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I started yoga again.  I’ve done yoga on and off since my freshman year of college, which, as my reunion committee has kindly reminded me, was over 13 years ago.  I signed up for yoga as half of my physical fitness requirement (having passed out of the other half with a series of mediocre scores in sit-ups, push-ups, running, and sit-n-reach) because I was looking for something low-impact, that wouldn’t make me sweat through my pajamas.  After all, this was a 9am class.  It was low-impact.  We learned some basic postures, stretched and crawled around on the floor twice a week, and avoided working near the girls who, unfortunately, did sweat through their pajamas.

When I was pregnant two summers ago, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than prenatal yoga.  I have no idea why.  Even since I heard about it, years ago, it held a mystique.  Perhaps it was the exclusivity of the class membership, or the fact that it was one of few forms of exercise I could do as my belly bulged with the weight of twin fetuses.  I don’t pretend that I was “good” at it, if one can be skilled at prenatal yoga, but it helped me in many ways.   Physically, though my back did ache with my increasing load, it allowed me to maintain my flexibility and strength throughout my pregnancy.  I credit yoga with helping me stay healthy enough to help my twins reach a full-term gestation.  I was as agile as I could be, and the nurse who placed the fetal monitors even remarked, as I heaved my belly up so she could find my daughter’s heart rate, that she was impressed I had any abdominal strength at all left.  More that the physiological benefits, prenatal yoga became a place for me to commune with other women in the same condition.  I didn’t have any pregnancy buddies at work (they were either months ahead or months behind me, gestationally), nor really any geographically close friends who could guide me through pregnancy with their own experiences.  I was conscious of the desire not to become That Pregnant Lady who drones on and on to coworkers and family members about fetal measurements, heart rates, nursery colors, crib safety requirements, and stroller designs.  At prenatal yoga, the firist 15-25 minutes was dedicated to everyone going around the room, introducing themselves and having a couple minutes to talk about their pregnancies.  Finally, every other Saturday, I could talk about my due date, feeling the twins kick for the first time, having a good prenatal check-up, and air out my anxieties among people who welcomed them or shared their own.  And while it felt like a support group, our teacher said it was part of our yoga practice.

More recently, E, my coworker – who was thrust into the role of supervisor this year without much preparation or choice – had expressed a desire to find a way to de-stress, and was thinking of yoga.  I had been looking, too, but for a different reason.  In the midst of being a mommy for the last year-and-almost-a-half, I’ve been so focused on arranging and adhering to my children’s routine (okay, okay, it’s a semi-rigid schedule), that there’s been little time or flexibility left to feed the Me-ness, the Me-ness that I was so worried I’d lose to mommyhood.  I never wanted to be defined primarily as E’s and L’s mommy, and to that end, I have wisely kept working full-time. But once I get home, I shift to mommy mode, and still hadn’t found a way to balance what I want/need to do beyond caring for my kids.  My husband was in a play last fall, and while it was stressful to have him away two nights a week, and lonely during his dress rehearsals and shows, he got to get back into his Me-ness in a very real way.  He was back on stage, expressing his creativity, and bringing joy to yet another packed house.  It was now my turn.  With my colleague holding me accountable (and in turn, me relying on her), we found a nearby studio, made a date, and went to yoga.

The first Tuesday, I rushed in, breathless, having struggled to put the kids to bed in time for me to get out the door.  I worried that E would think I was absolutely nuts, that yoga was completely weird, and that I was more of a hippy-dippy granola that I’d let on. We moved through the poses, focusing on breathing, getting used to the style of the instructor, catching glances at others to make sure we were doing it right.  Somewhere in the middle of the class, the self-consciousness left, and I think that was when we actually started doing yoga.  I don’t have a great grasp of the philosophical or spiritual background behind yoga. I’ve always just done it primarily for the physical benefits, hoping to become slightly more limber or well-balanced.  But my concerns of E thinking me completely batty vanished when we rolled up our mats and stepped out into the cool air of the street.  Airily, she turned to me and said, “Where has this been all my life?”

Our husbands now have to kick us out the door on Tuesday nights. We’re tired, we complain.  It’s easier just to have a relaxing evening at home, we reason.  But you come home so relaxed, they counter.  Do it for yourself. They think we’re sneaking off to bars, we come home so Zen and dopey. I’ve done yoga before to strengthen and support my body, but I’d never before done yoga to feed my mind, my soul.  I know that sounds ridiculous and transcendental.  I only wanted an activity for myself to do.  It could have been a knitting circle or a book club, or taking bassoon lessons.  But I think yoga was a serendipitous, and overly auspicious choice.  I doubt somehow I would have come home from book club with my mind freed from anxieties, my body ready to enter a peaceful sleep, and my soul filled to the brim with Me-ness.

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Well, as I posted on Facebook, the babies face eviction on the 15th, unless they are prepared to vacate the premises on their own before such time.

And under other thinly veiled euphemisms, unless I go into labor on my own before next Thursday, I’m being induced then. 

