Victoria Jelinek


The Pregnancy Diaries – 19

I allow no one to touch me.’ Paul Cezanne

It’s the weirdest thing, but ever since I’ve looked obviously pregnant, people have been touching it, often without asking to first! This goes hand-in-hand with people of all kinds offering me unsolicited advice about my pregnancy and tales about their own.

I’ve always been a ‘touchy-feely’ American type – affectionate, demonstrative, and open– but I’ve never been one to touch someone that I don’t know, or even to touch someone that I don’t know well. Yet people are touching my pregnant mound as though it’s the most natural thing in the world to do, and I feel like a prude that it bothers me so much. I feel like asking them if they’d also like to feel my seins…or, perhaps, my newly rounded cul? But I fear that this may come across as rude. And it goes against all the non-confrontational qualities that I’ve learned after living over a decade in England. I realise that folks touching me have good intentions, are excited about pregnancy in general, and I realise that pregnancy has become a communal property sort-of-thing in recent decades (whereas prior to the 1970’s, women often stayed at home, were hidden while pregnant, or wore modest outfits to hide their pregnancy in public) prompting the touching and the advice, but what to do if it makes me uncomfortable? And it does.

I read one blog about it and the author states that she has directly asked people to stop touching her belly, at the risk of being a ‘kill joy,’ because it’s presumptuous and it ‘creeps’ her out. I can’t quite say this even as I’d like to. She also writes that she doesn’t want the unsolicited advice or the myriad of questions about her pregnancy and birth because she’s not interested in justifying every decision she makes on her pregnancy, birth, and parenting with a long explanation. Again, I completely empathise with the sentiment, and like the approach, but it’s not me…normally, anyway…perhaps with increased hormones and fatigue I can muster the couilles (so to speak) to ‘just say no.’ Then I read from Dr. Sears’ website about the unwanted touching of the belly. A Dr. Bennett writes that it’s important to try to emotionally guard yourself against advances, meaning that even if you feel your life is an open book because you’re pregnant, you can send off ‘vibes’ to folks that you do not invite intimacy in this way. She advises, however, to be on the safe side and put as much physical distance between yourself and others as is possible – remembering your head may be a good distance away from the next person on the train, but your belly isn’t.

Regarding the intimate questions and unsolicited advice, such as whether or not the conception was natural, or whether I plan to have a C-section, or to breastfeed, Dr. Bennett advises a pregnant woman to answer vaguely and to deflect with a question towards them. Dr. Bennett writes: ‘I think women in general, but pregnant women in particular, feel a certain sense of vulnerability that makes us think that just because someone asks us a question, no matter how inappropriate it is, we have an obligation to answer it. But in fact, this just isn’t true.’ So, when others share their horror stories about labour, I’ll simply muster up my courage and tell them that I’ll look forward to my own horror story, thank you very much.

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The Pregnancy Diaries – 18

‘One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is that things are what they are and will be what they will be.’ Oscar Wilde

This week doesn’t have much to do with being pregnant other than the fact that I’ve heard this funny story from a friend while I’m pregnant that gave me a chuckle, which I hope it does with you…this is Steve’s story:

Steve had a fight with his wife while they were living in Los Angeles. He wanted to die. He goes to South Central (a potentially violent area of town). He goes to a disco there. He’s the only white guy in the club. He gets drunk. He wants to be beaten up. The folks in there feel sorry for him. He finds himself in the parking lot of the club at 3am and thinks “Well, I guess I’ll go home.” Driving home, he sees a Dunkin Donuts and thinks an apple fritter sounds good. He gets one. He’s driving through an intersection, trying to eat his fritter at the same time, and he grinds his gears. A cop pulls him over. He’s got an out of state license and he’s drunk. The cop takes him to jail. He’s put in a cell with about thirty guys. They are mostly Mexican and black. The only other white guys are an old man who looks absolutely crazy and a midget. Really. It’s not politically correct in there. Every time a new black guy is put in the cell and sees the midget, he exclaims, ‘Whawt tha fuuuck?!’ The toilet in the cell has an industrial strength flush. You have to practically hold onto something to keep from going in. The guys in the cell take a toilet roll and put the paper end bit in the toilet and throw the roll around the cell, then flush the toilet and watch the roll fly around the cell and get swallowed by the toilet, then they all chuckle and do it again. Steve got arrested on a Friday and had to wait for court to open after the weekend. On Monday, they’re all shackled together and the guard is doing roll call and keeps calling a guy’s name. It’s the midget. The midget is jumping up raising his hand and finally the guard sees him and says, ‘Ah, no wonder I missed you,’ and all the guys in the chain laugh.

