Victoria Jelinek

The Pregnancy Diaries – 12

“Inside every hardened criminal beats the heart of a ten-year old boy.” Bart Simpson

I had yet another ultrasound this week, but this time the foetus actually looks like something I can recognise as human – well, human alien, to be honest, as the head is inordinately big for its little curled body, and its eyes seem large and transparent. A friend told me once that there’s a stage in many animals’ pregnancy (and by “animal,” he also meant human) in which the foetuses all look like alike…I believe this now, having looked at pictures of pregnant cows, dogs and cats. Fits with my recent dreams in which I’m giving birth to a cat. My good doctor kept trying to give me the ultrasound image to take home, but I’m so paranoid about bringing an ultrasound into the house because I did this with the other two pregnancies and then lost them, that I summarily refuse. I think my husband is taking them into the house secretly…at least I’ll have someone to blame if things go ‘Pete Tong.’

After seeing today’s images, I looked up online what is actually happening to the foetus at present and am most surprised to discover it has eyelashes and fingernails. This is certainly an argument against late term abortion…before now, it could have been a cat, dog, or cow, (and I’m a huge fan of animals, particularly cats) but the fingers and toes and eyelids and eyebrows and eyelashes and nails already formed – that’s refined and real. Soon the foetus will stretch, yawn and suck its thumb. Right now, my baby is covered with a layer of thick, downy hair called lanugo, which seems to be similar to one’s nose hairs.  His skin has a coat of slick, fatty substance surrounding it called vernix caseosa that protects it from the long immersion in amniotic fluid (so, does it get wrinkly at all, like one’s fingers do in water after too long? I’ll ask my good doctor about this, despite the likelihood that he’ll poke fun at me). The nervous system is starting to function now, and shortly my good doctor will be able to see whether I’m having a boy or a girl!

I just want a healthy child. I’ve always thought that I wanted a boy ‘cause they’re so much simpler and they love their mothers. Girls are so much more emotionally complex, I worry that I might find that exhausting and that she’ll hate me. That said, boys are noisier and don’t hold still for long, and there’s that awkward smelly, big-footed time when they’re adolescents that might freak me out…. anyway, it doesn’t matter, they each have their merits and demerits; I just want a healthy baby. It’s a long journey, and now the first trimester – the most dangerous time for a foetus and its mother – is over by a few weeks, so I’m breathing a little more easily…


Pregnancy Diaries – 11

“Seize the moment.  Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” Erma Bombeck

It turns out that my glucose test for gestational diabetes reflected high sugar levels. I’d taken it earlier than most women ‘cause I’m over 35 and have a history of diabetes in my family. Between 2-10% of women develop gestational diabetes in pregnancy, making it the most common health problem for expectant mothers. Apparently, and if I’ve understood my good doctor correctly (who good naturedly was annoyed that I asked for an explanation – “Ah, if only you were French…”), when you eat, your digestive system breaks your food down into a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose enters your bloodstream and with the help of insulin – a hormone that your pancreas makes (where’s my pancreas again?) your cells use the glucose as fuel. But, if your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or if your cells don’t respond well to the insulin, too much glucose moves into your blood instead of into your cells…the ones that convert it to energy (whew!). Hormonal changes in your body during pregnancy can make your cells less responsive to insulin.

If I do have gestational diabetes, I’ll have to alter my diet, and have more prenatal visits to monitor the baby’s growth, movement and heart rate. If the baby becomes too big nearer to my due date, I’ll be induced, or have a C-section. It isn’t definitive that I have it…only 2/3rds of women who test positive on the first test actually have it. I knew that I was eating too much sugar but I can’t help myself; I’m a total Coca-Cola addict even as I know that Coke can take blood off of pavement, take the crud off of your car battery, and render mince meat soaked in it overnight, to shreds (this knowledge is courtesy of a Russian friend who said that they did these types of experiments in his chemistry class in secondary school in 1970’s-1980’s Soviet Union to prove, further, that products from the West are poisonous). Coke is the only bad thing I do now, and I don’t have too much of it…I’m even drinking decaf for goodness sake, but now this…