I have mixed feelings about this.  While it’s kind of a relief (albeit unnatural) to have a deadline, a timeline, a birthdate (practically, though it could happen Friday if this takes a while, or Wednesday if the Pitocin drip is feeling frisky), and a plan, it feels like we’re jumping the gun and subverting Mother Nature.

If full-term for twins is 37 weeks, and average gestation is 35 weeks, then they can be born now anytime.  It’s not their health or development that is concerning me.  For goodness sake, I’ll be 38 weeks tomorrow, which is pretty much full-term (38-42 weeks is the range, actually) for a singleton pregnancy.  That’s not my worry at all, and that, of course is what’s most important — having two healthy babies.  By all signs, that’s what they’ll be.  I’ve witnessed fetal breathing (practicing for the real thing), and seen numerous ultrasounds.  I’ve felt thousands of kicks, and seen them recorded during non-stress tests.  My babies are within normal range for weight.  Today they were estimated at 6lb 5oz and 6lb 9oz, respectively.  And I’m shocked I can still walk around.  All this is very, very good.

No, what worries me, is a loss of control, a loss of a plan, ironic, really, when we have a scheduled induction of labor.  Much as I’m not the type of person to go to a birth center or even dream of  a homebirth, I worry about jumping into medical interventions when there doesn’t seem to be a need.  I’m upset that continuous fetal monitoring will ruin my plans to walk my way through contractions, that I’ll be confined to the hospital bed, and so miserable I’ll jump at the chance for an epidural, rather than taking the wait-and-see approach I’d planned on.  I worry about the cascade of medical interventions.  I worry about causing fetal distress from inducing labor before the babies tell us they’re ready.  I’m worried that the increased risk of a C-section will ruin my plans for a vaginal birth. 

Sure, I’ve done too much Googling, and not enough talking with my doctor directly.  Of course, she’s on vacation until next Thursday, so I’d have to talk to some other doc at her practice and try to get him to explain her clinical judgment that lead her to decide inducing labor was the best choice.  I should have asked her about risks and benefits when I had the chance.  And I’m not thrilled that I haven’t found any clinical studies or journal articles that indicate that a multiple pregnancy is a reason to induce.  I don’t have any other indicators — pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, threats to maternal well-being, babies not growing inside me, threats to their health, lack of access to medical facilities, being more than 2 weeks beyond my due date — so why?  I should have asked, eh?  I guess it all just made sense in the moment, or at least I made it up to convince myself that if I went to 40 weeks, they might get too big and make delivery more difficult.  Is that true?  Or did I make it up completely?

As any good mother-to-be who has an abstract-sequential personality, I have a list of pros and cons. 

Pros:

  • My family can actually plan a time to be here. 
  • My sister can start her 16 hour drive from St. Louis, and won’t miss more than one class. 
  • My mother-in-law can put in for time off before the frantic phone-call. 
  • My parents can make a hotel reservation. 
  • The 15th is my late grandfather’s birthday. 
  • It’s as far from Christmas as can be, given our Dec. 24th due date. 
  • The babies will (hopefully) be home with us in time for Chanukah, so they can wear the “My First Chanukah” bibs my crazy aunt sent (just kidding about that last part). 
  • I won’t have to worry about a skeletal hospital staffing near the Christmas holiday. 
  • I can work up until the last few days before the Holiday break, and I’ll only miss 2 days of work, days dedicated to packing up and moving from our old building to the new school (work a pregnant lady oughtn’t do anyway). 
  • We can plan dog care. 
  • We can go to the hospital after rush hour, with our bags packed, and hopefully in a lower panic mode, sans regular contractions. 

And then there are the cons:

  • I’ll be on continuous fetal monitoring, and, lacking telemetry, be restricted to finding laboring positions a hospital bed will allow.
  • Contractions won’t be “natural” and are rumored to be stronger when induced with Pitocin.
  • Inducing might not actually work. 
  • It can take a long time.
  • I don’t get to have the realization that I’m in labor, and the opportunity to labor at home comfortably during the early phases.
  • Increased risk of C-section.
  • Increased risk of additional medical interventions.
  • I won’t get to walk around, not even in my room.
  • I’ll never know how long I could have naturally maintained this complication-free, miraculous pregnancy. 

I mean, come on!  Who else can boast a nearly full-term twin pregnancy with a net weight gain of only 25lbs, and babies estimated to weigh over 6lbs each?  Without any morning sickness?  Not on bed rest?  Still able to drive and walk dogs and craft and only having edema in her last week (and still wearing my wedding band)?  Without wretched mood swings that drove her husband nuts? I must say, I have had a pretty awesome pregnancy.  I just wonder how it would have ended, had we given it the chance to end naturally.  And that’s part of my confusion, too. 

When it’s all over and done with, God willing we’ll have two healthy, beautiful, brilliant babies, I’ll miraculously get my figure back, lose the eight thousand stretch marks I’ve incurred over the last 6 weeks, and my dearest husband and I will have a family that all sleeps through the night.  That, of course, is the end goal, one I must not lose sight of, even as I prepare for the end of the pregnancy, and the labor and delivery that will mark the beginning of our little famly.

