Victoria Jelinek


The Pregnancy Diaries 23

I told my dentist my teeth are going yellow. He told me to wear a brown tie. Rodney Dangerfield

waiting-room1It seems as though I’ve spent this entire pregnancy in doctor’s waiting rooms. Even so, I’ve had a toothache for about six years and if there’s one pain I can potentially get rid of right now, then I’m going to try.

Several years ago in London I had a cavity filled. I didn’t have a dentist there so I ‘simply’ went to one of the Boots with one. What a mistake. The dentist carved my tooth so deeply and so widely there was barely any tooth left and it still hurt. On my next visit to the U.S.A., I visited the family dentist. I’ve had the same dentist for over three decades, and when I’ve visited other dentists where I’ve lived, they have always commented on the positive state of my teeth…I attribute this to my good doctor, because I eat too much sugar and am not conscientious about flossing. My mother tells me she and my father prepared me for my first visit to the dentist, aware that I might be freaked out and be a bother to him. Instead, I promptly fell asleep in the chair. The dentist told my mother afterward I was “the most relaxed child” he’d ever seen.  I’d like to believe this was true, but I attribute this to the fact that as a child my parents tried an “experimental method” of sleeping with me in which they would allow me to tell them when I was tired and wanted to sleep…my mother admits I regularly would “go and go, then simply slump somewhere and sleep.” Nice. During this last visit to the family dentist a year ago, he dug up the cavity and replaced it, telling me he’d filled in some “space” created between the teeth so I wouldn’t get “food packing” in between the teeth which causes pain (yech!).

But the pain has remained, so I went to the dentist in Chamonix recently. My body is becoming huge, my stomach is regularly cramping, my eyesight is blurring, and I have regular heartburn, so if there’s a pain I can do something about then I’m going to do something about it. Except that I couldn’t really. But it took several visits to ascertain this. I went the first time and she explored the tooth but was hesitant to take x-rays because of my pregnancy. She asked me to get an “okay” from my doctor regarding her taking x-rays and kindly booked me in for an appointment (it took me six months to get one in the first place!). My good doctor looking after my pregnancy replied when I asked whether it was okay, “Bof! Bien sur!” However, the dentist did not believe me upon my next visit to her and telephoned his office. Of course he said it was fine. She took the x-rays and declared my roots were dying, however, it would be best to see if we could revive them rather than diving into a root canal. At the next appointment, she gave me local anaesthesia twice (I don’t like pain, but I couldn’t drink my coffee afterwards, I felt as though my lips were paralyzed) and dug up the old cavity and filled the roots with clove derivatives…it felt nicer, and I did hope the tooth would revive. I returned this last week and discovered the roots are still dying and it will be best to do a root canal, but she doesn’t want to do this while I am pregnant. So, she took out the old cloves and packed the roots with more cloves and sent me on my waddling way, instructing me to call her when the wee one is out. Between the weekly visit to the laboratoire for blood samples, the weekly visit to my doctor for a check-up and an ultrasound, the intermittent visits to specialists and recently to the dentist, I feel as though I’ve spent my entire pregnancy in a doctor’s waiting room.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 22

“The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain.” Aristotle

I met the anaesthesiologist in Sallanches hospital. That’s a difficult word for me to say even in English. Read somewhere that there are 13 anaesthesiologists per 100k of the population in France, whereas the US & UK have a 1/3 less.

We didn’t wait long for the appointment blissfully. It’s getting hard to sit for any duration of time comfortably. I can just about do a movie in the cinema. She spoke French and no English but she was nice enough to enunciate. I don’t know if she’s a doctor or is certified to do this. If our appointment were in English, I’d make small talk and find out why she’d become an anaesthesiologist, what it involved, where she’d studied, whether she liked the job well enough, etc. As it were, I simply lay on an examining table smiling stupidly and she strapped some things to my stomach to monitor the heartbeat while we spoke. She took my blood pressure. She asked if I’d ever had an operation under general anaesthesia, and whether I’d ever had an allergic response to any medicine in the past. She asked me if I wanted to order an epidural in case it was necessary. I said “yes,” and told her that I’d like to know what other pain relievers I could have. She informed me that there is only the epidural. No gas. No air. No gas/air combo (Entonox). No morphine. No intramuscular injections. Moreover, I had to choose what I’d want in case right there-and-then. There were no options on the day other than an emergency spinal epidural if a caesarean were necessary or something went wrong, and doctors and nurses would dictate that then. I don’t mean to sound like some kind of drug addict, it’s that I’m completely adverse to pain and from what I hear giving birth or having a C-section is painful.

It’s funny. In the US and the UK there’s a “birth plan” (“a what?” I’d said the first time I’d heard it, which was not from my midwife here). Apparently, a mother can determine the type of pain relief she wants, what position she’d like to be in, what music she’d like to have playing while she’s in labour, the option of a doula or midwife present…If I were even able to communicate some kind of cogent “birth plan” in French, I’m positive I would be met with sceptical or pitying looks at best and revulsion at worst (“Les Anglais! Tsk, tsk). Must say that I’m kind of into the French mentality in that I’m thinking “Let them do what they need to do,” except on the pain relief front.  Jeez, less than 60% of women even remember their doctor’s names after delivery and many of those have the whole birth-plan-thing. Even so, it’s still a better average than the 4% that remember their anaesthesiologist’s name. I couldn’t understand her name when she told it to me much less remember it afterward.



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.



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.



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…