Saturday, May 30, 2009


Every few months for the last 13 or so years, I've had strange bouts of intense abdominal pain and vomiting. I wrote about this on my other blog, Fruitful, after I was hospitalized for a particularly nasty episode last October. We still don't know the cause, although I recently had a negative test for porphyria, a condition I was originally diagnosed with when I was 19. Whatever the root may be, it's a thoroughly sucky experience. But now at least I have a new way of dealing with it.

I was up most of last night with doubled-over pain, cold sweats, etc. I have a couple of medications that can take the edge off, but I found conflicting information online about whether or not they are safe during pregnancy--a bit scary, since I had taken one of them during my last episode, when I was newly pregnant and didn't know yet--so I decided to avoid them for the time being. I tried deep breathing to get through the pain, telling myself it was good practice for labor. I even tried blowing raspberries, which iconic midwife Ina May Gaskin recommends, especially during the pushing stage (I am totally digging her book, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by the way--if you are pregnant and only want to read one book, this is a good one!) I finally started to throw up around 5am. After the sound woke Michael, we decided to call our midwife, Karen, and see what she thought about the different medications. She assured us that one of them appeared to be safe during pregnancy, but then she also offered a non-medical option, as well.

We had mentioned to Karen that one doctor had thought these episodes might be the result of abdominal migraines, so she suggested we try an old migraine remedy: super-heating the hands and feet. She said it helps redirect blood flow and can provide relief. So Michael ran hot water in the tub and I sat on a towel on the edge of it, hunched over so both my hands and feet could be immersed. It was a bit uncomfortable, so Michael put an upended drink bucket in the tub and I sat on that instead. At first my belly griped at being folded over, but the hot water on my hands and feet was nicely distracting, and then eventually relaxing, and before too long, I was able to stumble back to bed and sleep for a few welcome hours. I am pretty wiped out now, and have a bit of residual unrest in my belly, but overall I feel so much better, and I didn't even take any medicine.

I was already happy about our choice of midwife, but I feel even more pleased about it now--Karen has such a wonderful mix of compassion and knowledge (plus she's an activist who helped lobby for legalization of midwifery in California.) If she can help me so thoroughly over the phone through one of these episodes, I know she'll be a superstar at the birth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I am usually on campus at UCR from 10-2 on Tuesdays, but yesterday I stayed a few extra hours so I could attend readings by graduating seniors from the creative writing department (you did a great job, everyone!) Afterwards, I told a couple of my lovely students that I had stayed past my "pregnant lady naptime"--I usually crash after I come home from campus (I honestly don't know how pregnant women can work full time--those four hours at UCR, as enjoyable as they always are, tend to slay me). One student challenged me to blog about napping--I was too tired to write anything when I got home (sorry, Brian!) but I'll try my hand now.

In my normal, non-pregnant life, I am not a napper. I am not much of a sleeper, in general. Sleep and I have always had a complicated relationship. Sometimes I could nap if I was sick, or on the first day of my period, but for the most part, sleep has eluded me during the day. Napping while pregnant, however, is a different story entirely. Especially this time around.

I still have a complicated relationship with sleep--namely, I'm not getting enough of it. I often stay up too late, and when I do fall asleep, I wake up every few hours (sometimes every other hour) to pee. I know this is preparing me for the baby, for all those nighttime nursing sessions, but it's hard to appreciate that when I wake up feeling like a zombie. Napping is often essential.

Just as hunger is different while pregnant--often a sudden, roaring thing--tiredness is different while pregnant, too. It sweeps over me like a sand storm, hitting me with an almost violent force. If I resist it (which I try to do too often) I start to feel as if my whole body is going to shatter. And when I give in and lie down, sleep tends to overtake me quickly. It's like falling into a deep dark hole, one that can be hard to climb out of. I wake up groggy and disoriented, and often wonder whether the nap helped at all, but once I'm up for a few minutes, the fog clears and I feel refreshed (or at least less tired than I had before the nap.)