That’s the end of Steve’s story. I’ll talk about my pregnancy again next week. Till then, things are ticking along and I’m getting bigger by the week.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 17

I found there was only one way to look thin: hang out with fat people.’ Rodney Dangerfield

Given the ‘all clear,’ or ‘tout va bien,’ from my doctor regarding my pregnancy last week, I headed to London to visit friends. While there, I’ve experienced a metamorphosis of my body and in my perspective.

I left Chamonix with a slight curve to my belly – nothing particularly noticeable unless you know I’m pregnant – and suddenly my stomach has exploded and I look pregnant! It’s as though I’m a cartoon figure that has blown up an inflatable belly through my thumb or something. My boobs, usually very small, have suddenly become full and round. I walked into a friend’s house and she exclaimed ‘Jesus, Victoria! Wear a bra! You look like a sow!’ Being flat-chested, and to this point, not in need of a bra, I’m startled to discover that I’m, arguably, obscene now without one! In my shame, I scurried to Marks and Spencer and thankfully had a solicitous friend with me to help me to get the right size, so I’m now contained and respectably pregnant.

Being pregnant, I’m not drinking. I don’t judge those that do…if I were younger and didn’t have a history of miscarriages, I’d have the odd glass of wine, but I’m not taking chances given my age and circumstances. As a result, I’ve been dashing about meeting friends and acquaintances for the inevitable lunches and dinners, and what I’ve discovered is that many of my pub buddies (aka acquaintances) are dead boring when I’m not drinking. Worse, these folks are irritating, and there is nothing worse than being boring and irritating. I’ve suffered through so many ‘existential’ confessions, sober, this last week, that I’m wondering if I was as bad pre-pregnant, or whether it’s truly ‘cause I’m not in an altered state? Or, rather, not in the same altered state brought on by many late nights and midnight falafels…



The Pregnancy Diaries – 16

 “A tree’s a tree. How many more do you need to look at?” Ronald Reagan

Watched Terrence Malick’s last film The Tree this week. Malick has taken his time with his films, working on this one for decades. He’s ‘only’ made seven films in a 35-year career, but his films Badlands and Days of Heaven are two of the most beautifully filmed movies of all time and this one is gorgeous, too. It’s lightly existential…a great film to watch when you’re in the mood to consider your life, your family, and the world you live in without delving too deeply into any of it…

That said, the film opens with the loss of one of the sons and the mothers consequent grief. I had a hard time getting through it because I can’t imagine losing a child and the actress’ portrayal of her sorrow was palpable. I kept wondering about my strong opinion that one should watch EVERY film a director one likes makes in order to watch their development and understand their cannon of films in context; maybe this isn’t necessary for me anymore now that I don’t work in film; it certainly doesn’t seem necessary to watch a film about the loss of a child when I’m pregnant.

The film is about three boys growing up in the 1950’s with their mother, a free spirit, and their father, a ‘hard ass’ who is sometimes affectionate (played by Brad Pitt). The story considers the origins and meaning of life, and death, in general and as it pertains to the boys’ lives and experiences. The film premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where it won a Palme d’Or, and was met with rave reviews from critics but was actually booed at the screening (a tough reaction particularly as the filmmakers and actors are present). Depending on whom you speak to, the sci-fi meets surrealist themes and imagery were seen as both imaginative and independently minded, or pretentious and boring. I found that the fragmented and non-linear narrative actually is how memories are remembered, and as it’s a story told in the present about the past, this seems appropriate and interesting.  There is an argument for it’s being indulgent and meandering. However, in a world of films that appeal to the lowest common denominator and rely on frenetic images and action, this nicely paced, philosophically light film is refreshing.