Let me go on record as saying that while I am approaching that phase most women reach late in their pregnancies where I am kind of sick of looking like a Volkswagen Beetle and feeling like Humpty Dumpty, I have rather enjoyed being pregnant.
I hesitate to apply the word “blessed” to my easy pregnancy as I think some might attribute this “blessing” to other-worldly factors, or divine intervention, but I have been fortunate, extremely fortunate.  Far from my initial (okay, pervading) worries about the inherently high-risk nature of a twin pregnancy, or the looming threat of pre-term labor and/or months of bed rest, the actual pregnancy has been remarkably, well, unremarkable.
I have been spared many of the statistically and stereotypically common ailments and complaints, or at least the annoyances have been late in coming, minor, or easy to cope with.  Morning sickness?  Twice I think I felt slightly queasy.   If anything, not having morning sickness caused me to worry, as I was paranoid I had miscarried, or in disbelief that, after 18 months of trying, I actually was truly pregnant.  Yet the distinct lack of heaving and vomiting let me keep the first trimester a secret from work and family.  Cravings?  I remember feeling constantly thirsty during the first trimester, and craving juicy fruits, but luckily I was kept flush with my need throughout the spring and summer as peaches and watermelon came into season and were ever-present in our home.  My husband was spared the midnight run to the grocery store for pickles and rocky road ice cream.  Swelling?  I’m at 36 weeks with twins, and still wearing my wedding bands.  I still have ankles, even if I can’t see them.  Stretch marks?  My first appeared around 32 weeks, and I’ll admit, my lower belly is now covered in deep red ridges like magma flowing from a volcano.  They itch all night long, no matter how much baby oil and cream I slather over them, but at least I was spared these ghastly disfigurements until 32 weeks.  Hemorrhoids?  Never heard of ’em.  Constipation?  Just drink more water.  Trouble sleeping?  Once my belly became large enough to need “support” I found a pregnancy support pillow called a “Snoogle” and it has been my sleep partner from month 4 till month 8.  Only recently has sleep become evasive again.
The point here is not to catalog a list of woes, or to minimize the difficulties others have had throughout their pregnancies; it is only to demonstrate how fortunate I have been to have such an uneventful twin pregnancy, thus far.
When I began feeling the babies kicking around 22 weeks, I suddenly became one of those pregnant women resting her hands on her belly.  I am addicted to feeling them squirm and wiggle and kick.  Our nightly kick counts, where I just zone out on the couch and focus on their movements until I have counted ten, are moments of pure self-indulgence.  If I’m this hooked on feeling a little foot in my belly, I wonder how mesmerized I’ll be watching their chests rise and fall while they sleep, or seeing the smiles on their little faces as they fall deep into a milk coma.
Initially, as I said, I kept my pregnancy a secret.  Our previous miscarriage made me afraid to jump the gun telling people, not for fear I would jinx the pregnancy, but because of the pain we had endured having to “untell” our friends and family last time.  I didn’t have to tell, either, because I didn’t show for some time.  Though my doctor warned of the lordosis and back aches many pregnant women develop from leaning back to off-set their growing bellies, I was only able to see that I had a baby bump when I did arch my back.  Even at 4.5 months pregnant, on our trip to Ireland, I was barely showing.  I was almost embarrassed to have a belly, to have something to show for my growing babies.  I’m not accustomed to changes in my body shape, and I was self-conscious as I passed into that “Is she pregnant or just fat?” stage.   I often joked with friends and family who wanted to know how huge I was, that I just looked like I had had a large meal.
Now, however, the enormity of my belly is finally a result of having two nearly formed beings inside, and it’s unavoidable, which has also become fun.  As my belly grows more and more comically oversized, strangers’ attitudes have shifted from polite comments and questions, “Oh, when are you due?  Do you  know if it’s a boy or a girl?” (when it wasn’t obvious I was carrying more than one) to more brazen “Oh, jeez, lady!  When are you due?  Tomorrow?”  I have also received my fair share of inappropriate questions and comments, such as our neighbor who asked if it was okay to call my “chubby”.  And the awkward lady at the grocery store, who, upon hearing we were expecting twins, asked if I’d had something “done”.  My favorite is when people ask if we know the sex, which we have kept a secret so far.  My hubby will usually say, “Why, yes, obviously.  We do know The Sex.”  We’ve taken to telling people who ask if we know what they are, that they are lemurs.  This catches them off guard enough to head off any further probing.
The attention is interesting.  Sometimes people are overly accommodating, opening check-out lines just for me, and freeing up chairs when I’ve made it clear I can, thanks to prenatal yoga, be perfectly comfortable on the floor.  Other times, they wait for me to ask for what I need.  Pregnancy is not a disability, though I do take advantage now of “stork parking” at the Superfresh, and try to minimize the number of trips up and down the steps if I can help it.
I’m 36+ weeks pregnant with twins.  The last growth scan/ultrasound (at nearly 34 weeks) estimated the babies each weighed more than 4.5 lbs, and were within “average” size for singletons.  I’m still working full-time.  I climb 63 stairs each morning to get to my office.  I go to yoga every other week.  I’m still walking our 64lb (though elderly) and 32lb (though spritely) dogs.  I’m still out doing things I love, and I’m very grateful my babies and my body allow me to do so.
We were visiting with one of Mr. Apron’s friends when she brought her 1-year old to town, and she asked if I was enjoying being pregnant.  I modestly replied I didn’t mind so much, as I knew she was not the type to embrace her pregnancy glow, and had probably found the belly burdensome to her daily farmer chores.  While I do confess I’m sick to pieces of maternity clothing (I wax nostalgic about my  pants that stayed up without advanced engineering and the closet full of shirts I haven’t been able to wear in 5 months), and I would love to be able to turn over in bed without a Herculean effort (or sleep on my back!  What luxury), it’s been rather enjoyable.  I’m bonding with the little parasites in my belly, imagining what they’ll look like and who they’ll become.  I’m channeling my excess hormones lovingly crafting clothing for them and decorations for their nursery.  I’m keeping busy researching sleep training, breast pumps, and high chairs.  I’m thrilled to pieces to hear that the cribs and the bedding will be arriving within a week.  The excitement from our friends and family is infectious.
With most of the threat of premature labor behind us, and my bag packed for the hospital, I’m preparing for the final portion of my pregnancy, the part that ends in the doubling of our family and the welcoming of two precious babies into our home and our lives.

