Trigger Warning: my birth was hard Penelope was born at 7:33am on Wednesday, February 21. She weighed six pounds and four ounces and was 19 3/4 inches long. The number one goal for Penny’s… More
It’s no surprise that parental leave, like so many other issues related to women and healthcare, in the U.S. is a disaster. Fewer than half of women who take a maternity leave in this country are paid for it, and even the beauty that is unpaid FMLA is tarnished by the list of requirements one and their employer have to meet in order to qualify. And now that we know that fewer than 40% of American families can afford a $1000 emergency, thinking about income replacement for even a six week leave leaves most families in the dirt.
This is a crime.
The policy in my workplace is very average, especially in the education field—6 weeks unpaid. I’m lucky in the sense that my primary concern was not money, but time. Even if they wouldn’t pay me, I know we can fall back on family for support. This involves a tremendous degree of privilege that I recognize is not normal—it certainly would not be in my life had I not married into a much more financially stable family than my one of origin.
My issue was time. Six weeks assumes everything goes perfectly physically, and it also leaves a tiny baby at five weeks and change before mom goes back to work. I couldn’t imagine doing that. So, I had two options: try to get a better deal, or suck it up.
I tried for a better deal and got it. Here’s my advice for having that conversation.
First: ask. You can’t know what they’ll offer you if you’re afraid to ask for it. My approach was delicate but direct—“I know what the policy is, but I’m hoping we can talk about me taking a little more time.”
Second, plan. I went into this conversation with a calendar in mind—a start date and a return date, where my paid time off would kick in and end, where federal holidays and other days off would kick in, as a way to send the message that even though I was asking for more than standard, it really doesn’t amount to all that much time once you figure in the PTO, which most employers will require you to take first, and other days off. I also came in with a gameplan for who would take over my responsibilities (in my case, a long term sub and friend with a lot of experience and great rapport with kids), a sense of what I would ask her to do while I’m gone, and how I would get her up to speed (a couple days of job shadowing, complete lesson plans for two months, etc.). Part of this, too, is arming yourself with knowing your value to the organization and being willing to speak to it.
Lastly, appreciate. Know that your boss is bound by policy as much as you are. If they go out of their way to advocate and fight for something better for you, let them know that you appreciate that advocacy, even if it doesn’t work. In my case, it did work. My original request for 11 weeks off is now 12 because of medical advice to stop earlier. I’ve made sure, probably to the point of overkill, that my boss knows how incredibly grateful I am that she was willing to make it happen for me.
In short, I can’t think that it hurts to try. The worst case scenario is being slapped down, but one might be able to mitigate that possibility by approaching the conversation thoughtfully and confidently.
Now that mine has started, I feel super weird. More on that soon.
If there’s anything to recommend about the emotional process of pregnancy, it’s ups and downs, highs and lows, it might most be the degree of self-reflection and processing it forces upon you. The questions of how you’ll do things, what your parents did, what parents you admire do–all of these, for me, have been prompts for some of the deepest self-examination I’ve ever experienced.
And, for me, that means a lot of time to think about dads. Dads have always been extremely, extremely complicated for me. My own dad, a shadowy memory that plays in the back of my mind in random spurts like errant lightening; my gentle and kind father-in-law, who has become all the things I could have ever asked for in a dad and a friend; and, finally, my husband, who is already an extraordinarily tender and attentive father to someone who won’t even be earthside for four more weeks yet.
My father is one of the grandest mysteries of my life. My memories of him are often dark, fearful–me sitting on a toilet in the middle of the night yelling for him to come and help me, an overturned table and a sonorous yell, a goodbye kiss at a train station before my mom whisked us away, never to see or hear from him again. In the years that followed, I had a wonderful live-in grandfather–an artist, a thinker, a kind man who bought me a tiny kitten and yelled at me for wearing blue lipstick, and who died too soon for all of us to handle. This is how dads have been in my life–fleeting, fraught, complicated. I would refer to my own, during my angst-ridden teenage years, as a “sperm donor,” a title I gave him to mask what I truly felt he was–someone who did not know or care to figure out how to love me.
