Victoria Jelinek


The Baby Diaries 3

“I learn by going where I have to go.” Theodore Roethke

Plant in the sunshineI ran into a woman at the hospital whom I’d met in a café last summer. It turns out her husband is a friend of my husband’s. She suffered pre-eclampsia with her baby, who is, consequently, down the hall in urgent care. I went to look at her new daughter through the window – she’s tiny, and my new friend says that she’s not been able to hold her yet, as she is so vulnerable and must stay inside the oxygen tent. Apparently, however, the little girl is developing and will eventually be fine. I told her that’s great, as we’ll be able to have play dates with our new babies. Makes me realise that having a little jaundice is not a big problem.

After vacillating the last few days, the doctors told me that we’d be able to go home from the hospital. I actually involuntarily clapped my hands and cried with joy at this news. I am, however, to seat Sebastian naked in the window every day for a ½ hour as you might a plant, and the rest of the jaundice will consequently go away in a few weeks. I packed my bags and nervously my husband and I walked down to the check out area with our new, precious, little cargo. It’s amazing how easy it is to walk out of the hospital with a baby. We literally took the child out of the paediatric ward unchallenged, went down the lift, noticed the check out desk of our own volition, put the wee man on the floor there, got his birth certificate and paid (only 220e for ten days in the hospital, the c section, the paediatric care, the phototherapy, all the sage femmes and nurses…it’s cheaper per night than a hotel in New Delhi) then walked out to the parking lot with no one noticing. Mark and I also feel like frauds because we aren’t quite sure about what to do with the baby once we get home.

We put S in our trusty old VW van, and carefully drove home. Upon our arrival, we put the sleeping tot on the floor for our beloved cat to get used to. He walked around the seat, and then began tentatively sniffing and batting it. It’s a good job my husband had regularly brought things S had worn from the hospital so that the cat could get used to his smell, because Oscar took to him pretty quickly after the first few moments. Breathing deeply of my home, I went upstairs to take a nap in my bed while my husband looked after our new charge. I marvelled at the fact that it felt as though a part of me was physically missing…as if I now have a phantom limb. The distance from our bedroom to the living room is the farthest I’d been from S for nine months. It was anxious, lonely, and poignant. Even so, I fell asleep pretty immediately.

What is anxiety provoking now is that no one at the hospital, or our good doctor, had told us what we do now. I’ve been given ordinances (prescriptions) for several sessions with a sage femme and a physiotherapist, respectively. This is very civilised in terms of postnatal care and adopting alternative therapies into recovery, but I trust conventional medicine. I know the sage femme is the one who will remove my stitches in the days to come, but no one has mentioned what to do for any health issue S may have – even a check-up on the jaundice he’s had to make sure it goes away. Do we go to our regular doctor? Is a different doctor assigned to S by mail or something? Do we go back to the hospital? When are we meant to go for a check up on the wee tot? Maybe the sage femme, or even the physio, will know the answer to these questions…

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The Pregnancy Diaries 21 by a guest writer

The Father’s Perspective of the Six-month Stage

By Kingsley Jones

It’s about now that I realise that I know absolutely nothing about babies, nappies, birth, or how not to kill them in the first few days or weeks. It’s a sobering thought. Quite literally, as I sip a beer with a friend, and hear the joke “oh well you’ve done your fifteen seconds of effort to make a kid” yet again. I’ve heard that joke about twenty times now, and it’s wearing thin, but at least this friend rates my performance as breaching the ten second barrier, which is more than most of my supportive mates.

So, it’s off to the gynaecologist for the ‘all important’ six month scan. I sit with my wife in the waiting room, looking blankly at the posters on the walls of new mothers cradling their children. There are no fathers in the pictures. My frazzled brain focuses for a minute, and I consider the pregnancy so far. I wanted it, perhaps more than my wife, but she’s going through nine long months of hell. Then my pregnancy-filled brain wanders. Would a really pregnant woman break through one of the worn wicker chairs in the doctor’s office and get stuck? How did a fat man with sausage fingers ever consider gynaecology as a career in the first place?

I swear if another doctor tells me “mais, c’est tout normale”, I will hit him. Can he not see that my once beautiful wife is waddling like a duck, and that her stomach looks like an alien is about to erupt out of it? Oh wait, yes it is, just like the Sigourney Weaver film. Tout est blatantly not normale. Then the questions start again in my head. I’m not the greatest fan of picking up my dog’s turd when he’s in the park. How the hell am I going to cope and scoop up nappies full of poop? Friends who are new parents haven’t helped, with stories of when dear little Johnny was covered in it from his bottom up to his shoulders. Oh brilliant, what have I done?