Sometimes I think I can’t remember the Depression, can’t remember watching myself sink into the couch, too upset to move, full of self-loathing, apathy, and passive disinterest.

And then, it all comes back.  It’s only an hour and a half that Mr. Apron is gone – including travel time – but if I’m not glued to one screen (TV), I’m glued to another (computer, iPad), and still immobilized enough that the feelings from the Depression come rushing back.  Sometimes I can “bootstrap” myself out of it by running through a mental list of all the things I allegedly want to do.  I of course reject doing 99% of them, but by latching onto the smallest, least cumbersome chore, I am sometimes able to gather enough momentum to pull myself off the literal or figurative couch.  However, I think my list of tasks is too long tonight, or I’m so overwhelmed in general, that I’m just going to bask in the deluge of being stuck.

The babies are coming, the babies are coming.  I’m at 33 weeks gestation.  At 30 weeks, they weighed in at over 3 lbs each, and I’m estimating that by my next ultrasound this Friday, they’ll be at 4 lbs.  I’m still terrified of pre-term labor.  I had a scare around 27 weeks, where the ultrasound showed my cervix might be getting ready for labor.  Thankfully, I wasn’t showing any other signs, and clearly, I haven’t had the babies yet, but it still shocked me into a hyper aware state, much like how Mr. Apron behaved for about a week after he was pulled over, driving past the corner where he was caught in a speed trap.  After a while, the caution and sensitivity fade, and life returns to normal.

Unless you’re having twins.  They’re coming, pre-term or not.  At the outside, if I go full-term, I only have 7 weeks left.  And if I make it “full-term” for twins, which is only 37 weeks, I have less than a month.  I speak as if I’m facing a terminal illness instead of the birth of my children.  Still, I’m not ready.  I doubt that 4, or even 7 weeks would ever be enough time to prepare, mentally.  Sure, the cribs have been ordered, and the car seats lie in wait.  The stroller is in the basement, optimistic that we’ll ever set foot outside our house again once the babies are born.  I’m mourning the end of our life as a couple, of our life as adult-focused people.  I’m not even talking about so-called adult activities, like drinking, staying out until all hours, and beer pong.  I’m talking about our adult activities, like snuggling in the bed together, watching Antiques Roadshow together, botching home improvement projects together, and evening crafting/computer time together.  Our together time.  I know we’ll make time for these things that are important to us.  I know babysitters (aka in-laws) exist for a reason, and they will provide respite care so we can go out for an evening.  But I’m still scared.  And I know that despite our best efforts (and even successes!) at retaining the essence of who we are, who we were, before children, it can never be the same.

I’m scared I won’t be ready.  I never can be.  I’m excited to meet my babies.  I narcissistically can’t wait to see how they look like us.  I can’t wait for their new baby smells.

I know I won’t be able to have my pity parties anymore either.  There just won’t be a 90-minute block of time for me to be stuck.  There will be diapers and feedings, and burping and entertaining, and soothing and swaddling.  I’m scared.  I’m scared I’ll get stuck even though it will look different than it does now.  I want to enjoy my babies whether their father is home with us, or gone for an hour or a day.  I want to be the awesome mom I know in my heart of hearts I can be.  And I can’t let the Depression get in the way.

with apologies to Margery Williams…

 

“Does it hurt?” asked the Mother-to-Be.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for she was always truthful. “When you are a Mother you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” the pregnant woman asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are a Mother, most of your skin has stretch marks, and your belly drops out and you get loose in the joints and very tired. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are a Mother you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are a Mother?” said the Expectant Woman. And then she wished he had not said it, for she thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

No, I didn’t cop out and try to skip a few weeks, hoping you wouldn’t notice.  It turns out that The Bump is the one responsible for misleading and misrepresenting the fruit/veg of the week.  They show only the papaya for weeks 22-24, inclusive.  Apparently, at this point in the pregnancy, gestational real estate is getting tight.  It’s a seller’s market, really, and the fetuses are locking in a bidding war not only with each other, but also with my bladder, my lungs, the rest of my internal organs, and the outer limitations of my flesh.  So, there not being much womb to grow, they’re just growing at a slower pace than before.  Average size is also a range, probably corresponding to a median size.