When my mom received a phone call to let her know that he had died, I was a sophomore in high school, obsessed with my own ennui. I knew the second she hung up the phone and furrowed her brows what she was coming to tell me, like a psychic shock to my system. I remember pulling out one ear bud, letting We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes keep playing, and saying, “My father is dead, isn’t he?” while I sat and pet that same cat my grandfather had given me years earlier.
As I was clearing out the baby’s room closet today to try to find a way to stack diapers, I found a photo of him that I find while rummaging around once in a while. It reminds me of the stranger who gave me my nose, my wild hair, my charisma, my impulsiveness, my arrogance, my hedonism, and whose darkness I often worried is buried in me somewhere to emerge when least expected.
I won’t ever know, really. I’ll know when my brother looks over with the same sharp, dark eyes—a stranger’s eyes, a vagabond’s—that we will never piece together the life of this veiled stranger. I think of him sometimes dying alone in that duplex in Brockton, Mass., almost 50, still a giant, still searching for something. And this is how I imagine his wandering too, a search. He loved the greyhound tracks, the soft thudding gallop of graceful dogs, and he loved to gamble on them so much it sent us to live in tents, in basements, in tiny ramshackle New England homes with dirt floors and windows of clouded glass. I don’t know if he wandered lost, or if he built a twisted life he may have loved for its sordidness. I’ll never know.
And now, we prepare to build a family unlike one I ever knew firsthand–two loving parents, with a dad who already cares so much I can see it radiating from him every day. I’m grateful that our daughter will get to experience the complete love of her father, but I can’t say that I’m not also, even now, maybe especially now, envious of her for that.
Everything has been smooth sailing in my pregnancy until it hasn’t been. I’ve been textbook, really—almost hilariously so. The very week all the books said I might experience this or that, I have. Like clockwork. This has allowed me to really trust my body and trust this process, and as a result, pregnancy has been mostly a beautiful and inspiring time in my life.
However, last week at my 30 week appointment, my OB dropped what felt like a major bombshell: “We’re probably going to want to induce at 38-39 weeks, as long as you keep looking good. If the blood pressure raises, we might be looking at 36-37.” And I just sat there and nodded stupidly, covered in Doppler gel and surprise.
This would be a preventive measure rather than a proactive one. I have “essential hypertension,” which has been well managed with medication for several years. Through pregnancy, readings have been great other than slightly elevated at this last appointment (130/90). That said, this must put me in a risk category the OB wants to tread lightly with.
I went grocery shopping in a haze. I came home in a haze. I told my husband, texted my bestie, and thought I was processing pretty well. But I wasn’t, because slowly, my entire attitude toward pregnancy started to shift. I don’t trust my body, I don’t trust myself to correctly interpret my own experiences, and I have to shift that trust from myself to my doctors, which involves an activity that I do not excel at—relinquishing control.
I’m not an idiot. I know intellectually that I have not had any real control over the process of my pregnancy other than taking decent care of myself, but when things are all good, it’s easy to feel like you do.
I also know that I really put a lot of pressure on myself, and I can’t overachieve my way out of a pre-existing condition that hasn’t resolved itself despite a healthy weight, diet, and generally active lifestyle. It just is what it is. It all just is what it is.
But I haven’t managed my own emotions on this very well. I’ve had multiple meltdowns and a fairly epic panic attack, and the only way out is through. My husband is exceptionally supportive, and my doula’s response to this has likewise been amazing. My husband has coached me through just breathing, talking it out, and letting myself cry as I need to. I already knew he would be, but this shows me what an amazing partner he’s going to be in the room when it’s go time.
