Herding cats for public health

Here’s a fun thing. The day after you bring your brand new baby home from the hospital – when you feel and look the worst and craziest you probably ever have or ever will – a Public Health Nurse will come to your house for a mandatory visit and check-up. As this hilarious article alludes to, it feels like their sole purpose is to “make sure you are feeling sufficiently isolated, overwhelmed and confused.”

As my friend Wendy describes it, it’s like taking a test you can’t study for and don’t know the answers to. Sort of like living out one of those anxiety dreams where you show up for the future-deciding final exam and realize that you didn’t go to class all semester.

So it begins with the gratingly chipper phone call at 10 am, asking if it’s okay to come by at 11.

Me: Sounds great. (let’s get this over with)
Her: Do you have any animals in the house?
Me: Yes, we have two cats. (shit monsters)
Her: I’m going to need them to be locked away in a separate room before I can enter your home; It’s policy. 
Me: Uh, I can’t really do that because I had a c-section and I’m not supposed to be going up and down stairs. (much less running around, peering under beds/chairs, trying to get both cats – one of whom is double the weight of the baby and therefore I’m not even allowed to lift him – into a second-floor bedroom)
Her: Ah right, ohhhhhkay, well can you come down to our office then?
Me: Nope, I can’t drive either…again, I had a c-section three days ago.
Her: Um, okayyyy, well should we send a cab for you then?
Me: Get fucked, lady. 
Like hell I’m taking my brand new baby for a spin in the back of a filthy cab to a public health clinic. And also, who pays for that? Me? Or does taxpayer money fund the taxi rides so public health nurses can avoid killer cats?
Of course what I actually said was: I guess what would work best for me is if you could give me some extra time so I can get my mom to come over and take care of securing the cats…and she was all, oh could you?! That would be wonderful!
Yeah, it sounds fantastically convenient. For you. Not for the fucking patient who has a 3- day old baby and staples in her bikini line.
Hang up. Call my mom as baby starts crying. Explain situation.
Hang up again.
Ding Dong! I shit you not…there are two Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door. To be fair, I actually have a strangely good relationship with my friendly neighbourhood Jehovahs…we chat, they know my name, they hand me their pamphlets and they promptly skedaddle. But seriously. So I say, “listen Karen, I just brought my baby home from the hospital and as you can hear I have my hands full…” She more than graciously fucks off. God bless. Or, Jehovah bless. 
I even kept the pamphlets to prove this really happened.

Will suffering ever end? Will this public health nurse ever leave? One wonders…

So ANYWAYS. The public health nurse is actually pleasant enough, until we are discussing breastfeeding and she asks me some oddly-phrased question (randomly back-tracking to what my boobs were like during my pregnancy, as it turns out) and I have absofuckinglutely no idea what she is talking about. So I sort of tilt my head look to the side, considering what she could be getting at…and she says, “We’re going to have to turn that TV off if you’re just going to keep getting distracted by it!”
Which confuses me even more – because I certainly wasn’t watching TV, I was trying to process her stupid question – so it took me a few beats to wrap my head around this statement as well. I kept looking back and forth between her and my mom with an expression that I can only imagine was a combination of “huh?” and “I’m going to lunge across this couch and strangle this woman!!” as I stammer out a, “sorry, I didn’t understand your question.”
Then she laughs and says, “oh honey, I’m just teasing you.”
UMMMM, maybe DON’T tease your hormonal, doped-up, postpartum clients?!
Just a thought.


Rotating Doctors, Rotating Perspectives

The maternity clinic I attend actually houses four different clinics in one building. The one I am in has nine physicians, and you see whomever is working when you come in for your appointment. Three of the clinics share on-call (delivery) duties, so any one of about 14 physicians could be the one who delivers your baby. Meaning, there is a chance you will have never met the person who delivers your baby. This is okay with me…I feel like it won’t really matter who is there that day because they’re all equally qualified and that experience is pretty much going to suck anyways (until it’s over, of course).

What is interesting about this set-up is that you meet a variety of physicians in your prenatal visits. In three visits I’ve seen three different doctors, plus a couple of residents as well. I have to admit, I am a bit of a creature of habit, so I’m surprised this doesn’t unsettle/annoy me more than it does. So far the first one was my favourite, so I’m going to kindly request that the universe sends her to the hospital on the Big Day.

Anyways, they have all been fine/good, but they have also all been quite different in personality and style of care. Some are more laid-back, some are more directive, some more communicative or information-heavy, some more blunt etc., etc. For that reason, I’m actually kind of glad that I’m exposed to different perspectives instead of being stuck with one personality, and having to take just one doctor’s word as gospel truth. If I had been thinking about this more at the outset, I would have made an effort to ask each doctor the exact same question on some random topic so I could have compared their responses. I don’t necessarily think I would have gotten different answers per se, but I know the question would have been addressed in significantly different ways, if that makes sense.