Anyway, I was ordered to take the longer, more definitive exam called a ‘glucose tolerance test’ this week – my results will be back next week. I went to the lab – they’ve seen me every week for the last four months (and even before that for the two other pregnancies) and still the receptionists are not friendly to me! I couldn’t eat or drink for fourteen hours before I went, so the last meal I had was dinner. I went in, they took my blood, and then gave me 50g of a very nasty sugar solution that tasted like a soda pop you’d buy in South America. I’m told that it’s sweeter than the first test ‘cause the solution is, actually, twice as sweet and ‘cause there’s fasting before. An hour later, they took another blood test. An hour after that, another blood test. An hour later, one more. All the while I had to stay in the lab reception – they wouldn’t even let me leave for a wee walk ‘cause they didn’t trust me not to eat or drink! To be fair, I might have. I’m ashamed to say I carried on like a baby. My bestie and I have been joking about my ‘need’, and other expectant mothers’, to eat for two as an excuse for pregnant women to eat like pigs…but I was frantic without food! I started crying after the first hour and the second prick, and I never cry – I felt so sick, shaky and faint. By the second hour and the third prick, the lab tech took pity on me (or the receptionists complained about my visible misery) and let me lie down in a room by myself where I cried and felt sorry for myself. Jeez louise. No ‘stiff upper lip’ on this one. Maybe I am what my good doctor says, a ‘woosie’ (or as he pronounces it, ‘ah wooz’).

The Pregnancy Diaries – 10

“Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.” Erma Bombeck

I recently went to the two crèches in the valley and signed my impending baby up for care – a crèche is a nursery from three months of age till they walk. There are only ten spots in each. Both tell me that their waiting list goes back to 2008!

I said that I’d take anything. I then went to the local mairie and got a list of names for all the certified assistantes maternelles, or ‘nounous’, in the valley. These are women who are certified to take care of children in their homes from zero-three years old.
Because they generally keep these children till they’re ready to go to school at three, they, too, are hard to come by. I called each and every one and discovered that all but one is full up for the foreseeable future and beyond (Chamonix valley could do with some more crèches and nounous, for anyone looking to be entrepreneurial).
Then I started talking to mothers about the childcare that they had for their kids here, or the childcare that they’d like (if they’re pregnant, like me). I’m startled to discover that the majority of women here in the valley have either stayed home with their kids till they were school age, or they intend to stay home until their kids are school age.
A few say that maybe they’ll get them in care a day or two a week. They tend to finish their statements of intent by saying something to the effect of, “but I want to spend time with my baby…”This makes me feel like a monster for already planning on putting my unborn baby in external care. So then I perused online to find other women who are not ‘monsters’ because they put their children in care, but who do want time to themselves to work – I believe that a happy mommy is a happy baby, and this mommy will not be happy if she’s a stay-at-home mom (besides, I suspect it’s harder than work work). In my search, I stumbled across the French author, philosopher and teacher Elisabeth Badinter. She’s written a book entitled The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. I found two articles about her – one in The Guardian and one in The Washington Post. Basically, Ms. Badinter says that more women these days feel a moral obligation to stay at home with their children, despite all the progress of feminist rights.
I quote from her interview in The Washington Post:
For several decades, industrialized nations have been seeing a change in our model of motherhood that is harmful to women. In the 1970s, all the talk was about the rights of women and their vital financial independence…today, the new imperative? To be a perfect mother who knows how to help her child reach his full potential, to raise a gifted, extraordinary radiant adult. Motherhood first, the rest second. The problem is that the La Leche League and a great many experts on childhood have made it their business telling women that they must give unstintingly to their children: their milk, time and energy. Women are urged to reconnect with their supposedly innate reflexes as female mammals to become the good mothers their children need. This good mother gives birth without the benefit of an epidural, sleeps with her child, breast-feeds on demand, and disdains powdered milk and store-bought jars of baby food as harmful relics of reprehensible egotism.
Result: The good mother stays at home with her child for the first years of a baby’s life. The main problem with this shift is that it is gradually imposing itself on all women as a moral obligation of the first priority. 
Well, these “modern” practices might suit some women, but not all of them, not by a long shot. 
If I criticize this model of an exclusive and guilt-inducing maternity, it is because the model springs from two assumptions I find aberrant. The first is that the perfect mother is an attainable objective. The second is the belief that women are led by their hormones, just as female chimpanzees.
If there were one change you could convince a modern mother to make, what would it be?
I would tell her never to abandon her financial independence. For two reasons. First, in our society, where half of all couples separate, it isn’t prudent to give up one’s job for a few years. 
A single mother raising her child alone is in a very difficult position, and many of them are reduced to hardship. 
Second, I would remind women that they now have a life expectancy of more than 80 years, while the normal activity of motherhood lasts for a decade or so. The children leave home — and then what becomes of the mother?
Amen, say I. I’m going to go online and order her book now.