The sixth month mark is, perhaps, the scariest so far for me. I imagine in the labour room, I’ll feel helpless and terrified, but I’ll be surrounded by medical staff who’ve seen it a thousand times before. It’s now, for the first time, that I’m faced with the worries that this really is going to happen. Sure, you consider it after the ‘fifteen seconds of effort’, when you first discover that your wife is pregnant, but every mental image I had was playing with a toddler, paddling in streams, and learning to ride a bike. Never was it of me getting up at three in the morning to attempt to calm a wailing baby that I didn’t know if she was dying, bored or just hungry.

Who is going to teach me all this stuff? And in three months time, who is going to take the responsibility for letting me carry a baby out of the hospital doors, without a clue of what to do? Comments of “oh you’ll learn” and “it’s instinctive” make me break out in a cold sweat. I’ve never held a baby in my life, and would be terrified of dropping or breaking it or something.

Six months really is the reality check when you know that against all odds the sperm that was released during your fifteen seconds is actually going to bring a child into the world, and you realise that most of all you really should have at least tried to break the one-minute barrier at conception, because the phenomenal lack of sex recently is going to mean the first sex after birth is going to make my mates jibes all too true.



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 – 2

Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.” Colette

My doctor doesn’t think that anything I’ve done to date will harm this baby – not even smoking. However, he is concerned about the fact that I’ve acquired a kitten. Apparently Toxoplasmosis is common in France – ‘because we eat a lot of raw meat and are dirty,’ he told me. I thought it was something one got from tampons, but apparently not. I’m pleased it gets me out of kitty litter duty, but my doctor is not amused. As a result, I shall be tested for Toxoplasmosis weekly for the first three months, then monthly.

We found this kitten when we purchased a used car from a French mountain guide and his wife. The man had been left alone to care for the mother cat and had let her ‘prowl’ unguarded while she was in heat, so his wife had returned to a pregnant cat. As a result, they were getting rid of the kittens immediately. We drove out to their farm outside Annecy. Their stone house has been in his family for generations. We first saw the kittens as they were nursing from their mother! I asked the farm lady if they were old enough to be taken from their mother? She said that they were eight weeks and that was plenty. I was sceptical, thinking that one of these babies would be parted from the safety of their mother that very day and that me, a mother-to-be, would be the culprit that literally pulled the kitten from its mother’s tit. I told myself that the mother cat would be batting these kittens away in the days to come, wanting her independence again, and I’d give it a good home, but my hormonal heart wept. We sat on the ground in their living room with all five of the kittens playing around us while the woman made a fresh quiche for us from the eggs their chickens had laid that day and her husband smoked incessantly and looked grumpy. My husband wanted one of two particularly feisty tabbies, but there was a wee black one that kept coming up to me, and I knew that this was my kitty; she is brave and independent. We took her from her mother that day and put her in a box with a dirty piece of cloth that her family had been sleeping on in their cellar. She mewed in the car on the hour-plus drive back to our house, her little heart beating so quickly, but she never wet or pooped. How scared she must have been with the sound of the cars motor and the movement. She was so small, then – the size of a teacup. She immediately took to her litter box even as she had to scale its wall and fall into it. It was difficult for her to eat food, so we wet it and she would eat one little nugget at a time. I couldn’t bare the idea of her sleeping alone so I slept on the couch with her for the first several days. She would suckle at my neck when she was getting ready to sleep, which was a little ticklish and a tad uncomfortable, but mostly poignant.

And now my doctor is telling me that my brave kitten is dangerous to my baby. What have I done? No, I will not get ‘rid’ of the creature (either one). We took the kitten to the vet’s to have a check up. I told the vet that my doctor tells me that the kitten is bad for my unborn baby. She was irate and demanded to know who my doctor is. When I told her, she called me a liar (she’s tactless, but a great vet). Then she promptly got on the phone and called his office. After a rapid-fire conversation with him, she told me that I am not to clean the kitty litter, or to sleep with the kitten anymore, and I’m to wash my hands every time I touch it. My doctor hasn’t said anything about the phone call, and he still prescribes the weekly toxoplasmosis test.