On Monday, I had the pleasure of waiting for 40 minutes (alone in the exam room, of course) for the doctor-on-duty to see me (for 10 minutes, of course). With no entertainment, I was practically forced to eavesdrop  overhear the doctor’s visit with the patient in the room beside me. The 40-year-old woman was in for her first appointment, and they set her due date for July 2 (seriously, this is how clearly I could hear every single word spoken behind full walls and two closed doors – the need for whisper-mode was duly noted for the next time I have a sensitive/embarrassing topic to discuss in there).

Anyways, this doctor was really hammering home the point of eating lots of protein, lots of veggies, limiting starches, increasing your calcium/dairy “but without increasing your fat intake!!!” and that “sugar is enemy number one in pregnancy!!”. She then asked the patient what she does for exercise (“uhhhh…..yoga?” was the tentative reply) and told her she had to work up to 150 minutes of “dedicated exercise” per week and that yoga was “okay for stretching” but you also need cardio and strength training, yada yada yada. Then she went on to talk very matter-of-factly about the heightened miscarriage and genetic risks of pregnancy at 40. Her tone the whole time was very friendly and even-toned, but the messaging was unmistakably all-business.

Sure, it was all perfectly good advice and accurate information, but I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for the patient. A patient I don’t know a thing about, mind you, for all I know she is diabetic or has weight or other issues that necessitated this hard-line stance on prenatal fitness…but if I had been dealt that kind of doctor at my first prenatal appointment I would have been overwhelmed and feeling pretty bad about myself. At 11 or so weeks pregnant, it’s quite likely you’re still feeling like a bag of shit and having a hard time keeping any food down or dragging your ass home at the end of the work day, let alone whipping up a salad and blasting out a few sets of squats when you get home.

The upshot was that by the time the doctor made it to my room, I had 40 minutes of warning on how opinionated and direct she was apt to be. Small wonder baby’s heart rate was a record 158? Luckily, I was spared the scary warnings and exercise lecture. In reviewing the results of my last ultrasound though, she asked if I had found out the sex of the baby. When I said that we had, and it was a girl, she told me, “I don’t recommend that. They are occasionally wrong and it has been shown that it’s very hard on you psychologically when that happens.”

Well okay then. I mean, valid food for thought and all, but too late for that now, no? Why voice that opinion (and it is just an opinion) after the fact? I gave her a confused cocker-spaniel head-tilt and glanced at the resident in the room who was also giving her the side-eye and glancing back at me.

After being shocked a week or so before by a friend who told me gender ultrasounds are wrong about 30% of the time (!!!) I had already scoured for statistics and found that they are generally considered at least 90-95% accurate – with the experience of the technician and timing of the ultrasound (i.e. not too early in your pregnancy) being the major factors, and that in many cases (right view, right tech, right timing) they can tell with near 100% accuracy. As far as my own experience went, I asked how confident technicians are in their predictions and mine said, “we don’t make guesses: I either know or I don’t know.” I believed her.

So while I am sure that finding out she is actually a boy after expecting a girl would be quite the shock, this physician seemed to be making a strong recommendation for my “psychological health” based on something that maybe – at worst – happens once or twice out of 20 times.

As I laughed the comment off with a, “well, I guess it’s too late for me now!” she went on to urge me not to imagine scenarios or “create a persona” for a girl, and to try really hard to keep thinking of it as an “it” — exact words! Okay lady, now you’re just talking crazy. Good fucking luck with that one.

Isn’t it at least possible that there could be psychological benefits to finding out early? Benefits that could apply 90-95% of the time? Bonding maybe? I’m no expert, but it feels like encouraging me to objectify and distance myself from the baby isn’t the most psychologically sound recommendation either.

Whatever. I left the clinic that day, took my shetus directly to the mall and bought her the most adorable pair of size 1 baby Chuck T’s. She’s a good girl, she deserves it 😉

Oh yay! Oh shit!

As I approach the end of the “danger zone”, AKA the first trimester, I feel more comfortable talking about the beginning of it. Though I’m still semi-convinced that I will jinx everything. It ain’t easy being a paranoid freak. Anyways…

I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised by this pregnancy as I was. It was, after all, something we had tried for. In the context of babies though, I’ve come to learn that the concept of trying requires some clarification. We tried in the sense that I stopped taking the Pill (oh how I still miss you, Tri-cyclen) and wondered what the hell was wrong with us when nothing happened. Nothing except horrible skin, a stubborn (and practically instantaneous) 10 (okay, closer to 15) lb weight gain and near-constant cramps and lower back pain, natch. Plus, my mood was awesome (ahhhahahahaha). But we didn’t try in the sense that a lot of people we know did, involving things like fertility specialists, clomid, hormone shots, IUI and IVF.

