband is not working currently, thanks to the slow season).  I end up taking a lot of time off that I don’t want to.

I look forward to being able to work normally again, but at the same time, I dread what the months ahead have in store for us.  So for now, I’m just enjoying every bit of movement I can from baby, not knowing what things will be like when it is no longer inside kicking.

Loosening Ligaments

I am thankful that my body is loosening up to prepare for a smoother delivery.

I just wish it didn’t make my job at the library so hard.  Imagine squatting down to put books on a shelf when your inner thighs feel like you’ve done 100 squats every day for the past week and your hip keeps threatening to pop out…

It will get better eventually, and my body’s doing this on purpose.  It’s just a little difficult in the process…

31 Weeks

Another week, another milestone.  Another bit closer to the inevitable.

My husband and I have been discussing what we want our birth plan to be if we are given any choices at all.  Right now, things are bleak for us to have any say what is done with delivery and the aftermath.  I don’t understand how they can think it’s a good idea to just immediately take away my baby from me after birth and never hold it.  As much as the doctors sound like they’re on top of bilateral renal agenesis and infant kidney failure and what to do about it, they never cite any success stories.  

As it stands, in my amateur Internet research, the only case I can find of a baby without kidneys surviving is Jaime Herrera-Beutler’s baby (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/29/jaime-herrera-beutler-baby_n_3671417.html), a Washington State Representative, who underwent a controversial treatment and delivered her baby at just 28 weeks.  Our doctors warned us about the story and advised that they do not do this treatment (and even if they did, I would’ve had to have had more fluid when they started to find a pocket to inject into) since when it was studied in the past, the women in the study developed uterine infections.  I personally wonder if that’s what happened to Herrera-Beutler, which led to her very early delivery.  No one has explained why she had the baby so early.

At any rate, the newspaper articles all cite that this is probably the first case of bilateral renal agenesis that led to a surviving baby.

So if this hasn’t been done before (and never by the doctors I’m seeing?), and the odds are still just about 0 that baby will survive, why can’t we have some say in the matter?  Hopefully my controlling specialist will lay off a little to let us have some say in this.  

At the moment, baby feels like it’s head-down, which would be a great place for it to be.  It’s spent most of my pregnancy mostly head-down (very painful on my pelvis, but I can handle it if it means we can attempt to avoid the C-section), but my specialist was convinced it would shift to transverse and get stuck since that’s typically what happens.

Instead of talking about sad outcomes (even survival involves a lot of hard decisions for us), I wish my husband and I were doing the things people were supposed to be doing with their first child on the way: buying a carseat, stroller, crib, clothing… Just this week I was finally able to look at baby clothes again.  It’s still hard to look at them and think about our baby wearing them, but at least I know I am making progress at handling this.  I wish I were having a baby shower and I have pangs of jealousy at my friends who are having them now.  Having a baby shower means everything is expected to be normal.  You would never know we were having a baby by looking at our apartment.

Part of me is afraid what we will do if the baby survives.  I suppose it will be hospitalised long enough for us to get the necessary items to take it home, but it will definitely be intimidating.  

Right now, we have what we need for an emergency baptism and have a few things for burial, if necessary.  We need one outfit for the baby, but we haven’t found one yet.  It helps to know better how big the baby will be (earlier on, when the baby could’ve been born at any time, thinking of clothing was way too difficult).  It’s still hard to pick one outfit.

Has anyone else noticed how stupid baby clothing can be?  There is nothing unisex out there.  There are boys’ clothes and there are girls’ clothes.  We just want a white outfit that isn’t outright girly (it’s traditional to be buried in a baptismal gown, after all, so something along those lines is fine).  So far, we haven’t found anything.

Well we have another week and a half until my next appointment, so we have at least until that long to stock up on the courage to figure out how to tell the doctor what we want with this delivery and try to actually have a discussion on what is plausible.

Hospitals and doctors

I had to go to the hospital on Wednesday.

I hadn’t felt much movement from the baby for several days, and what I did feel was weak and rare, sometimes 16 hours between movements.  Cord compression is a very real fear for me since it’s very common when there is no amniotic fluid.  On top of that, I’ve had severe pain in my back, abdomen, and inner thighs (which are on the list of “signs of preterm labour”), and when I told my mum what I was feeling, she told me to call the hospital.  (I was complaining to her that I’d tried to call my specialists’ emergency number only to find out it was only for doctors, then tried calling my regular OB’s office and could never get through.)  The nurse at the hospital who answered cut me off before I was done telling her my symptoms and told me to come in immediately.  So I did.