When I finally went to the market and picked up 2 papayas and held them next to my bulging abdomen, it didn’t make any sense.  They were just too big.  I began to think I had picked up freakishly large papayas.  So I measured one when I brought it home:

Seriously, there are two of these inside me?

And then I double-checked The Bump:  10.5-11.8 inches.  As Marisa Tomei says in “My Cousin Vinny”: Dead on Balls Accurate.  My only way of rationalizing the number of inches is to consider that babies are now (post week 21) measured head -to-toe, not crown-to-rump, and they’re all curled up in fetal position.   They’re not all stretched out, like my papayas.  Except when they start kicking my ribs and punching bladder.  Then, I’m not so sure.

If you've never had the pleasure of cracking open a papaya, this is what it looks like. Orange flesh filled with caviar.

Mr. Apron set at once trying to taste the caviar-like seeds.  I convinced him his talents were more useful in trying to extract the seeds.  He did this by sticking his fingers down its throat and making it vomit into the sink.  Now we have a bulimic papaya.

Nasty, dude.


All kidding aside, we did actually set out to make papaya pie. 

 

All the beautiful ingredients laid out.    Here’s what we used to make

Papaya Pie:

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 cups (about 1 medium papaya) fresh papaya cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 9-inch graham cracker pie crust

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk together brown sugar and white sugar. Add papayas and toss to coat. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Place papayas with its juices in a heavy saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Continue to cook about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fruit is softened, but not falling apart.

Remove papaya mixture from the heat and let cool until lukewarm. Stir in beaten egg with a large fork until well-combined, taking care to leave the fruit in chunks.

Pour papaya filling into graham cracker pie crust. Bake for about 45 minutes. Let papaya pie cool before serving.

Maybe our papaya was not so juicy.  Maybe we weren’t super vigilant about those 10 minutes of simmering.  Whatever the case, the mixture started like this:
Then cooked into this:
 
And somehow, it solidified a bit much in the process, thus resulting in this concoction, which had to be scraped in blobs from the saucepan:

mmmmm, tasty.

Mr. Apron does not approve.

Somehow we managed to literally scrape together enough of the vlonk (c) and dump it into the pie crust.  On the whole, not really edible looking, we thought, but you be the judge:

Since we suffer for our art (and our blog), the Papaya Pie had to be eaten, preferably buried under a blanket of ice cream.  In truth, it was not so bad, but not our most successful venture to date.

Mmmm, ice cream blanket.

Now what to do with the other half a papaya in the fridge???

Well, now I’ve done it.  On the same day the dog had his melt-down about descending the stairs, I totally caused chaos at work.  Rather my intended impending maternity leave caused massive miscommunication and now I’m certain that the stigma of the pregnant woman being nothing but trouble in the workplace is far from vanishing any time soon.

For years, I had labored under misapprehensions about FMLA time.  I knew it could be used after a year of employment, in jobs that employed more than a certain number of employees, as long as you’re not a top-tier, critical employee (e.g., The Boss) for up to 12 weeks each calendar year, and that its basic function is to hold a job while you attend to things like childbirth.  It guarantees the job will still be there while the new mother is coping with sleep deprivation, lactation, and how to set up the Pack and Play.  What I didn’t know is that, for women at least, those maximum 12 weeks are governed by a doctor’s orders.  They are not really “ours” to take as we please.  Some moms may want/need to return to work after 6 weeks; others may want to use the full 12.  I had only understood that maximum = 12.  I didn’t know that they were linked to a doctor’s appraisal of a woman’s readiness/ability to go back to work.  And I didn’t know they can only be taken in whole weeks.  My intention was to take 6-8 full weeks off, then to gradually reintroduce myself to the workplace, while my children were gradually being introduced to their childcare provider (as yet, undetermined, but Mary Poppins will show up one day soon, with references, we hope), while using up the rest of my FMLA time piecemeal.  It would look like I was back at work part-time, but I’d still be a full-time employee, just one using leave. 

Sick leave works this way, as does paid time off.  Short-term disability can sometimes look like this, for example if you have some chronic condition that has “flare ups” (which sounds disgusting no matter if it’s herpes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia) which require occasional time off or treatment.  It might look like our HR employee, who will be taking Fridays off to get her chemo as she recently learned about a recurrence of lymphoma.  But apparently, childbirth and maternity leave does not work that way.  Once a doctor certifies you’re well enough to return to work on a Monday, you can’t magically be “disabled” on Tuesday. 