And there are worse things in the world than an induced labor. I’ve gotten some suggestions that I think are on the money, and I need to just go with that. The concrete suggestions are this:
- My doctor is going by ACOG guidelines, and whether or not the crunchy natural birth community wants to admit it, they are the actual medical experts. Trust the guidelines, and find the happy medium between the natural birth I want and the medical birth I probably need.
- According to my doula: check and double check the doctor’s plans to make sure that the cervix is checked the day before and a ripening agent used if it isn’t low and soft on its own, that low doses of pitocin are started if necessary after said cervical softening, and that ideal timing in her mind is 38 weeks, 6 days to give my body its best chance to take over on its own.
- And I need to just rebuild my trust in the process, whatever it turns out to be. This means continuing to engage in a lot of self care, do my reading and education on the topic, keep up with my meditation and other soothing activities, and keep doing my fucking kegels as much as I hate them.
Well, it happened. I flunked the one hour test.
They had me do it at about 28 weeks. The threshold for my doctor’s office was a score of 140, and I scored a 160. I currently report from the waiting room of the medical center.
After my initial devastation/guilt/shame-induced sobbing session after finding out I flunked wore off, I decided to just do my best to watch my diet and stay resolute that all would be well as I waited out the two weeks before they could get me in for the three hour. Usually, this would be scheduled pretty quickly, but the holiday sprung up in there as well. The doctor just advised me to keep an eye on my sugar in the meantime since it is a longer wait than they usually want.
Anyway, the three hour test doubles the amount of glucose you drink from 50 to 100mLs. You go in fasting (14 hours is what my doctor wanted, but YMMV), they do a draw, have you drink the glucola, and then they’ll draw again on the hour for the next three.
I find that the internet really overdramatizes this, and my experience has been fine. Of course, I’d rather not be spending half my day on this, but it isn’t a total nightmare.
Here’s my experience:
Fasting: The worst part, no way around it. Telling a woman at 30 weeks gestation she can’t eat for upwards of 16 hours feels like a special brand of torture. Be sure to put a protein rich snack in your bag for when you’re done—I have a small bag of cashews and a granola bar that I’m waiting to bust into.
To make the draws smoother, I drank about a liter of water before I left the house this morning, and nearly a liter before bed. I’m going to get up to pee 30 billion times regardless. May as well have fresh veins.
The first draw: Totally fine. They only need 5 mL at a time, so it goes very quickly—even for me, as someone who is kicking the world’s worst needle phobia. I was told no eating, no sleeping, and only small sips of water for the rest of the morning.
The drink: I find it pretty gross, and I have a strong sweet tooth. It’s like drinking 50 melted popsicles. But they give you five minutes to choke it down and offered it to me cold or room temperature. Cold seemed like a better bet, even though it’s currently -3 degrees outside.
Hour 1: Physically, this was the toughest hour. Immediate heartburn, a bit of wooziness, and sheer exhaustion. I’m not sure if it was from the drink or coming in tired, but it didn’t feel good. Coping strategies for this hour were reading a little and doing a guided meditation. No energy for more than that. The hunger pangs were so real.
The second draw: They used to same arm as the first time. Little pinch, but not a big deal.
Hour 2: My energy picked up and the second hour was spend playing cards with my husband. Heartburn was still fairly bad, but easing up. Small sips of water did really help.
The third draw: New arm! Not so bad! By this time, I was pretty energized by being so close to being done.
Hour 3: Pretty much the same as hour two. Energy was okay, hunger pangs less pronounced, and spirits pretty high. This really was not that bad.
The fourth draw: This one hurt a little more because the last one puffed up my arm a bit more, but it was fast and easy enough.
After it all: I did immediately eat some cashews and half a granola bar on the way to lunch. This gave me some immediate fatigue that lasted through eating an actual meal, but after that meal I felt relatively normal. Which, for third trimester me, is fatigued but in good spirits.
