I decided to delete the essay I just posted about my current job search. While I think that many people, particularly mothers, can relate to the angst of going back to work full time after time away from the office-based workforce, I decided that it was not prudent to write and share about a job search process while I’m in the thick of it.
I may edit the post and re-publish it, or I may share it again after I’ve made some decisions about future work. In the meantime, I feel that it would be wiser to keep my ever-changing feelings about full/part time/remote/hybrid job opportunities closer to the vest.
To everyone on the job hunt in this season of perpetual pivots, I salute you.
When I’m lying flat, stretched out like a starfish on our king sized bed at night and trying to fall asleep in the cool dim of my bedroom, I imagine I can hear my ovaries crusting over, disintegrating, and blowing in a puff of breeze into the night sky.
I beg my body for just a little more time. One more month. Maybe three. I’ll do the fertility yoga. I’ll drink the fertili-tea. I’ll get the acupuncture. I’ll take the acrid herbal “uterine health” capsules and pour the rest of my cold brew down the drain.
At 43, I know that the pregnancy ship has almost certainly sailed. Part of me thinks I could swim out and catch it if I just tried a little harder. I could do the special diet and the supplements of dubious origin. I could lay face down on a table every week and get embroidered with acupuncture needles. I could get up every morning while my family sleeps and do the Yoga for Fertility DVDs. I could take my temperature before rolling out of bed each day and skim my cervix for “egg white consistency” mucus a few times each month. I could probably even get my husband on board with cringy, unsexy, hyper-scheduled sex. I did all of those things and more to conjure forth my daughter. I could do it again.
I don’t really need to entertain this To Do list. The helpfully depressing charts and graphs on every fertility related website all tell me that at 43, I have a 10% chance of conceiving with my own eggs in any given month, and a 50% chance of miscarriage even if I do manage to find one good egg to meet up with one stalwart sperm. IVF at 43 offers similarly low odds of success. My chances are very, very slim. But my grandmother gave birth to her sixth baby when she was 44, so, for the record, geriatric pregnancy is not unprecedented in my family.
I have baby fever, so menopause must be just around the corner. My uterus is clawing at me from the inside in its last sputtering gasps for life, desperate for some assurance of her relevance and evergreen utility. She and I have our toes at the very edge of that fertility cliff, and we both know we’re about to be pushed off. My hormones conspire to wring one more baby out of me in panicky desperation. After years of pregnancy ambivalence, my abdomen cranks into a tight knot as I shove my cart through Target and see the moms with their buzzy broods. A ruffly lemon print onesie inflicts a stab of actual pain in my eyeballs. Every pregnant belly and every mom and baby stroller combo in the neighborhood feels like a personal insult.
I’ve been almost perfectly content with one child for all six years of her life. The thought of another pregnancy or another screamy, sleepless new baby were not appealing to me at all, even if the idea of a sibling for my one kickass daughter has been pretty tempting. She is a brilliant bright light, and I’d love to give her a partner in crime, and someone to talk smack about her messed up parents with when she’s an adult.
But another baby? I was pregnant three years ago and miscarried in the first trimester. We weren’t really trying – in that, I was not doing my To Do list of fertility-boosting semi-science or scheduling sex. Somehow, I got pregnant anyway! At 40! And was excited and terrified for about three weeks. When I realized I was miscarrying, I was 70% heartbroken and 30% relieved. I wasn’t most afraid of birth complications or genetic abnormalities or even the increased chance of multiples (I was definitely worried about those things, but vaguely). No, I was saliently terrified that I would gain weight with this second baby and I wouldn’t be able to lose it. When I imagined my post-40 postpartum, I saw the specter of a person who was bigger than I could emotionally or psychologically handle.
When I lost that pregnancy and I admitted to myself that my fear of weight gain was bigger than my fear of much more dire health risks of “advanced maternal age”; that was my fat-phobic Come To Jesus moment.
Mentally wrestling with the miscarriage and my warped view of my body and my deep, deep fear of weight gain was the catalyst for my first efforts towards body acceptance. It has not been fast or easy or linear work. I haven’t “arrived”.
Bet here I am, three years later, ovaries crusting over, exerting real daily effort to appreciate the body that I have no matter what size my stretchy jeans. Today I feel ready to confront that fear of weight gain and just do the whole damn Get Pregnant thing, but it’s too late. If ever you need a cautionary tale for how internalized fat phobia can screw up your actual life, let me be your case study. This body has carried me through a lot, and I’m grateful. The body I have today – my real one, not an imaginary diet-culture-infused smaller one – is pretty great. I wish I had realized that much earlier.
My daughter’s birthday is coming up, so I decided to dust off this piece I wrote about her dramatic entry into the world. It’s edited for length and ancient type-os.
Happy birthday, kiddo of mine. I sure do love being your mom.
Somewhere around the end of my first trimester, I started looking into natural birth classes. I had talked to a lot of friends who had had unmedicated, low or no-intervention births. I had seen “The Business of Being Born“. I had read about Ina May Gaskin. Heck, I had even attended a friend’s home birth. I believe that women’s bodies know how to have a baby, and in many cases, they can do so with very little medical intervention. I liked the idea of a home birth in theory, but my general anxiety prevented me from exploring that path too enthusiastically.