When Arin and Hannah were babies, I was never good at following the wise "nap when they nap" advice, even though neither of them slept much during the night (hence neither did I.) I have a feeling that when this baby comes, I'll be much better at napping along with it--these older bones need more rest than they used to. Then again, maybe I'll be back to my old resisting sleep tricks--baby naptime is always such a good chance to get stuff done, and I always have so much to do. But if those naps hit me like a locomotive the way they have been lately, well, I won't be able to do anything but give in...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

joke time

I saw this joke on Jennifer Weiner's blog (submitted by her mother's friend and book club member, Lynne Hawkins) and had to share it here:
With all the new technology regarding fertility recently, a 65-year-old friend of mine was able to give birth. When she was discharged from the hospital and went home, I went to visit:

"May I see the new baby?' I asked

"Not yet,' she said 'I'll make coffee and we can visit for a while first."

Thirty minutes had passed, and I asked, 'May I see the new baby now?'

'No, not yet,' she said.

After another few minutes had elapsed, I asked again, 'May I see the baby now?'

"No, not yet,' replied my friend.

Growing very impatient, I asked, 'Well, when can I see the baby?'

"WHEN HE CRIES!' she told me.

"WHEN HE CRIES?' I demanded. 'Why do I have to wait until he CRIES?'

I've gotten more forgetful lately, but hopefully won't ever get that forgetful in my "advanced maternal age"! I have to say, seeing news items about pregnant 66 year olds is making me feel like a spring chicken in comparison (even though technically, I am still considered an "elderly gravida.") I'm feeling less nervous about the pregnancy and forthcoming birth in general now, probably because I've passed the 12 week mark, and also because we finally have found the midwife we want to work with (more on that later, but suffice it to say, she's wonderful.) Now, I really need to get back to work (if only I can remember what I'm supposed to be working on...)

Friday, May 22, 2009


I have always had a black thumb. I love plants, and long dreamed of having a lush garden, but somehow had never been able to translate that into reality. Years ago, when my kids were little, we had a plot in the community garden at Family Student Housing at UCR, but our patch never really took off. I think we grew one anemic watermelon and a couple of stunted cucumbers, but that was about it. Thankfully our neighbors were generous, letting us pluck their candy-sweet cherry tomatoes (especially delicious when warm off the vine), and giving us baskets of squash and eggplant.

This spring, Michael and I decided to try our hands at gardening together. We attended a class on edible landscaping, did a bunch of reading, talked with friends who were also planning gardens. It was exciting to see how many people we knew were making this leap into growing food--we even found out that the people who moved into my last house started a local organization, Growcology, dedicated to educating the public about organic gardening and sustainability. One dear friend used being laid off from her teaching job as an opportunity to follow her dreams and start her own regenerative gardening/permaculture business. I love being part of this upswell.

We planted corn, beans, peas, lettuce, eggplant, peppers, honeydew, cucumber, loofa (which I had always thought was a sea sponge, not a gourd!), pumpkins, sunflowers, onions, and four kinds of tomatoes (like the true writer geek I am, I chose two of the varieties of tomatoes based on my books coming out next year--yellow pear tomatoes for PEARS and Abe Lincoln tomatoes for MY LIFE WITH THE LINCOLNS.) Some we started from seed, others from seedlings from the nursery and the farmers' market. It was right around the time that we were doing all this planting that--unknown to us--the baby was conceived. It feels fitting that the baby began when so much other life was germinating around us.

Not all the seeds took, and some of the plants withered quickly in the sun, but many others have taken root--the stalks of corn are growing tall and sturdy, the peppers and eggplant and peas are blossoming, and we've already been able to harvest some of the lettuce. Onions that we had given up on started to push through the soil weeks after we expected them to--some cucumber plants popped up weeks after their sister seeds, as well. The tomatoes are especially exciting, the vines tall and shaggy and full of green fruit. The green zebra tomatoes were the first to start burgeoning, and it's been so lovely to watch them grow rounder and fuller as my belly starts to get rounder and fuller, too. It makes me feel part of something bigger than myself--part of a deeper cycle. Such abundance!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

egg and cheese

Sometimes I get on laughing jags, totally slap happy, hard-to-stop fits of giggles that make me feel slightly insane, but are also incredibly cathartic. I remember freaking out a classmate in high school when we were having a study session together because I wrote down "weaky" instead of "weak" and I couldn't stop cracking up. It seems to be happening more often lately--perhaps it's hormonal?

