Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some (Pre) Reflections on Pain

I've been thinking about pain lately. This is mostly because I have been in the ambiguous land of "early labor" since Sunday night and have been analyzing every twinge, twang, stretch, pull, jab, and squeeze for some signs of progress. It's a little maddening. I know that everyone says I will "know" when the real thing gets going, but since I can't "know" if I'm knowing or not, I'll just have to keep wondering until then.

Most of what I've felt so far has not been very painful, but that realization had me thinking about the language of pain. It's really hard to talk about. Pain is only known in metaphor and simile. I can't tell you what pain really feels like; I can only tell you that it feels like something else. I can say, for instance, that the current tightening in my belly feels like a plastic bag having all of the air sucked out of it or I can figuratively call the cramping I feel tiny clinched fists pulling at the sides. But you can't ever make someone else understand what you feel. Even if it really is the exact same feeling, it's so subjective that the experience can't be duplicated.

Some of the more post-modern approaches to understanding reality might suggest that a thing does not exist if we don't have an adequate langauge for it. Of course, any one in severe pain would likely tell those post-modernists where to stick it. Still, thinking about the connection between the way that we share experience and how that modifies the reality of the experience is interesting to me.

I've been thinking about the pain medication commonly used for labor and delivery. Does it make the pain go away? Let's say you have a successful epidural that completely numbs you from feeling any pain. In this case, your body is still going through the exact same trauma that the body of a non-medicated woman is going through (accounting for individual differences in delivery, of course), but does one woman have pain and the other not? Or do both women have pain, but one does not experience it? Is pain only an experience or does it necessarily include the physical element of trauma?

I wanted to write down what I was thinking about pain now, before active labor. I'm very curious as to how I'll perceive this post after the birth, especially if I get the med-free birth I'm hoping for. I'm also curious as to how memory will play a role in this, as I've had so many people tell me that I'll forget all about it the minute I hold my baby.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Leave of Absence

Yesterday, I turned in all my paperwork to officially take a semester off from coursework. I know that it's the best idea since I will be on maternity leave working half-time for the first six weeks of the semester and teaching two classes next semester, but part of me couldn't help but feel sad. I have been in at least one class every fall and spring semester continuously since, well, I guess since kindergarten. So, basically, this will be the first time in 20 years that January will roll around and I won't be enrolled in a class.

I plan to make up for this void in my life by reading from the list for my comprehensive PhD exams. I'm setting a tentative goal of reading one book from the list every two weeks. And now that I've written it down you get to hold me to it!

"I could turn my little boys into girls"

That's a quote from an article on boys competing in girls' beauty pageants, "Pageant Boys."

I heard about this story from the morning radio show on my way to work. The DJs were discussing the habit of entering young boys into beauty pageants with disdain and mockery. At the heart of the story is six-year-old Zander who has been competing since infancy. Zander says that he loves competing in the pageants.  He likes the attention and the prizes.

Zander's mother insists that his participation is about freedom from gender roles and that she is allowing him to choose his own path.

But Zander isn't the anomaly he used to be in. In fact, the number of boys participating in the pageants has risen to 10% (up from 5% in 2005). Some of these other mothers (there aren't any fathers speaking in the article) admit that they are trying to fill the void of not having the daughter they wanted; thus, they see their child and think "I could turn my little boys into girls."

This article and the radio conversation bothered me in a way that I couldn't immediately figure out. See, I like the idea of challenging gender roles, so I can't say that I necessarily disagree with Zander's mother. At the same time, I don't think that an infant (and there are boys "competing" in these pageants at the ripe age of 2 weeks) is very cognizant of choosing any particular path. On top of that, I find the idea of competing on the grounds of "beauty" problematic for any child.

It also made me think of this blog post from Nerdy Apple Bottom, which was posted on a message board I read.

In this post, Nerdy Apple Bottom recounts the criticism she got from other mothers at her son's preschool when she allowed him to dress up as his chosen Halloween character: Daphne from Scooby Doo. She has a picture of him decked out (and pretty adorable) in the orange wig, knee-high pink boots, and sparkly purple tights. Among the issues she addresses are the ways that the parents reacted v. the way the children did (parents cared a lot more than the other kids), the assumption that experimentation in gender roles would "make" her son gay, and her own role as a mother in shaping her son's gender identity.

Nerdy Apple Bottom let her son choose his costume, she ordered it for him, and then she made him follow through with his decision to wear it to school when he started to get nervous about how people would react. All in all, I think she acted exactly the way that I would have in the given situation.

So why am I still bothered by the little boys competing in the beauty pageant? And why did the radio show bother me so much?

Also in the radio show, the DJs began lambasting parents who try to turn their little girls into boys by dressing them in "boy clothes" and forcing them to play little league ("not softball, but little league" the DJs incredulously commented).