And now I know that I passed all of them! My numbers are below:
Fasting: 73 (needs to be less than 95)
Hour 1: 135 (needs to be less than 180)
Hour 2: 123 (needs to be less than 155)
Hour 3: 115 (needs to be less than 140)
All in all, I’m super relieved that I don’t have to alter my diet or monitor my sugars or anything, and that the baby won’t be impacted by sugar issues on my part. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world by any means, but it’s one less thing on my back.
Biggest regret: laying off my favorite Christmas treats.
One of the things that really unnerves me about pregnancy is how much crap is marketed toward pregnant people, often with ridiculous markups in price over what the product’s true value probably is.
I mean, I’m sorry, but a pair of leggings with an extra foot of belly fabric is not worth an additional $20 over a regular pair. Come on!
In any case, here are some mini-reviews of things that have actually helped me, and things that have been a complete flop so far.
This thing has changed my life. In the first trimester, I liked to have it just for the extra cuddly factor. Now that I’m close to the third trimester and am experiencing being quite large, this pillow is literally the only thing that allows me to get anything resembling a good night’s sleep. Sleeping on my left side with my right leg propped up on the pillow takes the pressure off of my left hip and my belly, which is helping tremendously with my sciatic and hip pain. When my husband is out of town, the pillow feels like its spooning me, which is also great. You can also kind of fold it up to turn it into something resembling a chair that you can sit propped up in, which is very comfortable for reading in bed. Highly recommend.
Are these attractive? Not really. But what they are is unbelievably comfortable. When I realized that my most comfortable shoes were my ridiculous pink running shoes (also Saucony, which I’m a total loyalist to), I knew I needed to get a more reasonable looking pair for work, so off to Saucony I went. These shoes come in a range of sizes, and aren’t as clunky as they look online. I’ve been wearing them daily for a couple of months, and my feet never hurt, have plenty of room to swell, and my posture and pronation issues, which suck more than ever before, are corrected. Highly recommend.
As far as maternity clothing goes, this line is the best I’ve found with regard to affordability and quality. I’m not interested in blowing huge money on a wardrobe I’ll wear for a finite period of time, so lines like this are saving my life. My experience is that these are true to size in the sense that I can grab my pre-pregnancy size and be sure it’ll work now and with plenty of room to grow. Quality is fine for the price point–they aren’t family heirlooms, but they are solid, washable, non-transparent, and cute. My go-to most days is one of their sweaters or t shirts with a pair of printed leggings.
PS, in the leggings category, my best luck hasn’t been with maternity lines aside from Ingrid Isabel (almost all of the other ones I’ve bought maternity are too sheer to wear as pants, and I am one of those people sorrynotsorry). Instead, I just stock up on printed leggings from my favorite boutique in town, which are basically LulaRoe rip-offs, in a size significantly bigger than my pre-pregnancy size, and they work awesomely.
4. Aeroflow for your free breast pump through insurance
I did not think this was going to be easy, but it was amazingly so. I ordered mine pretty early just in case, I think at 18 weeks or so, because Trump.
All you do is fill out a form for personal and insurance information, then it’ll toggle to pumps you should qualify for. I then sorted by price to see what the fanciest thing I could get for free was, read some reviews on other sites, and ordered (Bluetooth equipped? Why not!). They were able to confirm my qualification within a day–a miracle! The actually processing and shipping took longer than a typical online order, but I still had it at my door within 10-14 business days. Aeroflow also offers accessories for added cost–I got a tote bag for mine for a little extra because it didn’t come with one.
Let’s be real. These are just candy. My nausea was a little worse than normal, and these did nothing but take my mind off of it for a few tasty minutes. One the lozenge is gone, the nausea is back. They do have added vitamin B, but not the medicinal dose that ended up being prescribed to me, and that aspect of these products made no difference for me. Sucking on something did help in the moment, but I would just buy some hard candy in flavors I actually like and save on the mark-up. They are also fairly conspicuous in packaging if you’re early on and are trying to hide a pregnancy.