I chose a midwifery practice with an OB who would attend to any birth that got medically complex. We hired a doula. I researched hospitals with good reputations for supporting natural labor and have low c-section rates, and options like water birth. I wanted to labor at home as long as possible and then go to the hospital when active labor really got going. In order to do that, I knew we needed to educate ourselves about laboring at home and get serious about prep work.
Les and I attended a Bradley Method childbirth class together and loved it. We both felt informed, empowered, supported, and eager to meet our baby. Throughout the 10 week course, we were coached with strategies to keep the pregnancy and delivery low-risk: proper nutrition, exercise, stretching, relaxation and massage practices, and safe ways to get labor going if I went past my due date.
On the very first day of our Bradly class, our instructor handed out sheets of paper and boxes of crayons and invited us to draw our Ideal Labor and Delivery.
Here’s what Les drew for us:
Home as Long as Possible (distressed chihuahua) Baby doesn’t arrive in transit Three Pushes and OUT!!! (Medical team behind us that didn’t need to do anything)
We were also encouraged to write a Birth Plan. A Birth Plan is the politely-worded document you hand to your Labor and Delivery nurses when you check in, along with a box of chocolates and a sweet smile. Your Birth Plan outlines your earnest requests for unmedicated labor. Since the vast majority of women expect and want to use pain medication immediately or almost immediately upon getting to the hospital, the Birth Plan is intended to get everyone on the same page about your preferences and your wish to avoid medications and unnecessary restrictions on your labor strategies.
I want to go on the record that I don’t judge women who want or use pain meds. There is no “right way” to have a baby. I do think that you should have options, and pursue the path that gives YOU the most confidence, peace, and security as you gear up to meet your new family member. For me, that path was to try for a natural, unmedicated labor.
Our Birth Plan was two typed pages, with separate sections for Labor, Delivery, Emergency Care, and Baby Care. It included requests like:
Our wishes for a natural birth are respected and drugs will not be offered unless an emergency arises.
Jill will be free to walk, change positions, and use the bathroom as needed, including laboring in the shower/tub and use of a birthing ball if available.
Jill prefers not to have an IV; she will be allowed to eat and drink during labor, as desired, to maintain energy and hydration.
Medical induction will be avoided, including stripping of membranes, amniotomy, Cervadil, and Pitocin.
Labor will be allowed to progress at a natural pace.
The Plan went on in that fashion for the full 2 pages. I had given it to our midwife, and she had sent it on to the hospital. I also had a hard-copy in my hospital bag, right next to the bag of fancy chocolate bars to hand out as a thank you to the nurses who would have to put up with my screaming, tub-laboring, eating and drinking and walking to the bathroom-self for who knows how many hours. We were as “prepared” as we were going to be. Now we just had to wait for labor to get going.
About that Plan
I have to say, after the first trimester of non-stop nausea, my pregnancy was not anywhere near as gruesome as I expected. I felt pretty good most of the time. I continued working part time, and even worked on my due date. I never had any Braxton-Hicks or real contractions. My midwife practice recommended you come in for a check up on your due date if you haven’t had any signs of labor yet, so I showed up on my due date hoping they could tell me what was going on in there. They hooked me up for a non-stress test, and I laid back in the Lay-Z-Boy with a stack of magazines and a big bottle of water and chilled out for about 30 minutes with Baby Girl kicking away.
The midwife came in to read the test results, and got a bit of a furrow in her brow. “Baby’s heart rate is not quite what we’d like to see at this stage. It could be we just tested at just the wrong time, so if you have time, you could stay for another test or come back later today to re-test. The heart rate is still technically within the “normal” range, but it is pretty different from the other 4 non-stress tests you’ve had already. You may just want to go to the hospital for an ultrasound, just to be safe.”
*** Somewhere in the distance, I should have heard the bzzzzzzcrunchchompzzzzchompcrunchzzz of our Birth Plan in the paper shredder***
I called the hospital from the parking lot, and they could not get me in until the next day. Ok. Cool. I’m sure everything is fine. The midwife would have told me if I needed to go to the hospital immediately, right?
I went to work the next day, and then drove calmly to the hospital, checked in calmly, and rested in the dark room with the ultrasound tech as she chatted about babies and baby girls. She, of course, said nothing about what she was seeing on the screen. I had to wait for a doctor for that.
The doctor, who was the on-call OB at the hospital that day, came bounding in a few minutes later with a strained smile on her face. This was her opening line: “Are you ready to meet your baby?!?! We’re going to induce you today!”
I thought she was in the wrong room.
“I’m sorry, what’s going on?”
“We’re going to induce you today!”
“But what is going on?”
“You have zero fluid left in your amniotic sac. Like, none. Did your water break?”
“I’m pretty sure I would have noticed that.”
“Have you been leaking fluid?”
“I’m pretty sure I would have noticed that, too.”