The furthest I ever went was using an Ovulation Predictor Kit a few times because after 18 years on the Pill, I wouldn’t have been surprised if my ovaries were just refusing to get up off the bench. But since I appeared to be ovulating, I ditched them because those devil sticks will ruin your sex life, if not your whole life, faster than you can say, “ugh, we have to do it again because I’m ovulating.” Seriously. It’s awful.

Eventually, we kind of gave up on the idea. And that was actually totally okay. We have a pretty sweet lifestyle and I was never desperate to be a mom. Nor was Andrew desperate to be a dad. It was a “nice to have” not a “must have” on both of our to-do lists.

And frankly, if there were an easy way around the whole pregnancy/labour thing (e.g. if adoption wasn’t the logistical nightmare I’ve heard it is these days) I would have chosen that route in a heartbeat. I never longed for the experience on a biological level. Even when I was irritated with not getting pregnant in a snap, I realized that it bothered me more that I was failing at something than that I was missing out on a baby.

I do know women who genuinely, deeply, wanted to be mothers—like my friend Kristyn—she was made for it. But for the most part, I always suspected that a lot of people who want babies, want them because their lives are kind of boring. Sorry, not sorry. Having children is great, but there are many ways to live an awesomely fulfilling life, and having the money, freedom, time and energy to do what you want, whenever you want, is pretty fucking great too, so long as you’re taking advantage of it!

So as excited as we are, the first words out of my mouth were, “well, holy shit.” Followed by several hours of shitting bricks and mental recalibration. Because as awesome of an experience as I know it will be, it also means a lot of sacrifices and compromises. The vacations, the kind of house we can afford, the late dinners and the runaway evenings of too many beers. My body. At 35 I don’t expect it to be easy to spring right back to tip-top shape. Especially when I couldn’t even get my ass in shape before I got pregnant (Tri-cyclen, I REALLY miss you).

I’m not ashamed to admit having mixed feelings about all of this. I think far too many women walk around acting like they are 100% happy about everything, all the time (because god forbid someone thinks they are a bad wife or mother) and then we wonder why there are so many of us struggling with depression or anxiety and battling addictions behind closed doors. If we could just admit that ambivalence, second thoughts and internal conflict is normal and healthy, we’d all have to be better off. And if my kid reads this one day? I’m good with that. He/she will know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also want to teach them that even the happiest of situations can cause fear and doubt. That’s fucking life, kiddo.

Sorry that these last couple of posts have been kind of heavy. The regular jackassery will resume shortly.

I’m having a baby…but not because you told me to.

As I told my friend Kerri yesterday, I’ve realized that I am whatever is the exact opposite of a people pleaser. Instead of that intense need to please, I have an obnoxious streak of, “Oh, you want me to do A? Well then, I’m 100% going to do B.” Immature? For sure. Human? Probably. But sometimes it scares me how much this stubbornness drives me.

Take yesterday’s lunch, for example. I hadn’t really seen my mom in about a month, which is odd for me. I wanted to see her, but I was also deep in avoidance mode because we are planning on telling her and my dad about the pregnancy on the weekend—and I was worried it might be hard not to crack if I saw her in person.

I needn’t have worried. We had a lovely time (truly). But the lunch took a turn (not for the first time) into baby territory. It’s subtle, this conversation. Subtle like a ton of bricks. And couched in terms of, “how annoying that all these people always ask me when you’re having a baby”.

I find this all supremely weird. I find it weird that people ask her about this in the first place, weirder that she tells me about it, and weirdest of all that she hasn’t just told these people to fuck off if it bothers her. But then, I’m the kind of person who has no qualms about telling people to fuck off when they’re being rude.

Nobody is owed an explanation for anyone else’s decision to have (or not have) children. Somebody’s boldness or –  let’s call a spade a spade – bad manners in asking the question doesn’t warrant the reward of an answer just because they feel entitled to one. A person and their spouse are the only two people who get a vote on the matter. End of story.

The last time my mom and I had a real conversation about the subject, I told her that I felt like I didn’t need kids to be happy. That Andrew and I were both content with our life together whether or not kids ever entered the picture. And that if things didn’t happen naturally, we wouldn’t go the fertility treatment route. Power to those who do, but it’s just not for us. Sorry Perry, but I meant it when I said that I’d rather spend $10,000 on a trip to Bora Bora than on IVF. I thought she believed me. Even agreed with me on many points. But…I suspect that most people who have children are kind of incapable of truly embracing a life without them. Try as they might.