Here is the latest thing that has had me laughing for two days, even in the midst of my concern about the spotting (I had trouble falling asleep last night because I couldn't stop convulsing with laughter. I think Michael was quite worried about me, actually--he looked a bit alarmed when I woke up this morning and started giggling afresh.) I doubt it will seem as funny in cold black type, but here goes...

I was talking to my sister a couple of nights ago on the phone; we often talk about food, so I mentioned that I had made latkes for dinner. She asked if I had served them with sour cream and applesauce, and I told her how Michael had been unable to find organic apple sauce at the grocery store, so he had come home with a jar of baby food organic applesauce. Except I didn't say "jar of baby food"--I said "food of baby jar". And I didn't even notice what I had said until my sister and Hannah both pointed it out to me. And then the hysterics began. My sister said that she was sweating, she was laughing so hard, and my stomach was hurting from laughing so hard, but it felt so good--after being so worried about a different part of my belly, it was wonderful to take the focus upwards for a while.

After we started to regain our senses a bit, my sister told me how when she was in town recently, she and our mom were talking about the process of making babies. "All it takes is an egg and cheese," my mom had said by accident. And of course the hysterics bubbled right up again. Now the words "food of baby jar" and "egg and cheese" keep popping into my head and I dissolve into laughter. I'm sure it's one of those "had to be there" things, but if you run into me and I start giggling like a fiend, you'll know why....

Monday, May 18, 2009

baby's first portrait!

It is so amazing to realize there is a face inside my belly. How wild is that?!

I went in for an emergency sonogram today because some spotting started up again yesterday, along with some weird feelings of pressure. My kind family doctor ordered the ultrasound after we weren't able to get an appointment with an OB. As I mentioned before, I never had an ultrasound with my earlier pregnancies, and I wasn't able to see the screen when I had an ultrasound three weeks ago, so this was my first experience actually seeing life move around inside me. I was filled with relief and awe as the heartbeat came into view, as the technician (who was also incredibly kind) pointed out elbow and stomach and chin and foot on the grainy, shifting screen. We got to see the baby stretch its tiny legs, and turn around so we could see its sweet spine.

The technician asked me to pee before she switched from the abdominal ultrasound to the (shudder) transvaginal one. As I walked to the bathroom, I had the strange sensation that I had left the baby in the testing room, that the baby just existed on the screen. It took a moment to remember that the little squirming creature was actually right there, inside of me, coming along for the ride.

Later, the technician showed us an image of the baby's face--you can see it here (as a photo of a photocopy, so not the clearest image, but doesn't it look like the baby is grinning?) Somehow seeing the face made something shift in me. I suddenly let myself be happy. I've been happy about the pregnancy before, but it's been a guarded happiness, a cautious happiness. I've been so nervous about losing the baby, I haven't let myself be fully happy about the baby. But seeing it float around, seeing its heart beat, seeing its little face, filled me with a true, deep happiness that lasted for hours. Of course something could still happen, but I'm grateful that I was able to let myself be taken over with the wonder of this new life and let fear fade away, at least for a while.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bad Mother: an interview with Ayelet Waldman

Mama, Redux is certainly no Fresh Air or Today Show, but we all have something in common: we scored interviews with Ayelet Waldman!

I've known Ayelet for around six years; we met at Readerville, a lively (and at times life saving) online forum for readers and writers, and became friends sharing stories about thrush and purple nipples. The first time I went to her house, she was tethered to a breast pump--a pretty much constant state of being for her those days, as her baby Abe was having trouble nursing due to a malformed palate. Ayelet chronicles this trying period of her mothering life and explores everything from girls' Halloween costumes (sexy witch or cereal box?) to her painful decision to terminate a pregnancy after learning the baby had a rare chromosomal abnormality, in her kick ass new book, Bad Mother.