This doesn’t quite jive with my understanding of the purpose of FMLA, especially as it applies to, um, fathers.  I’m completely grateful and impressed that it does apply to fathers (as well as adoptive parents), recognizing their equal role as parents as well as their need to support the mother/partner in ways other than earning a paycheck.  However, are they ever “disabled” when they take their maximum 12 weeks a year to care for a newborn child?  Do the dads get to use their own discretion as to when they choose to return to work?  Can they use short-term disability to get paid for their paternity leave the same way mothers can?  It can’t be linked directly to the mother’s health, meaning that if mom’s doc says she can go back to work at 8 weeks, he doesn’t have to, right?  It can’t be.  The HR woman told me many spouses try to get the mom to take the first 12 weeks off, then let the dad take the next 12 weeks off, so the babies can have as much time at home as possible to bond with parents. 

So is FMLA for the physical disability of pregnancy/childbirth/recovery, or for the adaptation of the family to its new members?

Understandably, it’s confusing, and I still haven’t worked out all the philosophical kinks.  I still have to talk to my doctor and find out if she’ll automatically sign off for 12 weeks, or if she truly sends women back when she deems their bodies ready.  Mr. Apron still has to find out if he’ll be able to tap into short-term disability the way I will. 

And with all these nuances of the law, a misunderstanding is, well, understandable.  Truly, I can tell myself it wasn’t entirely my fault that HR didn’t know what I was planning on doing.  Truly, if I’m following The Law, I don’t have to tell my employer my intentions until 30 days before I intend to actualize them.  In reality, however, I told my supervisor my original plan back at the end of June, and she used the information to interview and hire my replacement. 

 

Not my long-term substitute, my replacement.  Some people in HR thought I was leaving in mid-October, when the new SLP will be starting.  So I had to explain that no, I’ll be training her while still working, so she can assume my caseload, my duties, and my rollie chair.  I had to clarify that I intend on working until the day my water breaks.  Whether that will remain a reality is anyone’s guess, but it’s my best case scenario.  My guess is that this misunderstanding was the result of word-of-mouth transmissions, and assumptions made by HR by looking at the new SLP’s start date.  No one officially asked me my last day or asked me to put it in writing yet. 

Then there’s the part that’s my fault.  In my original plan, to come back piecemeal, this was for several reasons.  I have already stated above that I wanted to make a gradual transition for my babies and myself.  This summer, my employer did not offer short-term disability insurance, so coming back to work part-time by using up my FMLA was a way of having some income.  This fall, through incredible coincidence, my employer will not only offer short-term disability, but, because it’s an initial offering, I can actually apply for and be accepted.  At 5 months pregnant.  And having some income while on maternity leave will enable me to stay home longer, if I want to or am approved by my doctor to do.  So even if I hadn’t misunderstood FMLA, my plans changed once the short-term disability insurance was on the table. 

 

My supervisor and HR team had planned on my coming back as a part-time employee, and budgeted accordingly. Even though they legally have to hold my job, as it is, or with similar responsibilities, with the same income, they thought I was choosing to cut back my hours.  And budgeted for my replacement to come on full-time.  And gave her a contract accordingly.  So my department is kind of one full-time SLP over budget.  And it’s kind of my fault. 

Now my subsequent responsibility is in part to market our department aggressively (truly something I never went to school for) in order to, essentially, make up for the discrepancy by bringing in money in the form of new clients, new initiatives, new programs. 

To say I’m beating myself up about it is an understatement.  While I know many others played a part in this HR/budget SNAFU, it’s all about me and my inconvenient procreation.

We were in Ireland as I passed the half-way point in this pregnancy.  We were, on that particular Saturday, surrounded by a bus full of mostly Australian tourists as we were herded from Emerald highlight to Emerald highlight, from sheep to cliff, from medieval town to rock wall, from green pasture to yet another green pasture.  The Japanese gentleman on our tour, reflecting on his impressions about the country, pulled out his phrasebook, thumbed purposefully, and settled on the succinct, “monotony.”  But in our hotel room that night, whatever time it truly was on the East Coast of the United States, we paused to be grateful we have made it this far, and that the babies’ growth seemed to be evident in my bulging abdomen.

My books told me I might feel kicking around 17/18 weeks, but those markers passed without anything definitively Kick feeling.  I have always felt little twinges and cramps, but attributed them to the increased size of my womb, and its resulting displacement of just about all my internal organs.  I even asked my mother what first kicks felt like, and she responded with a resoundingly noncommittal, “You’ll just know.”

My therapist asked on Friday if I’d felt anything yet, and I responded honestly in the negative.  She seemed surprised, and probed further, asking if I’d gently pushed on my belly and felt anything externally.  Well, that evening we tried to use Mr. Apron’s stethoscope to find heartbeats, without much luck, and I sat on the couch relaxing in that typical pregnant woman pose, hand resting gently on top of my belly.  I found my pulse, of course — as my circulation grows ever more impressive, I’m positively throbbing with heartbeats — but I also felt a distinctly non-rhythmic movement.  A kick for sure!  Since Friday they have not let up, having a riotous time in spurts and jolts.  They seem to particularly enjoy kicking right at the top of my belly.  I was finally able to help Mr. Apron feel it, too.  Feeling a kick, I sensed they were feeling active, so I grabbed his hand and rested it — just so — on my stomach.  Lo and behold, his pupils dilated and fixed on my belly.  He had felt it, too.