The Pregnancy Diaries – 9

‘Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.’ Winston Churchill

Most of the women I’ve met in Chamonix are here because of their husbands. Sure, they may like it here and have some semblance of a community, but it’s because their husbands are keen outdoorsman, or simply want to be here, that they live and remain in Chamonix, away from their families. My circumstances are the same. Within this breed of women in the Chamonix valley, are the alpine guides’ wives. The guides work very hard throughout the winter and the summer. Their primary work is hauling ‘punters’ up and down the Mont Blanc. They’ll be gone for several days at a time for a given tour, sleeping in huts and climbing by day. Then they’ll return home, unpack, rest a little (though many of them are so avid they go out and cycle or ski, depending on the season), re pack, and do it again. What this means is that these women are, for all intents and purposes, single mothers.

Not my bag at all. An apartment dweller throughout my adulthood, I still feel that I live on some sort of farm by living in a house in the middle of nowhere, with necessary ‘chores’ to be performed each day to keep the house going. But my chores are nothing compared to these women. They’re chopping wood with an axe, changing gas for their hobs, fixing fuses, shovelling snow, on top of all the daily things. They’re the ones collecting and dropping their kids at school always, organising their children in the morning, shopping for groceries, carrying groceries, cooking, getting their kids to bed, day after day, alone. Most of them say, “it isn’t nice…but what can you do but get on with it?” A typical English ‘chin up’ thing to say. One woman has a quote from Churchill on a postcard prominently displayed on her fridge that reads, “Keep calm and carry on.”

On top of these daily trials, there are the perils that a guide faces: death, skin cancer, injury before an already early retirement (then what?!). I saw a study online conducted by German doctors. It states that ‘for reasons of their outdoor work, mountain guides are heavily exposed to ultraviolet radiation.’  In their study of 283 men, precancerous lesions were more frequent in guides than in the general population (25% vs. 7%). I then tried to find some statistics on death by climbing in various places, but the information online is disparate – there doesn’t seem to be one central information source, an organisation that oversees such matters. What I did find is that according to the American Alpine Club, there are only 25 climbing deaths on average a year throughout the U.S.A. When I asked a guide here about this, he snorted and said, “Humph. Amateurs. That many die in a winter here. Mostly in avalanches.” Of course he was joking, but it’s not far off. I’ve read in the local newspapers over the last couple of winters in Chamonix repeated reports of folks dying up on the mountain. I’ve seen the rescue helicopters carrying a body on the outside, in a flat plastic gurney, which isn’t a good sign. That said, one of the ‘8000’ers, (mountains above 8k meters), Annapurna in Asia, a desirable mountain for climbers to try out, has a death rate of 38%! That means 38% of those who climb it die. But that’s not Mont Blanc. And most of those who die here are not guides, though the general consensus is that it’s about three or four a year who do lose their lives.

But then I saw something that put all this danger into perspective again – the British government assembled these statistics when comparing various activities:

* Maternal death in pregnancy 1 in 8,200 maternities
* Surgical anaesthesia 1 in 185,000 operations
* Hang-gliding 1 in 116,000 flights
* Scuba Diving 1 in 200,000 dives
* Rock climbing 1 in 320,000 climbs
* Canoeing 1 in 750,000 outings
* Fairground rides 1 in 834,000,000 rides
* Rail travel accidents 1 in 43,000,000 passenger journeys
* Aircraft accidents 1 in 125,000,000 passenger journeys

Mountain climbing isn’t even on the list! And note what IS the highest rate of casualty – and with a huge frequency! Geez, here I thought I’m lazy, giving all these sports and dangers that those around me encounter,  and yet I’m being courageous by trying to bring a life into this world!