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities,and Occasional Moments of Grace, is a swift, nourishing read--funny, honest, moving, galvanizing. Using the controversy involving her infamous New York Times essay about loving her husband, author Michael Chabon, more than her children, as a launching pad, Ayelet delves into why we as mothers can be both so hard on ourselves and hard on each other (when Ayelet was on Oprah, a woman even lunged at her, saying "Let me at her!" Toward the end of the show, though, Ayelet had opened most of the audience's eyes to the true heart of her essay: children will eventually grow up and leave the home, but the relationship with one's partner will ideally last a lifetime and needs to be made a priority). The book raises important issues about feminism and motherhood and ultimately makes it clear that we as mothers need to give ourselves and each other a break.

I'm so thrilled that Ayelet was able to take a moment in her crazy schedule and answer a few questions, especially for a blog with an audience of dozens instead of the millions she's become accustomed to of late. :)

G: It’s been quite a month for you…Fresh Air! Jamming at the White House! I've been so excited to see the attention you and your book have been getting. How are you and your family holding up? What have been the highlights (and lowlights, if any) of the last couple of weeks? And did you get to talk mothering with Michelle Obama?

A: Alas, I got to say about a word and a half to Michelle. Most of which consisted of me blathering on with tears in my eyes about how proud I was to have them in the White House. Very original. She's never heard that before. Oh the Power of Words.

My kids are just about sick to death of me traveling, freaking out about getting my picture taken, etc. My baby (six now) wants me to stop getting my hair blown out, but how the hell am I supposed to trust my curls to behave? Can't frizz out in the East Room.

G: Why do you think mothers can be so hard on ourselves and each other? What do you think it will take for our culture to shift toward being more supportive of mothers, in general?

A: It will take a monstrous change in society. Women are anxious because of the way our society is structured. For things to change we need to basically become Sweden with 16 months paid maternity leave, reliable and inexpensive child care, less of an emphasis on excessive accumulation of wealth. Work needs to be a place you can leave at 5:00 without sacrificing your ambitions. And men need to shoulder half the responsibilities of home life.

Don't hold your breath.

G: I’m curious to know whether you see any parallels between writing and mothering. I know I often feel as if I’m not doing enough in either sphere. As a writer, have you experienced any of the same feelings of guilt, unreasonable expectations, etc., (not to mention outside judgment) that you have as a mother? If so, how do you work through that (and how do you suggest other writers deal with similar feelings?)

A: Wow, I've never thought of that, but it's so true! I beat myself up about my work almost as much as I beat myself up about my mothering! I have no good advice. I NEED good advice.

G: You do a beautiful job of infusing politics into your writing, both your novels and your non-fiction. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how writing and politics (and mothering) intersect in your life.

A: Politics pervade who I am and what I do. I really do believe in that old saw "the personal is political." Who our president is changes my experience of the world, it shapes the lives of my children. How we treat one another in society is reflected in how we treat one another in our families. It's everything and everywhere.

Plus, I have a really really big mouth and I like to air my point of view as loudly as possible.

G: I so admire your honesty in this book. Is there anything that you find yourself shying away from in your work, or have you given yourself total free reign as a writer?

A: I would never say anything ugly about my husband or my children. I've read essays in which the authors blast away at their spouses. I'd never do that.

G: Any final words of advice for mothers out there (especially mothers who write)?

A: Make the time for your work. Even if it's only an hour a day. Carve out a space, force your partner to help you, and if you don't have a partner, beg, borrow or steal the money to pay for a sitter. The biggest threat to a writer's work is her life. Life sucks up all the air and unless you force yourself to find a tiny bit of breathing room, you'll never get anything done.

* * *

Thank you, Ayelet, for your generosity and humor and insight. I know that your book is going to help mothers (and mother writers) relax, to let go of ridiculous expectations we carry around for ourselves and one another so we can remember to take a deep breath and appreciate this wild journey. Enjoy the rest of your own adventure as your book zooms around the world!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day

Pregnancy brain strikes again! I thought for sure I had already blogged about CODEPINK's Mother's Day plans, but it appears that I have not (perhaps I got confused because I'd written several action alerts and a couple of failed op-eds about the weekend event and must have figured I had written something here, too.)