Today, my doctor confirmed that twins, and first pregnancies in general (technically, because of our miscarriage, this is my 2nd pregnancy, but my body never really stretched with our first-trimester loss, so I guess it doesn’t “count” in this sense?) will be later to feel kicks.

And there you have it.

To celebrate seeing our little 1-lb wonders on the ultrasound screen this morning, I will regale you with our celebratory breakfast, baked with the help of my sister and husband.  This is originally a banana bread, since the fetuses are the length of bananas this week.  I had previously found that this recipe converts very easily to muffins, and muffin papers mean no greasing loaf pans, nor cutting out parchment paper, so muffins it was.  I also added chocolate chips because Mr. Apron will eat anything for breakfast if it has chocolate in it.  I love this recipe as it doesn’t taste like bananas.  Many banana breads use 3-4 bananas, which I’m sure makes for a moist bread, but also a very banana-y one.  Mine only uses about 2 bananas — perfect for banana haters.

Banana Bread

 2 c. flour
1tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 c. sugar
½ c. butter
1 egg
1 c. mashed overripe banana (about 2)
5 Tbsp milk
½ c. chopped walnuts (opt.)
1 c. milk choc. chips (opt.)

 

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  In a large bowl, cream sugar and butter.  Beat the egg slightly and mix into the creamed mixture with the bananas.  Mix in sifted ingredients until just combined.  Stir in milk and nuts/chocolate chips.  Spread batter into one greased and floured 9×5 loaf pan or scoop into 18 muffin papers.  Bake at 350 for one hour until top is brown and cracks along the top (for the loaf) or 20 minutes until toothpick tester comes out clean (for the muffins).

Cooling on the rack, not knowing what fate awaits them.

Watch out, little muffin!

Well, folks, the verdict is in. Over the last month and a half, Mr. Apron and I have been subject to all sorts of painful, awkward, and intrusive testing to try to pinpoint the cause of our infertility. Today, I met with my doctor for a follow-up, and I found out that we are completely, hopelessly, and wholly normal. That’s right; everything tested within normal limits, which means our diagnosis is now the ever-so-helpful, nothing-for-it Unexplained Infertility. Which is a medical way of saying, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you, so we can’t really do any interventions that would ‘fix’ it.”

Which is kind of what I heard from my GI doctor a month and a half ago when I got the results from my diagnostic testing. Well, it’s definitely acid reflux, which I’ve known and managed for the last 9 years, and it’s definitely gastritis, which means my stomach is inflamed and irritated, but it’s such a non-specific diagnostic indicator, it essentially means, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you, so we really can’t do any interventions that would ‘fix’ it.”

Isn’t modern medicine fun?

Part of me is insanely relieved that there are no structural abnormalities, no glaring issues for us to overcome or circumvent or manage. I made the mistake last night of watching, on a coworker’s advice, “One Born Every Minute”. It’s Lifetime program, so right there that should be a red flag that indicates, “This is for hormonal women who want to languidly drink wine while they curl up on their couches and bemoan their ticking biological clocks.” Yet we cued it up OnDemand, since we’re no longer afraid of our cable box, and we watched. Into each of the women’s (well, couples’, but really? It’s all about the women. It’s on Lifetime, for goodness sake) stories TV producers must inject a healthy dose of artificial drama, to be accompanied by violins playing dissonant intervals and teaser close-ups that make you think something has – gasp! – gone wrong. Last nights’ episode profiled a 33-year old woman who has osteoporosis, a 22-year-old woman who is afraid of hospitals and needles, and a 32-year old woman pregnant with twins from IVF, who has a history of repeat miscarriage and whose belly is so distended she could barely stand upright. So of course there is a teaser for the frail woman saying, “My hip hurts!” which the whole medical team says they’ll take into consideration but ultimately they just ignore. There are repeated segments of the 22-year old freaking out about her IV, the lidocaine, the epidural, the medical equipment. And there is selective broadcast of the OB/GYN’s warnings about the possibility of bleeding with the twin 8-lb babies and the women’s hyper-distended uterus.

And everything went fine. Reality television has to create drama where there really isn’t any, has to selectively film segments that fit into a particular “story line”, and has to give us a happy ending. Why? Because it’s Lifetime, dammit, and that’s what Hallmark Hall of Fame movies have taught us to expect.

My heart of course went out to the woman with twins, who had lost a fallopian tube in her last miscarriage, and who had gone through 4 IVF cycles to conceive the couple’s 2-year-old son. She had something truly wrong with her, something they could fix. While the others just had TV karma, or happened to walk into the hospital at the right time, this couple actually had real infertility issues.

And that’s the other part of me, the part that is longing for a diagnosis, so I can know my enemy, research my enemy, and take steps to vanquish my enemy. So I can be in control and in action.