The Pregnancy Diaries – 8

‘There’s no map to human behaviour’ Bjork

I have a dear friend in London whom I met at graduate school there. She’s from Moscow, ‘whip smart,’ speaks three languages fluently, is gorgeous and rich. She’s also a bit over-the-top with labels and ‘bling’ and can consequently seem a bit ‘full on’ when one meets her. I was assigned her as a partner in a class entitled ‘Victorian Representations of Sexuality’ and we’ve been great friends since. Despite our completely different lifestyles (she has a penthouse apartment off King’s Road three times the size of my house in the boondocks; she has a personal trainer, I’m flabby and out of shape; she has a manicure, pedicurist visit her home once a week, I cut and file my own, sometimes; she has an eyebrow, lip and body wax every other week, my eyebrows often look like I get them done at the same place as Liam Gallagher, and I assure myself that my ‘tache is only visible in bright light; she has her hair washed and blown dry at a salon three times a week, mine is usually frizzy; she would not be caught dead in down or fleece, I can often be seen ‘sporting’ it in Chamonix) I have found her to be an earthy, practical, wise woman regarding human affairs, a no-nonsense woman in general, a hedonist who I can be completely open with about myself, my past and present with no fear of judgement, a wonderful conversationalist regarding books and stories, and a person who is also generous, loyal and funny.

But now she’s sent me the book We Need to Talk about Kevin. I don’t even know what to say to her! I’m just over three months pregnant and have hormones raging through my body causing my normally neurotic self to be even more neurotic (I wouldn’t have thought it possible). I’m already overly influenced by scary cinematic depictions of pregnant women in feature films that I’ve liked, such as Alien and Rosemary’s Baby, but now she sends me a book about a woman who has a baby that she can’t relate to, whom she does not feel tender towards, and whom she actively believes is a malevolent force out to make her life worse and who does turns out to be a violent sociopath! (I’m sorry to those who haven’t read the book or seen the film, but it’s been in print and on celluloid for awhile so I’m not ‘jumping the gun’ and giving away the ending). The woman in the story is similar to me: she’s creative, moves from New York to the suburbs; has a husband very keen to have the traditional life and household; she’s ambivalent about the role and the loss of her independence/life as she knows it, she doesn’t enjoy the pregnancy, then she has a difficult baby and child. I don’t know whether I’ll have a difficult baby and child yet, of course, but there are similarities between me and this woman that can’t go unnoticed to a woman like me who ‘exams her navel’ regularly. I’ve been so focused and worried that I‘ll lose this baby or that it will be born with some kind of physical deformity or dysfunction that it never occurred to me to also worry about the baby’s basic personality profile…whether he will be someone that is likeable, well-adjusted, kind… non-sociopathic anyway…do I send my friend a ‘thank you’ note as my own mother taught me to do and which I have done religiously since I was a little girl? What to say?

Dearheart, you’ve always been a thoughtful person and you’re so enthusiastic and encouraging about my having a baby even as you, yourself, do not have one, that I find it touching that you thought of me when you read this book and thought, as the heroine is also pregnant and having a child, that you’d send it to me to enjoy…what can I say? Scary reading, yes. A little confusing as a gift at this point in my life, yes. But the writing is great and just as I’ll forgive a lot from a person who makes me laugh, I appreciate a good book… thank you.

The Pregnancy Diaries – 7

“I don’t mind that I’m fat. You still get the same money.” Marlon Brando

I went to secondary school in the Highlands of Scotland. My parents were teaching there, I was the youngest child, my siblings were at university, so I went with them. Anyway, a friend of mine from there and then, whom I’ve kept in touch with for over twenty years, came to visit me this last week in France. She had her only child when she was 16 years old, so her daughter is already out of the home and working. I’m three months pregnant with my first child. I’ve been having all these health ‘issues’ around pregnancy and am trying to relax (I feel like Peter Sellers’ character in I Love You Alice B. Toklas when he’s walking down the beach with the hippie guru) so I’m not the best person to hang out with at the moment given my concerns and my relatively ‘clean’ lifestyle, particularly in contrast to my behavior historically.