Surprisingly, they didn’t even inspect me.  They hooked up a doppler to listen to the baby’s heartbeat for 10 minutes (it was between 120 and 160 the whole time, which they said was good), and of course that’s when baby decided it would be a good time to start kicking like crazy.  It kicked the device at least five times like it was a game.  The doctor came in eventually and said the baby looked fine and I needed to go home since it was silly to think I was in labour already at 30 weeks.  I didn’t think I was in labour; my symptoms are just on the hospital’s “come to the hospital if…” list and the nurse told me to come.  So I left.

The whole visit was another reminder of how much I hate medical personnel.  When I called in the first place, I told the nurse I was 30 weeks pregnant, and she argued with me that I was further along than that.  Incredulous, I said, “Really?” and she replied, “Yes, you are 30 weeks and 3 days.”  I could have told her that, I just didn’t know she needed me to be THAT specific.  When I got to the hospital, the registration insisted on calling me a man’s name (I reminded her twice that I am a female, believe it or not) and I learned that my paperwork has me listed as an Orthodox Jew with the indication that there are no clergy in the area to call should I have an emergency.  I tried to get them to change it to Orthodox Christian (I gave them lots of options: Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox), but they wouldn’t do it, and eventually changed my religion to “other.”  I don’t know who they intend on calling should I have an emergency (typically I would hope someone would be in the room with me to call themselves, but in light of the fact that the doctors want to separate me from my husband and baby immediately after birth, I’m not sure I will have anyone with me at all).

Just another bad medical experience to add to the list.  I’m not looking forward to the weeks to come any more at this point–not with a pushy, controlling doctor who won’t even discuss other options than what would be best for her and her research and all that would mean for us as a family.

Marriage Is Martyrdom… and everything that comes with it

Even before we got married, I’d been contemplating this idea of “martyrdom” that comes with the Christian life.  I didn’t have to be married to be aware that, especially to those of us who are Orthodox Christians, “martyrdom” is a daily goal.

I’m not talking about getting stabbed or beaten or ridiculed for my faith like the great martyrs we revere were.  That is, of course, a possibility, but the martyrdoms we are supposed to take on are usually a lot smaller, and there are a lot of them.  They also, it seems to me at least, are easier to rationalise bowing out of.  If someone told me, “I’m going to kill you because you’re a Christian!” I would probably say or do something that would sound something along the lines of St. Paul’s “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  It’s just so clearly the Christian thing to do.  (Note: I have never been in this situation, so I can only hope that that is actually what I would do and that it would actually be as easy as I’ve envisioned it.)  However, when I’m faced with things like doing something I don’t want to do that is also the right thing to do, it’s so easy to say, “Oh it won’t matter if I just don’t do this…” and embrace selfishness.

The Christian life demands that we “take up our cross” like Christ and deny ourselves.  Easier said than done, right?  Most frequently, the only denial I actively take part in is denying myself meat and cheese on Wednesday and Friday.  It’s a good first step to teach us control over our bodies and minds, but it isn’t the only denial we’re called to.  We have to deny our temptations, our impure thoughts, our wants.  “I would rather do this” is supposed to become “I will do this for the best of the other person (or my soul, or both).”

It’s easy to forget self-denial when you are already living for yourself.  That is why Orthodox Christians generally are supposed to choose between monasticism and marriage (there are a few unmarried lay people floating around out there, but that is because Orthodoxy is handled on a person-by-person basis with the individual and his spiritual father).  Both monasticism and marriage are similar in what they require of us spiritually and how they shape us even though they look completely different.  Both can be used inappropriately and be of no spiritual value whatsoever, though.  (Thus it’s outright wrong to say that monastics live “better” spiritual lives by default because the temptations still exist to not be holy, though I will certainly allow that they tend to be in an environment that sharply highlights the holy and unholy in the human being and eliminates, or minimises, worldly distractions.  Marriage and monasticism are very different things, after all, but one is not better than the other–only better for the individuals involved.)