Anyways, the upshot of the whole conversation was that instead of tempting me to spill the beans, it only steeled my resolve to keep my trap shut. I took such perverse pleasure in instructing her to simply tell anyone who asks that we will have a baby on the 10th of Never. And still, the thought that our good news will inadvertently make my mother’s nosy friends and relatives happy makes me crazy angry. Their satisfaction will actually mar my happiness. How fucked up is all that?

So yeah, I’m having a baby. But not because you want me to.

Nemo & Neglect

The other day Andrew said something like, “I’m kind of impressed that you haven’t been crazier than you have. You know, mentally.”

Instead of being offended I was like, I know, right? Because I’m well aware that I lean towards crazy at the best of times, and I too figured that a hormonal hurricane wouldn’t do me any favours.

Yet, for the most part, the ol’ mental keel has been pretty even.

But…there have been a couple of things that make me think I may not be 100% together. You know, mentally. Like, I can’t watch heartwarming animal rescue videos at work any more because we have an open concept office – which is just a fancy way of saying everybody sees you when you ugly cry at your desk. If my husband were reading this over my shoulder he’d urge me to talk about the lizard meltdown. But you know what? I won’t. Because that lizard was adorable and I didn’t mean to step on it, and I would sob over that any old time. ANY. TIME. That little guy had a family that loved him, you know?

I’m losing focus. What I want to talk about is Nemo. Gemma (our girly cat) loooves these two stuffed toys – Nemo and Bunny – and she brings them to us every night, because she loves us. Are you getting this? She wants so badly to make us happy that she hunts her favourite stuffies and delivers them to the foot of our bed, meowing to wake the dead. She’s so proud. It’s become a bit of a routine, hiding Nemo and Bunny somewhere downstairs and waiting for her to bring them up, so I can gush and praise her. But Andrew never reacts. Never praises. He just lays there, reading Sports Illustrated online or listening to a podcast.

Why does this matter? It doesn’t. I know that some people don’t believe in the vital importance of stroking their cat’s ego. I also know that this doesn’t necessarily mean he will ignore Perry’s efforts to please us. But in the twisted funhouse that is my brain, I can’t help but picture him slouched in an armchair, smoking a cigar, reading the paper and ignoring our daughter as she tugs on the sleeve of his sports jacket trying to show him her report card. Because it’s also 1952 in the brain funhouse.

Unable to get his attention and praise, her self-esteem chips away until junior high blow jobs lead to dropping out of high school, which leads to a stripper pole and smoking meth in a dingy basement apartment with her abusive welder boyfriend, Blade.

I’m not overreacting; this is just how life works. It’s like, science. Have you ever known a hot mess who didn’t have daddy issues? Exactly. Really Andrew, would it be so hard to just give our poor kitty the fatherly approval she desperately craves from you?

Sometimes I feel really sorry for my husband.

Do I have to?

I realize it’s wayyy too early to even be thinking about this stuff. But really, I always have, so why would it stop when I’m actually going to have to be a parent?

I’m talking about all those things that parents do – or let their little kids do – and all of the things these same parents complain about. Overblown birthday parties for two year olds. Letting your toddler play with (and smash) your phone or iPad. Trailing crumbs and juice spills all over the house. Watching that insufferable little Caillou brat. Listening to Raffi on a steady loop. Leaving a party at 7 pm because it’s baby’s bedtime. Being endlessly interrupted by a three-year old. Taking an hour to put baby down to sleep.

Channeling Carrie Bradshaw here: I can’t help but wonder…do I have to?

Can’t I skip throwing the parties the kid won’t even remember? Can’t a kid be taught that food and drinks are for the kitchen, not the couch, even if the rules are different for mom and dad? Can’t I simply refuse to hand my phone over to a two-year old? Can’t I tell him that Caillou is dead and Raffi is for suckers and make him listen to the Beastie Boys and watch Vanderpump Rules? Can’t I let the kid fall asleep on a pile of coats in a spare bedroom just like we all did when our parents went to parties when we were little? Can’t you teach a three-year old that they can say, “excuse me” when they want something and wait until mom acknowledges them before they speak?

In this moment of all-knowing-I-don’t-have-a-kid-yet wisdom, I think you can. I think I can. And I know it is at least possible, because every once in a while I see a mom who does these things and it looks fine. It looks better than fine, actually, it looks like a mom with non-sticky carpets and her friendships, identity, sanity and phone screen intact. In fact, it looks a lot like my own mom. And that, my friends, is mighty fine indeed.