Even so, I wanted to show her a good time and one day I took her to a wonderful spa in Italy, Pre St. Didier at the base of Mont Blanc. I had to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel, get lost several times with the Italian exits and directions (she was no help at all, lending credence to the stereotype that women are not concerned with directions), and sign waivers when I went to the spa so that they’re not liable if my baby cooks in my belly like rice in a bag. I was excited to go ‘cause my belly is JUST beginning to show…it’s hard and rounded and low. I find it miraculous. It’s so fundamental and animalistic. I feel like I’m the same as the horse with the foal, the goat with its kids, the cat with her kittens, and the dog down at my local café whose titties are heaving she’s so full of puppies. I’m proud of my little bump and even as I’m fat at the moment, I wanted to show it off. Keep in mind that I went to the spa to show my Scottish friend a nice day out. So we went in, it’s spacious, clean, and rustic yet modern, well organised, relaxed, and has gorgeous views, and a variety of spa activities and pools. However, I spent my day at the footbaths and the leg invigorator (you walk down one side with hot water up to your thighs, turn, go down a few steps, then walk down the other side with cold water up to your thighs). And, contrary to having a remarkable belly, almost all of the Italian women there had the same belly as I do! Not once did my friend crack a smile. When I asked her if she’d had a good time she rather stiffly replied, “Yes, ta.”

Later, upon return home, I had to go into the guest bedroom for something and I saw my friend’s open suitcase and various things splayed about the room. In this array, I saw at least FOUR pairs of different coloured, high, high-heels pumps! What had she imagined I could do when I was three months pregnant? Go dancing and clubbing? (Can I go dancing and clubbing?) I realised at age 17 that I’d be bored out of my mind at a club unless I was ‘mash up’…should I have gone anyway despite the inevitable boredom and the possibility that my child would have been traumatised by Euro dance music in order to entertain her? Dang. A day out at Pre St. Didier must have seem very tame, indeed, for her…

The Pregnancy Diaries – 6

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. Lily Tomlin

I read somewhere once that stress is the most debilitating thing that you can do your body. This week, I’m suffering panic attacks because while I love living in France in theory, in practice, I don’t love living here and I’m not convinced it’s the best place for my unborn child.

In theory, I appreciate the history of France: The French Revolution, the Belle Époque, the French Resistance during WWII, the fact that it was a safe haven for misanthropes and those that ‘belonged’ nowhere else in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; I love the literature, Flaubert, Balzac, Colette and those that flocked here, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald; I admire the great philosophers, such as Barthes and Foucault; I love the Cinema du Cahiers’ work, their concept of the ‘auteur’ film, made popular by the likes of Truffaut and Godard; I appreciate that in a world that’s faster and busier, more materialistic and greedy, more individualistic rather than collectively oriented, that the French fight staunchly for their right to long lunches, many holidays, and a work week that does not exceed 35 hours; I love that healthcare has incorporated the best elements of the UK health system (Socialist) with the US health system (privatised attention and one must contribute in order to receive it); I love the cheese; I love the weather (mostly).

However, in practice, I do not like living here. The French are the worst consumers: mobile phone service, utilities, products for the home, for the baby, such as prams, beds, car seats, clothes, televisions, furniture, office supplies, you name it, it’s three times as expensive in France as in the UK or the U.S.A.; and service, the possibility of a return, is practically non existent. Closures at lunch, early in the evening and on Sunday, mean that there is a finite time to run necessary errands and conduct necessary business, particularly the loads of paperwork required for most ‘official’ activities here. The international DVD’s (I love Korean and Argentinian films) are either dubbed or sub titled in French; the French movies don’t have English subtitles; and the English films are usually dubbed, even in the cinema. I miss being able to go into a bookstore and get a book that I want, or into a library. The libraries here have strange hours, are closed on Wednesdays when the kids are out of school, and, locally, they are filled with books about mountains and mountaineering. I miss having restaurants that serve food out of the established lunch or dinner hours, and here in Chamonix, many of the restaurants and cafes are only open in the winter and the summer. The concept of ‘joyeux de vivre’ is ironic: there doesn’t seem to be much laughter or ‘letting go’ at a bar when they sip their tiny glass of vin rouge all afternoon; the French are mean, not only to foreigners, but even to each other. The stories that I’ve been told by other mothers regarding the schooling system – that it’s very negative, very rigid (‘colour in the lines’ sort-of-thing) – raises the hair on the back of my neck, even as I think there are other problems elsewhere. Ah, and the weirdest thing, no matter how big the parking lot or how empty it is, the French always seem to park right next to each other, meaning you often have to sidle in sideways to get into your car. So this week I wonder how I can live here ‘forever’ and bring up a child who will be a Frenchman for all intents and purposes.

All this said, I also read somewhere that with the demise of ‘big’ diseases – small pox, rubella, the plague – that allergies and neurosis developed…