I personally contemplated monasticism for quite some time.  My last semester of college, I saw the path as inevitable and made arrangements to pursue it.  An abbess I loved like a mother was fully supportive and wanted me to spend an extended stay at her monastery.  I didn’t stay as long as either of us would have preferred, but it didn’t take long for her tune to shift from, “You might be a good candidate for this life!  Try it out!” to “Why don’t you go back out in the world and see about getting married?”  It was rather crushing since at the time, I had absolutely no potential suitors.  I knew every eligible bachelor in every church near me (both in the area of California I lived, and on the rural side of my home state where I grew up and moved back to after college) and all had quickly friend-zoned me for whatever reason (which is why I roll my eyes at young men who complain that young women are always doing the “friend-zoning.”  They just don’t realise they’re also doing it.).  I left the monastery dejected, heart-broken, and a little hopeless.  I needed some kind of pilgrimage to help me at that point, I figured.

But guess what?  Just about a month after my spiritually difficult trip to the monastery, I ran into the man who would become my husband.  He didn’t “look” the way I thought he would so I tried to ignore him (I don’t actually mean physical looks–I mean he wasn’t what I had envisioned and I didn’t want to think that my personal blueprints could be deviated from).  I couldn’t, so I finally called a priest I was close to, knowing that if he could just reason with me and tell me to stop seeing this young man, I would have the resolve to actually do it!

He didn’t.  He told me to give him a chance, with some very specific and careful guidelines.

So I did.

Before long, this topic of “marriage as martyrdom” became very important because marriage was the next step for us.  (Neither of us would have continued pursuing one another after our summer of letter-writing as he was across the country from me if we hadn’t seen a potential future together, which was appropriate.  We took the courtship seriously.)  The thing is, though, that it seems I’ve heard this phrase so often, it starts to lose its meaning.  So marriage is hard work?  Of course it is.  I’m surrounded by others’ marriages every day and I see that.  But what purpose does something that is difficult have?  It shapes and strengthens us if accepted appropriately.  It can weaken and destroy us if we let it.  The latter is definitely easier because it seems to be the natural way things happen.  A situation is difficult, so I will give up, or pout about it.

In the marriage ceremony in the Orthodox Church, we are given crowns.  Now the crowns represent plenty of things, but the most apparent thing they represent is “crowns of martyrdom” like we see in the icons.  On taking on those crowns (at which point in the ceremony, the couple is actually considered married–not at the end, not at any special announcement, but in the middle of the ceremony when the crowns are on the couple’s heads, uniting them and challenging them), the couple is voluntarily taking on special tasks of self-denial.  They recognise that this life is no longer about them as individuals and that everything from this point forward will be a joint effort and have joint effects.  This is wonderful sometimes (a shoulder to lean on, for instance), and horrible other times (a companion who constantly brings to light what is wrong with you and challenges you to fix your attitudes).  Our first steps as newlyweds were taken around the table that represents the altar (the Kingdom of God) on which is the Scripture, the chalice (which represents the Eucharist and Christ Himself), and the Cross (the ultimate representation of self-denial).

Everyone calls this ceremony beautiful.  If you really think about the symbolism, though, it is one of the hardest things a person could really choose to take on.  Why voluntarily say, “Bring on the hardship and the struggles!”?  So, yes, it is beautiful–it is beautiful in the same way that blessings don’t always take the form of pleasant things.

In light of all this, with marriage comes children, in most instances.  In modern society, this is the part of the ceremony that is most uncomfortable to so many people: just how many times God is beseeched to bless the couple with children!

Ah children.  Now if that isn’t an opportunity for martyrdom, I don’t know what is!  You can either gain heaven or lose your soul raising children, which must be the reason many people want to avoid it.  There is no middle ground.

I read a fantastic blog article on this topic this morning, when I was, fittingly, contemplating writing something about marriage as martyrdom.  He entitles it: Your Life is Over When You Have Kids (http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/01/10/your-life-is-over-when-you-have-kids/).  A couple of quotes sum up marriage and parenthood particularly:

My life is over now that I have kids.

My life is over.

That thing that I called MY life. That portion of existence — that long, lonely chapter — when I lived for me, and me alone. That delusion known as my life, where I exerted, or thought I exerted, ownership over my whole self. Where I separated my life from all other lives, and lived to satisfy my whims and desires… I’m not living for me anymore. I never should have lived just for me, but now I can’t. Either I become less selfish, or I fail in my duty as a parent. There is no middle ground.

Taking care of another human being–especially one that is as absolutely helpless as a child–is a huge act of self-denial.  It is, quite honestly, martyrdom to our wants and preferences, and can very easily bring out the worst in us.  When the passions that corrupt us are brought to light, we then get two options: 1) Act on them! (Hint, this is the easy one), 2) Swallow, deny them, and do the opposite of what we necessarily want to do and how we want to react.