The leggings are see-through. The belly panels are made of such cheap elastic that one run through the gentle cycle of my washing machine tore up a pair of $50 pants. Sizing is very inconsistent–I cannot reliably grab my pre-pregnancy size and go. The saving grace here is the variety in what they offer–work pants, leggings, jeans, etc., but I would tread very, very lightly.
Why we chose to have a doula:
So many reasons.
Crunchy, but backed by data: There are so many “natural birth” trends on which the data is shaky or nonexistent, but there is actual information to support that having a doula present gives one a significantly better shot at certain birth outcomes, such as:
- 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
- 28% decrease in the risk of Cesarean
- 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
- 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
- 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
- 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience
Data from Evidence Based Birth
I’m a crunchy person either way, but having the information to back it up also makes this feel like a strong decision financially and with regards to health and wellbeing.
Environment and Advocacy: Because we’re having a hospital birth, it was very important to me to feel like I would have a constant in the room along with my husband to help keep me comfortable, focused, and advocated for. I am hoping to have a birth very light on interventions–no epidural, minimal monitoring, and most importantly to me, no Pitocin. But I also know that I can be susceptible to outside influence, and if doctors and nurses are pressuring me into interventions I don’t want or need, I need someone else there to keep me focused on what I want. Nurses and doctors are going to change shifts and come and go anyway. I want the constant of my husband and my doula amid the other things that are going to be in flux.
I also want the hospital setting to feel as homey as possible, and I know a doula will be a big part of creating the environment in the room that will feel that way–keeping lights low, music, pillows, bouncy balls, showers, baths, etc.
Education: Having a doula means having someone else who can dispense wisdom, advice, knowledge, and firsthand experience on something that I have exactly no firsthand experience in.
Emotional Support: One can’t have enough of this in such a vulnerable situation. Knowing that someone else has your back in that room, and having someone to express fears and misgivings to is extremely important to me.
Husband Support: My husband is the kind of guy that isn’t going to want to leave my side at all, but this is going to be a long process, and the man’s going to need food and rest. He also needs all of the above things almost as much as I do, and he deserves to have it. A doula will also make sure that his emotional and physical needs are met.
Doula interviewing tips:
We only talked to two, but I learned a lot in that process. Most importantly, this would be the advice I would dispense:
- Know yourself and what you want. I know what works for me and my personality. I’m a total extrovert and genuinely like most people, so I need to take a step back after having conversations like that to really assess what I think after the conversation-high wears off. I also know that advocacy for my wants and needs was the most important thing on my list after the general personality click, so when the second doula really spoke to that, I was sold. Go into these conversations knowing what you’re looking for in that partnership.
- Keep your partner involved. It was really important to me that my husband also like this person. After all, we’re going be spending like 20 really intense hours together.
- Keep an open mind. I thought that I would much prefer someone my own age, but our doula has kids my age, and it ended up feeling really natural to have someone who has kind of a cool-mom vibe. I really surprised myself on this.
- Be honest with them about the financial end. It does cost a lot, and insurance is probably not going to help you. I asked both of them over email about how they take payment, and their feedback on that also helped shape the decision.
- Ask about their philosophy and scope of service. Does it sync up with what you want and how you’re feeling about everything? Does it align with your personal values? If there’s a disconnect or a disagreement, do you feel comfortable voicing it?
How we chose our particular doula:
So, the decision was clear for us–we wanted a doula. And, shockingly, we had a lot of options in our area. I looked at some websites, and reviews as I could find them, and narrowed it down to two we would interview first. If we didn’t feel a vibe with either of them, we would go back to the drawing board.
For both conversations, they came to our home to talk with us and get to know us a bit. The first person we talked to was part of a doula organization. I liked her personally and the services they offered, but also felt that she seemed to still be figuring things out. The thing that was their big brag was that when you sign with them, you get two doulas that you get to know during your pregnancy, and whoever is on call when you go into labor is your person. From her perspective, this was a major win–you wouldn’t run into a situation where you just straight up didn’t have a doula. This wasn’t a win for me and my husband though, because if I were to not get the one I hoped for during go-time…I’d be a nightmare bitch to deal with. Know thyself.