But maybe hold off until you’re not pregnant or haven’t just had a child and your hormones aren’t blasting through your body. It’s entirely conceivable that you have a stronger stomach than me, but if not, maybe hold off watching other films that deal with child loss or neglect, too, such as Trainspotting again, or Rabbit Hole.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 15

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.” Marcus Aurelius

Prompted by my husband’s planting an apple tree in our garden for our lost baby, Appleseed, I wrote about this miscarriage in last week’s column. While I’m American, and therefore prone to “vomit” my whole life upon the floor to anyone I’ve just met, I’ve lived in Europe for almost 15 years now, and have learned (am learning) to hold myself back more and to think before I speak…so to write about something so personal filled me with ambivalence and trepidation.  However, the stories told to me by other women as a result of this piece, have touched me greatly and confirmed for me that it was right that I wrote about Appleseed.

Of course there was the angelic figure that I met when I was leaving the hospital after my pregnancy sack had fallen apart – her miscarriages and then the birth of her autistic son. One woman told me that she’d had five miscarriages, all at five and sixth months along in her pregnancy. Almost literally, the babies were falling out of her. Finally, the doctors tied her cervix shut and she was on bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy that resulted in her only child being born. Another woman told me of a stillbirth in which she’d had to deliver the child through induced labor; she has since had two healthy children but holds this sadness in her heart still. Another woman had six miscarriages, one in which she’d had to deliver the baby stillborn, before she finally had her healthy babies; she told me that every night she still says a little prayer before she goes to bed for the baby she delivered and named.  These are harrowing stories from real life – not work, not money, not the tedium of daily life with its challenges, not friends who irritate us, or ‘enemies’ that overwhelm us – but the stuff that constructs who we are, what we’re made of fundamentally, and which defines our relationships to others.

When I was twenty-years-old I became pregnant with a boy man who’d been my boyfriend through secondary school. I was scared and confused. I’d just won a scholarship to a great university and knew that with a baby I couldn’t go…also, I was very young and the boyfriend was trouble. The only people we told about the pregnancy were his parents and mine. His family was incredibly Catholic and admonished me to keep the baby. He, himself, wanted to get married and have the baby. My parents were not sympathetic to his cause. They reminded me of what it would mean both in terms of my age and the unstable relationship that I had with the boy man. I got an abortion. It was painful and saddening for me, and because of the shame I felt, I didn’t tell anyone – not even my best friend – for almost a decade. It was harder still as my sister had a baby at the time I would have had this baby. Even now, my mind flits briefly to the thought of this aborted child when I look at my nephew. When I was finally open about the experience, I was startled to discover so many similar stories. Writing last week’s piece about the miscarriage of Appleseed reminded me of this early experience because of the fact that there are so many people who can relate to situations that we imagine are so unique to us…maybe even shameful…certainly not the image of ourselves that we want to portray…and it’s in the sharing of this vital personal information that we are truly courageous and that we begin to heal…and by ‘heal’, I mean that we begin to accept ourselves, our choices, and the circumstances and events of our life.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 14

Part of the reason for the ugliness of adults, in a child’s eyes, is that the child is usually looking upwards, and few faces are at their best when seen from below. George Orwell

Relief I’ve made it 17 weeks

belly rounded and swelling

ten pounds more weight on my body and counting

think of weight in terms of mince meat

heartburn and hideous burping

sit or stand up too quickly and I get a head rush

sleepy

chest a myriad of light green veins

nipples dark

industrial looking new bras

crooks of arms with tiny dots of green from the lab tests

hair luxuriant

hair not akin to ‘a just salon done’

face without spots or blemishes

nails long enough and strong enough to scratch back at a cat



The Pregnancy Diaries – 13

How we apples swim. Jonathan Swift

My husband planted an apple tree in our garden this week in honour of our first pregnancy, a tangle of atoms that we called Appleseed… my column this week is a page from my diary, written in 2009:

It’s not just the little group of cells that’s lost. I’ve had a miscarriage before. I was attached to this child. I was trying to tell myself throughout to be careful, careful, not to get too attached. I was so excited that I was bursting to tell everyone. I satisfied this desire by telling strangers who I knew I would never see again. I’m so disappointed now. I haven’t stopped crying for four days. It’s horrible. It feels visceral. I miss Appleseed. I was fascinated from point ‘go’ by this strange little thing and its rapid growth. It was first a little group of cells, then it had layers for the nervous system and respiratory system, then it had little nubs for arms and legs, then webbed feet and hands…a heartbeat by the time it died. I understand the body rejected it for a reason, but it hurts deeply. Also what hurts – perhaps more – is the attachment I felt towards the dream that having this child conjured in me and now that feeling is lost.

I have to lie down. When I knew that I was pregnant, if my body told me that I needed to lie down, I did. If my body needed water, I drank it. If my body said I was hungry, I fed it well. It was a habit quickly established as soon as I knew that I was hosting Appleseed. I quit smoking. It became a protection issue for someone else. I didn’t have breakfast before I went to the hospital. Thinking about it now, I knew that I was losing Appleseed anyway and so I didn’t have to protect the little thing anymore, so what did it matter if I ate or was comfortable? At the hospital, I sat in this little hard plastic chair, in this Victorian-type narrow hallway with little light, shabby furniture, linoleum floors, dank, with people standing and sitting everywhere. I went into a little office. Last night’s scan showed that there was a ‘buoyant’ pregnancy sack, and inside of it a yolk sack, and next to it, a foetus. Today, there’s just blood, the pregnancy sack has collapsed. The doctor tells me that because of my previous miscarriage ten years ago, coupled with my age, that I have a 74% chance of a miscarriage if I get pregnant again.

Feeling sick, cramped up, completely overwhelmed, shocked and disappointed, I went out into the hallway and the world seemed hard and horrible. There were so many people in this hallway. I went out into the stairwell and this guy pushed past me. I was walking rather slowly, gripping the rail with my left hand. Then from behind me this woman said, “Are you okay?” And I said to her “No. I’m having a miscarriage.” She took my arm and helped me down the stairs. Outside, she asked me if I wanted to go for a coffee or a tea. She told me that she was 49 years old. She’d had three miscarriages and an abortion because of chromosomal problems before she had a fifth pregnancy and finally her child who is now 14 years old. She’d been at this hospital today because she’d been at this recurring miscarriage unit because a professor is doing a study for the Imperial College there with the NHS. We went out on the street into the cool sunshine, it was one of those beautiful autumn days – I love London when it’s sunny with a bit of freshness to the air. She says to me, “Do you want a cigarette?” and I say “Yes!” I’m standing on the street bleeding profusely, I’ve not even had water, and I’m smoking.

We went to a pub across the road and sat outside. She fetched me a glass of wine. She’s Italian. She lives in England with her husband of 30 years. She’s well-to-do. Well-educated. Earthy. She tells me about her three miscarriages and the choice after all of that trauma to have an abortion and then about her son who has Asperger’s. She tells me how sometimes she felt angry and scared. But now she realizes that she wouldn’t be the character she is – and she likes herself – if she had not experienced all of this. She has truly learned to take things as they come. She tells me that if there was a lottery ticket and there was a one in four chance of winning that lottery ticket, I’d buy that lottery ticket, no? That I can’t give up because one doctor was discouraging and the statistics look bad. I must believe in, and honor, the love I feel for the child that I will have. She tells me that life is about living, having hope and faith, friendships, time. At the end of it all, it’s only about this. I feel better. Courage flits in me in place of Appleseed.