The phrase in the marriage ceremony that has most stuck with me over the months of marriage my husband and I have enjoyed (and struggled through!) already is the deacon’s petition that God: “That there may be given unto them soberness of life, and fruit of the womb as is expedient for them.”

As is expedient for them.

We got pregnant right away.  That was a shock to me, even though I knew I was fertile at the time (which happens about twice a year for me).  I figured we would struggle with fertility for at least a year or three, especially given what I’d been told by multiple doctors.  When I realised I was pregnant, my immediate response was anger.  I cried about it.  We wanted children, but this was a little ridiculous, right?  Then just as quickly as I figured out I was pregnant, we lost it.  I was devastated and felt like it was my fault for railing against God about getting pregnant.  Truth be told, if my cycles weren’t   I prayed long and hard that if He gave me another opportunity to have a baby, I would take it gladly and without complaint.  11 days later, I ovulated again (much to my surprise–I’d never had two fertile months in a row), and I got pregnant.  Again.

So I can only guess that this is an answer to the prayer that we be blessed with children as is necessary (expedient: practical, useful) for our salvation.  Which is why this baby, our baby that might not live more than a few minutes or a few hours or a few days or a few years, is so obviously a great blessing to us.  Every baby is a blessing, but a blessing that brings so many struggles, difficult decisions, selflessness, uncertainty (and with it the surrendering of our wills and preferences), along with the joy is the best blessing we could possibly receive.  We have to learn to see life in God’s control instead of in our own.  We have to give up so many things for the welfare of our baby and with it, our own souls.

Fittingly, our marriage crowns are displayed on our icon table in our bedroom where we pray most often.  We can’t forget that we took on this particular task when we took on marriage–even though at the time we certainly didn’t know that this would be in the future!  But we also know we don’t do this alone.  We took the crowns of “martyrdom” along with the Scriptures, the Cross, the chalice, and the Kingdom of Heaven (they are all part of that end goal) so we know that God is with us every step, and that the saints who have gone before us and completed their martyrdoms are cheering for us, supporting us, and loving us through each challenge.

It definitely makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger.

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A Few Goals for 2014

So I’m a few days late at jumping on the bandwagon of “New Year’s resolutions” and whatnot, but “not procrastinating” was not one of my goals, so I think I’m doing just fine.

A few things I’d like to accomplish this year:

  1. Start–and finish–the wedding photo album.  We’re still in the process of selecting the pictures, and then my dear husband wants me to have them printed and put them in an album by hand.  I suggested doing it electronically and having the album printed, but it doesn’t sound like he likes that idea.  Regardless, getting our pictures organised and in our home (not just on the computer) is a major goal.
  2. Work on a new sewing project.  I have to admit, I think the last sewing projects I did were the whirlwind of things I did for the wedding: my dress, the men’s pant hems, the girls’ hats, the [fabric] flowers, and whatever else I did during that short time frame.  I miss sewing, but I have no where to set up permanently at the moment, so if I want to do a project, it will need to be put away at intervals (making it difficult to finish).  I just need to do it.
  3. Get a new job.  I love doing what I do at the public defenders’ office, but I don’t like actually working there for a variety of reasons that involve policy and personnel more than anything else really.  The last couple of years, as I marked up my calendar for the year with deadlines, I kept hoping I wouldn’t be there at my desk to see each of those deadlines occur.  And yet here I am still.  We’ll see what this year has in store for me.
  4. Make an effort to read regularly.  I’m getting better at this.  Being surrounded by books every day at the library (where I work part-time) really helps whet my appetite for reading, but a lot of times there are too many other things to do.  I want to try to read at least a little bit daily to keep my hunger for books insatiable–as it should be.
  5. On a more frivolous note, I’d really like to go somewhere new.  Last year, we visited Victoria, BC, which was a first for me.  This year we have no concrete plans, but I’m hoping to visit a place I haven’t seen.  I have traveled very little, so theoretically this should be easy, yet most of the time it doesn’t happen.

That’s all for now, though I reserve the right to add to my list as I think of new things I’d like to accomplish this year.  I need to keep motivated somehow!  Hopefully having goals will help take my mind off of the overwhelming emotions I feel too much of the time from thinking too much in the silence of idleness…