I was such a tomboy growing up that my teachers would ocassionaly check out the bruising and scabs on my knees and ask if I was okay at home. I climbed trees, caught frogs, spent hours wandering through the woods in my back yard, and generally avoided anything pink, frilly, or heart-shaped. I wouldn't be caught dead in a dress. I begged my dad to play catch with me, took my BB gun to hunt rabbits with him (a task at which I was thankfully unskilled--poor bunnies!), and much preferred a day digging in dirt to one dressing up.

I truly don't think my parents had much to do with this decision. I think that my inclinations came out very clearly on their own. While they certainly could have discouraged them once they began, I don't think that they did much to encourage them at the start. Their decision to let me dress and play how I wanted gave me a lot of skills that I still use today, and I even ocassionally put on a dress now!

Clearly, little girls can bend these gender roles with more ease than little boys can (as Nerdy Apple Bottom points out, no one would have made a fuss if she'd had a daughter that dressed up like batman). But I still think that we have to allow room for this kind of exploration and play for all children. At the same time, I think we need to recognize that there comes a time in a child's development when he/she is old enough to make these decisions, and a two-week old entered into a beauty contest has probably not met that milestone, male or female.

Friday, November 5, 2010


So, it's getting close.

So close, in fact, that this weird thing has started happening where I'm beginning to view the world through this countdown perspective. For instance, I went to get my haircut a few days ago, and since I only get a haircut every 5-6weeks, it occurred to me that this would be the last haircut I'd get before the baby is born. We have monthly staff meetings at work; today was the last one I will attend before the baby is born.

Then I started noticing the expiration dates on some of my food (and not things that last forever, like bottled water and canned goods, but real, fresh food) were later than my due date.

This is both exciting and terrifying. Soon, I will buy the last gallon of milk before the baby is born. Then I will take my last shower before the baby is born. At some point I will lock my door for the last time before the baby is born. Exhilarating. Scary.

I'm also measuring 3 weeks ahead . . . again. I have another ultrasound scheduled for the Wednesday after next to see how she's growing. My doc told me that there isn't anything that can be done if she's "too big," but I suppose it's nice to know . . . or something. I think she's just in a weird position. She measured fine at the last ultrasound and I haven't gained that much weight.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Knocked Up: A Hollywood Perception on Natural Birth?

E! apparently only has about six different programs to play on their channel, as the film Knocked Up can be watched there at just about any time of day. Seriously, I don't even watch much TV and it has been on or coming on within the next hour or so every other time I flip through the guide.

I saw this movie when it first came out, and I thought it was funny and successfully done. I like Seth Rogen a lot, and I enjoyed the acting and often sarcastic humor. I wasn't even thinking about getting pregnant at the time, and I certainly hadn't considered any aspects of a natural birth. I remember thinking that Katherine Heigl's character seemed a little silly and naive when it came to the birth. I was wondering what she was doing calmly sitting in a bathtub with candles when it seemed to me that she should be rushing to the hospital. I didn't understand why she had to interview so many OBs; weren't they all qualified doctors? Even though I knew that Kim Jeong's OB character was being bossy and pushy with her when she came in insisting she didn't want any drugs to speed up the labor, I still viewed her as trying to hold on to a fantasy that didn't connect with medical reality.

And then I saw it again.

I recognize now that, especially for a Hollywood portrayal of birth, there are some pretty nuanced views of natural birth and the process of deciding on one.

1) Katherine Heigl's character does a lot of research. She's shown reading several books about pregnancy. She is also shown asking lots and lots of questions of several OBs, choosing one only after she feels completely comfortable that she's found somebody who will respect her birth plan and do everything possible to help her have a positive experience.

2) Seth Rogen's character is an involved participant in the birth. As the father of the baby, he is an advocate for Heigl's wishes and confronts the attending OB about his attitude and forced interventions. Most fathers in movie birth scenes are present as bumbling fools that can't handle it or that get in the way. Rogen's character is involved, informed, and present.

3) Heigl's character is bullied into interventions she doesn't want when her plans fall through; perhaps this is a critique on our medical system. Her doctor isn't available (though he promised he would be) and the doctor that comes into the room immediately wants to give her interventions to speed up labor. After getting very upset, Heigl's character becomes discouraged and resigned.

4) She ends up giving birth (with a pretty graphic (for movie standards) vaginal shot of the head crowning) without any pain medication. Though this birth is put into the Hollywood trope of "there's no time for medication. We have to deliver this baby now"-panic, it is an unusual portrayal.

So, I know that the typical pop culture portrayal of birth is problematic. I also know that natural birth was a pretty foreign concept to me before I started researching on my own, and I think that a different view of birth in mass media would help women know more about their options. However, the first time I saw Knocked Up, I didn't view it in this way. I only noticed the positive (and complicated) messages about natural birth after I was already informed about the process. I still feel it's probably a step in the right direction, but I wonder about its effectiveness. What do you think?