The next one we interviewed was an instant win. She’s warm, extremely experienced, easy to talk to, and had a lot to say about advocacy in the birth room, taking back your birth, and prioritizing the things you want while staying open to the process. I appreciated her straightforwardness and how comfortable she was talking about her work–she wasn’t trying to impress us, she was just telling us like it is. You could just tell she is someone who supremely knows what she’s doing and wants genuinely to get to know and help you. We ended up knowing some of the same people, which was fun and gave some common ground, and also ended up, somehow, on some pretty personal topics related to family and things like that. The fact that we had that instant comfort level and connection was the selling point for me. Her knowledge was obvious, but what really did it was the personal connection. I could tell she would be someone who would have solutions or ideas for issues during labor, not someone who was going to need to consult a guidebook to figure it out. She also only takes two clients a month and has never missed a birth. That track record was a winner. I feel 100% confident in the choice that we made and am legit excited to go into labor.
I’m a high school teacher, so on any given day, I interact with 125 students and maybe 15 or so colleagues and administrators. This is a lot of opportunities for people to make lots of comments and ask lots of questions about my pregnancy, especially now that I am legit showing.
I don’t love commentary on my body. It’s a major trigger for me as far as food and body image issues, plus it perpetuates rape culture by relegating my body, as a woman, as fodder for conversation, unwanted commentary, and, ugh, uninvited touch. It isn’t quite the same, but I’m also fairly heavily tattooed, so I’ve had a lot of years of strangers who have felt the need or right to comment and touch my tattoos, which is likewise completely uncool. The tone of pregnancy commentary is different though–I get the sense that I’m supposed to welcome and invite this commentary.
In any case, I plan to write many posts about life at the intersection of motherhood and career, and this first one is going to focus on what kinds of comments are and aren’t okay in my book, and responses that have helped me.
Completely Unappreciated Comments/Questions:
- “Man, I look at you and I just feel nauseous! How are you feeling?” Thanks. For the kind thoughts.
- “At least it’s all belly!” Would there be something wrong with me if it wasn’t?
- I’m sorry, unpopular opinion, but the usual string of, “Are you gonna find out the gender? What is it? What’s the name? Are you planning to breastfeed? Are you going to come back to work?” I don’t know, these are personal questions. Especially anything related to my breasts. I usually politely answer the ones I’m more comfortable with, and then say, “We’re still deciding,” or “I’d rather not talk about it,” on things I’d rather not talk about.
- Unsolicited Advice. Everybody has it to give. Nobody wants to get it. Just nod your head and cut the conversation short. Jingle your car keys, make a motion towards the door. Say thanks and that you’ll take it under advisement.
- Is your husband excited? I get that the intention of this question is sweet–how excited are you guys to start a family! But what if there are issues with that? Conflict? Husband isn’t totally on board? This question assumes a lot about one’s marital dynamics…or, from the wrong person, it feels like a dig for salacious information. I usually say, “This is a very exciting time.” and move on.
- Anything remotely related to my body size/how much weight I’m supposed to gain/whether or not I’m on track/why I’m eating so much. Does this even need an explanation?
- Touching my belly at all. Nope. Ask first. If I like you, I’ll say yes.
Comments and Questions I’ve Been Okay With:
- “I always want to ask you about your pregnancy, but I also know that’s all anyone is asking you about, so I’m trying not to, but I hope it’s going well!” A colleague said this to me at the copy machine the other day, and the skies opened up, sun shone down, and I felt so overjoyed. Thank you for acknowledging that I’m still a human.
- “You’re really coming along, girl!”/”You look so great!” Give me all of this. Yas.
- “Congratulations! That’s exciting!” Perfect. Simple, sincere, sweet. Leave it at that.