I really wanted to go to Washington, DC for the Mother's Day weekend to join my CODEPINK sisters for the 24 hour peace vigil in front of the White House--an inspiring schedule full of storytelling and music and poetry, along with education and discussion about how we as women can most effectively say No to war. I was especially excited by the idea of the peace cozy--we set out a call for women to knit pink and green squares that, when stitched together, would ultimately spell out "We will not raise our children to kill another mother's child" at the White House gates. As you can see from the picture above, it came together so beautifully (and epically! I think that it's going to end up in the Guinness book of records!) I love thinking about hundreds of women all over the world sitting at home or with circles of friends, knitting these individual squares; I love thinking about how their hands, their hearts, their voices are now woven together into one gorgeous, powerful, object, one "cozy" that speaks to our desire for a more peaceful future for every single one of our children. Unfortunately, I realized I couldn't afford the time or money to travel this weekend, plus I was a bit wary about flying in the first trimester (thankfully the spotting has stopped, but I still feel vulnerable). Even though I wasn't there, it makes me so happy to know how my CODEPINK co-madres gathered to honor the original intention of Mother's Day and raise awareness about alternatives to war.

Plus, it turns out I had one of the best Mother's Days ever. Certainly better than last year's, much of which I spent crying about my divorce. What a difference a year makes! I went out to brunch with Michael, my kids and my parents, along with Michael's mom and sister and nephews. Afterwards, my parents went home so my dad could continue to recover from his cataract surgery (which, much to my relief, went incredibly well), and the rest of us went on a spontaneous trip to a nearby "family fun" park for mini golf and laser tag and other assorted amusements. It was such a treat to see my kids having so much fun--they spend so little time together these days since my son lives with his dad, and is so busy with college, work, cycling, etc. To watch them play together like they did when they were little was good soul food for me (although I have to admit I got a little queasy when I watched them on the tea cup ride--they made it spin faster than any teacup I've ever seen before! Arin said he felt as if he had entered some vortex to another world. They were a crazy blur. We actually had to pick up Dramamine for Hannah on the way home, but she said it was worth it. ) I had to sit out the go carts and laser tag and teacup because of my "condition", but I had a fabulous time. The kids and Michael and I capped off the holiday with a rousing game of Scrabble once we got home. A truly beautiful day all around. And even though I didn't use the day to work for peace, I felt peace in my family, in my heart, and I know I can tap into that in my future peace work.

I hope all mamas out there had an equally wonderful Mother's Day! So wild to think that if all goes well, I'll have a five month old next Mother's Day...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

preggo shuffle

In a scene in Away We Go, Maya Rudolph (who was wonderful in the movie, by the way, and so funny and lovely in real life) is watching an old Kathy Smith pregnancy video. It cracked me up because that was the tape I worked out to so earnestly during my early-1990s pregnancies. The "Preggo Shuffle" at the center of the tape--Kathy Smith's lame attempt at rapping--was always cringe inducing, but I used to sing along to it anyway (and tried to in the theater, but Hannah shushed me with horror when I gleefully started to chant along with "You get much more from your pelvic floor when you pass on the bagel and do one more kegel!") I have to say that seeing this video makes my first two pregnancies seem much longer ago than anything else has!
I picked up a prenatal yoga dvd recently--I have yet to use it (hopefully soon!)--and wonder if it will look as dated in 19 years. Somehow I think yoga has a longer shelf life than pastel-unitard-ed aerobics, but we shall see...

Friday, May 8, 2009

away we go

Last night, Hannah and Michael and I drove into LA to see a pre-release screening of Sam Mendes' new film, Away We Go, as a benefit for 826LA, the wonderful community writing center inspired by Dave Eggers' 826 Valencia in San Francisco. There are now 826 offshoots around the country, offering free writing workshops and after school tutoring for kids, often fronted by cool, quirky shops--a pirate supply store in SF, a time travel shop in Echo Park, etc. I taught a Writing from the Senses workshop at the original 826LA in Venice a few years ago, and Hannah has taken a couple of classes there, so we've experienced the power of 826 first hand, and were happy to be able to support it through this event.