Back in 2004, when I received my AVM diagnosis, I had been through rounds of testing. My EEG had come back normal, and I’d been carrying around my MRI films for weeks. (This was, amazingly, before the health systems – even major teaching hospitals – had digitized films, and they made patients, like yours truly, carry around the films from lab to doctor to hospital to surgery. It was, strangely, always windy when I was carrying my brain scans, and they flapped about like a sail as I walked from my car to the medical building.) When I finally had an answer, had an explanation, and one that made sense, no less (Since my AVM was seated on the part of the motor cortex that corresponded to my face/tongue, my tongue seizures at once had validation, seen in graphic detail as a dark blob on my MRI.), I was relieved. I did not cry; I did not withdraw. I excitedly talked with Dr. Hart about the discovery, grateful to have an answer, and one that made sense to me, with my background in linguistics and neuroscience. I particularly enjoyed the ego-boost when Dr. Hart asked, “And what is it you do for a living?” and I replied, “Oh, I teach preschool.” Sure, there was Googling, and fear of the unknown. There were more tests, many tears, and a long unfamiliar road ahead, with an uncertain outcome. But I had factors on my side. At only 23, I had youth on my side. Anatomically, I had location and size on my side. My AVM was close enough to the surface, at an easy-to-access place, and it was only 2cm x 3cm. It was thankfully on the right side of my brain, so my language areas were virtually assured to be unaffected. And I had a doctor on my side, in the form of unabashed faith in a neurosurgeon I respected and trusted.

I won’t say that it was something I could face again, or that it was straightforward relief at knowing what was wrong, and working to fix it. But I will say that a diagnosis can be a welcome thing when one is seeking answers.

The only answers I got today opened up one more question:

So if everything is normal, why aren’t we pregnant yet?

Friday afternoon, I wiggled around all the wiggle-room my schedule has so I could see every single student who is owed a speech session.  Surprisingly, I was focused on my sessions.  I was present, and I was engaged with my students, until the end of the lunch-time session I had with a student.  At that moment, at 12:50pm, I kicked into high panic mode, and did everything I could to get myself out of the building. 

I had a 2pm appointment with an infertility doctor on Friday afternoon. 

Euphemisms are funny things.  I’ve always enjoyed the line in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” when the hostess excuses herself to go to the “euphemism”.  Why the word bathroom needs another euphemism – when it has so many other synonyms to begin with – is beyond me, but I guess that’s the whole point.  Polite conversation, avoiding making prudish people like my mother blush, referring to things on TV that would otherwise be censored: euphemisms serve many purposes.  An oft-unstated benefit, however, is that the euphemisms can sometimes help people who are otherwise too embarrassed or ashamed of their “issues” to seek medical help. 

See: every single commercial or ad made for erectile dysfunction (once simply “impotence,” it is now often “E.D.” or “performance concerns”),  urinary incontinence (“Do your pipes leak?”), and herpes (“outbreaks” sounds tons nicer than “sexually transmitted infectious viral blisters”).  Yet if these polite terms for otherwise embarrassing conditions help people have the “Detrol discussion” with their doctors, then who am I to question the advertisers’ methods?

Beyond embarrassment or shame, there are also those who are reluctant, diffident, and, shy about any supposed conditions.  There are those like me who discuss their medical issues with so few people that tongue seizures and cranial malformations can go undiagnosed for 8 years.  I know I am not alone in my struggle, too, with acknowledging the seriousness of something, particularly something unknown.  For me, calling the doctor with a complaint, or making an appointment for a condition I would tend to minimize, deny, or place on a back burner makes it real.  Once I am sitting in an office, face to face with a doctor who is about to take me very seriously, it forces me to take myself seriously.

Maybe the euphemism of “fertility” helped me breach that last obstacle to seeking help.  I finally called to make an appointment, the names of specialists firmly gripped on a referral in my hand, and was told that the doctor only sees new “infert” patients at 11am.  Would I have called if that slip of paper in my hand said “infertility” instead of “fertility”?  It’s not even so much a euphemism as a careful wording. 

In my line of work, we speak all the time of a child’s strengths and challenges.  We reframe “weakness” into challenge, or we talk about areas needing support, as in, “Johnny can understand a grade level story given decoding support, reframing, use of a story plot map, and one-on-one discussion with a teacher.”  No longer is it said that “Johnny is not reading on grade level,” but it gives the level of support and scaffolding necessary for him to be able to read on grade level, and thus we avoid the dreaded “not”. 

So, too, did my referral avoid the dreaded “in-”, a Latin prefix meaning, of course “not”.  Like the students I work with on a daily basis, I, too, am in need of support.  If fertility, like reading ability, is on a continuum of independence and intervention, then I am looking at it optimistically.  I am choosing the view that we may need some support to become pregnant, rather than needing intervention because of infertility.  Which framing do you think will help more women/couples make the difficult phone calls so they can face awkward conversations and pursue challenging tests and treatment? 

After waiting in near panic for a half-hour in a tiny exam room with only “TIME” and “Family Fun” magazines, I finally met the doctor.  I have a list of a half-dozen tests and procedures that await me/us in the coming month.  I am terrified of what we may find, and what we may not find.  I am concerned about the long road ahead, but I am acting bravely.  More important, I am acting.  I am no longer paralyzed by the fear of labels or acknowledging what is wrong.  I am addressing whatever “challenges” or “weaknesses” or “shit-rotten luck” has faced Mr. Apron and me in the last 18 months, and we are going to kick its ugly hairy infertile ass.

No euphemism needed.