The movie was written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, and stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. All of the aforementioned people (plus Catherine O'Hara, who plays John Krasinski's mom) were present for a panel discussion after the film. Michael got to the theater--a great vintage Egyptian-themed movie house--early (we took separate cars so Hannah and I could stop in some vintage stores in LA before Michael had to leave work) and was able to grab a spot near the front of the line, so we ended up with first row seats. Not the most comfortable for movie viewing--we had to slouch with our heads tipped back to be able to see the screen--but amazing for the panel discussion afterward. We were so close to everyone, we could have played footsy with them (and in fact, at some point, much to our amusement, Catherine O'Hara dove off her chair and lunged between Michael's legs! We weren't sure what was going on at first, but then she picked up his 826LA flyer, which had fallen to the ground, and used it as a fan for the remainder of the panel. When the discussion was over, she very sweetly thanked him and returned the flyer. Plus I caught John Krasinski--who seems like a real sweetheart--checking out my daughter, which I admit was a very strange feeling!)

The reason I'm writing about the film on this blog instead of my other more general one is because of the film itself. Away We Go is about a couple expecting their first baby; they travel around the country during their 6th month of pregnancy, trying to find a place to land and raise their child. It is a charming, moving film, full of humor and heart and some of the sweetest, most honest depictions of relationship that I've seen on screen in a long time. The movie explores (and pokes gentle fun at) the parenting spectrum--everything from holier-than-thou continuum parenting to not-so-benign neglect--and beautifully captures the confusion and hope and fear and joy of a couple on a life-changing journey toward parenthood. It felt like the perfect movie to see both as a pregnant mama and mama of a 15 year old girl (Hannah loved it. Plus, she has been reading Dave Eggers' book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, this week, and was excited to be able to get it signed. And the fact that John Krasinski checked her out--well, that's something she said she'll tell her grandchildren about!) Michael loved it, too--it's definitely not just a chick flick. And it delves with open eyes into some painful issues (especially losses such as miscarriage and the death of parents and abandonment) along with the cute stuff.

Away We Go will be released (in just a few cities, I think) on June 5. I highly, highly recommend it. You can watch the trailer here:

Monday, May 4, 2009


I'm a big fan of word games--Scrabble and its off-shoots, especially (even though my son always kicks my butt; I swear, he should enter the Scrabble tournament circuit!) I always have a few Scrabble or Wordscraper games going on Facebook--it's like my non-coffee coffee-break. Moving letters around seems to help me cut through the haze of pregnancy brain (or, as my sister calls it, placenta brain) but sometimes the fog takes over, anyway.

I was recently playing Wordscraper with a friend who is also pregnant. On the chat that goes with the game, she had posted "My rack is like Old McDonald's farm." I thought she meant her breasts were growing barn-animal-like because of the pregnancy, so I posted something like "Mine is more bounteous, too, although I started out small garden variety, so I'm not close to farm proportions." It wasn't until a couple of hours later that I realized she meant her rack of letters held something like EIEIO, and she probably had no idea what I was talking about. I couldn't stop laughing the rest of the day--it makes me wonder what other things my hormone-addled brain has misinterpreted!

Friday, May 1, 2009


It was so wonderful having my sister here--a too short, but deeply sweet, visit.

On her flight to California, she was seated next to a guy who worked in defense sales; she said it was wild to have creation and destruction represented in one row. He was a bit taken aback when she told him what she did for a living; he couldn't seem to understand why anyone would want to have such a job (she's actually wanted it for a long time--when she was little, she said she wanted to be the "doctor who pulls the babies out"!) After a while, he turned to her and asked in hushed tones if it was normal for him to look at his wife differently after witnessing her giving birth.

"Do you mean because it was so awe-inspiring to see your wife do something so powerful?" she asked.

I'm sure that's not what he had in mind, but he said "Um, yeah."

She said "I'm sure you didn't know her body had that kind of power. It's hard to look at someone the same way when you've seen them do something so incredibly awesome."

I love how she reframed his question; I hope that her words helped him see birth and his wife in a brand new light! My sister is so amazing--she definitely helps me see things in fresh, clear ways. I'm so glad she'll be back in July; otherwise, saying goodbye would have been much more difficult.

BTW, Michael and I were supposed to meet with the local midwife yesterday, but he came home from work sick and didn't want to expose her to anything. I'll let you know how the rescheduled visit goes next week...