“Well, in any case, your baby is in distress. You are going to be induced. I have a call in to your OB and I’m just waiting to hear back from him. Call your husband, and ask him to get your stuff together. We’re going to admit you. The nurse will take you down to Labor and Delivery.”
She walked out, and I sat there, stunned and crying alone and still not sure what was going on, or just how much distress my baby was in. I was clearly in a whole lot of distress, but the OB was in and out of the room in under five minutes.
I called Les. I told him to take his time and do what he needed to do and have dinner and everything, because I was just going to be sitting somewhere waiting for some new plan to unfold. I texted our doula, and told her that the nurses said that “nothing would really get going until the morning”. She thanked me for the heads up, and told me to keep her posted. This is when I found out that the OB who is part of my midwife practice was out of town. They would assign someone on-call. I prayed it was not the bizarre, coldly chipper woman I had just met. (It was not, thank God).
Let’s fast-forward a bit, shall we?
They started the induction at 6:30pm, and started the actual Pitocin around 9:30 that night, so I could “sleep through the early contractions”. If you’ve ever had Pitocin, you are cackling at that suggestion.
Les slept uncomfortably in the fold out chair next to the bed. I writhed around and prayed most of the night. By morning I was really starting to feel the contractions, but I couldn’t enact our pain coping plan because I was hooked up to a bunch of monitors to keep track of Baby Girl’s heart and my blood pressure, plus the Pitocin drip and an IV of antibiotics that I needed because I had spiked a fever. I was essentially bed-bound, though they did help me get everything on a portable pole so I could walk the halls a bit while the contractions were still walk-throughable.
Here’s the part where I call my doula to let her know it was time to rock and roll, and find out that she AND her back-up doula are BOTH AT OTHER BIRTHS. Yep. Two other clients went into labor in the 12 hours since I texted her. This is the part where I started to weep.
Les gets the brilliant idea to call our Bradley teacher for help. There were 2 doulas-in-training in our class, one who had just finished up her certification a couple of weeks ago. We knew her. We liked her. We said a prayer that somehow, miraculously, she would have instant access to child care for her own two small children, and would be overjoyed to come to the hospital for God Knows How Long with zero notice. Guess what? She was, and she did. I cried with gratitude.
And for the next 4 hours or so, I pretty much just cried, screamed, mooed, and begged for help as the Pitocin ramped up and tore through me like lightning. I couldn’t move from the bed where I was tethered to all the machines and monitors. The midwife checked me, and I was only 3 cm dilated. Three centimeters after almost 18 hours of Pitocin. I screamed the kind of scream you scream when you have already exhausted your energy reserves and you have made no progress. The midwife gently suggested that perhaps it was time for an epidural. I hugged her and shrieked YES!!! PLEASE! GIVE ME AN EPIDURAL! She knew, and I knew, that someone had to give me permission to surrender to the fact that My Plan was toast.
Sweet Relief. I felt nothing from the navel down. They could amp up the Pitocin as much as they wanted, I couldn’t feel a blessed thing. Even Les rubbing my legs felt like a strange, not-quite-sensation. Glorious. Les and I said a prayer of thanks for pain medication. I labored for what felt like a thousand more hours, but it was probably more like 8.
Here’s what you need to know about those hours of labor. Baby Girl’s heartbeat was ALL OVER THE PLACE. They did not want me to progress too quickly, for fear that that would stress Baby Girl out even more. My bag of waters eventually broke, but, as expected, there was no fluid in it, only meconium. Another sign of Baby Distress.
The Neonatologist came in to kindly and gently break the news that I could not have immediate skin-to-skin with her, could not nurse her right away, could not let the cord pulse, Les couldn’t cut the cord… the NICU team would take her as soon as she was born, and I would not get to hold her until she was stable. Les could go with her to the NICU if he wanted. Tear the entire “Immediately After Birth” section out of my Birth Plan and set it on fire.
After what seemed like days, I was finally 10cm and ready to push. How do you push out a baby when you cannot feel your lower half? My midwife used verbal and visual cues to help me focus my energy to the right place. The OB who was assigned to us turned out to be incredible. Totally and completely sent by God. I liked him even better than my regular OB, and he and my midwife were a great team. It was a good thing, too, because after an hour and a half of pushing, they decided that Baby Girl needed to come out RIGHT NOW.
The OB explained their concern for her heart rate, and how long she was in the birth canal, and suggested a vacuum. Bring it, I said, I want her OUT. Give me all the interventions. The NICU team was standing by in the room with their special baby bed and equipment, Les was holding one of my awkwardly splayed legs, my doula had the other, the OB, Midwife, and at least 3 nurses were down near the Business End. They attached the vacuum to her head and informed me I had 3 contractions to PUSH THIS BABY OUT, or I would need a c-section.
I had roughly 15 people cheering me on as I pushed. Have you ever been naked in a room with 15 cheering people? Naked with your legs hoisted up to your armpits? That’s delivery. It was a nail biter. The OB told me to push like I was turning myself inside out. On the third push of the third contraction, with a room full of people shouting “YOU CAN DO IT! ONE MORE PUSH!”, I felt her head come out. “ONE MORE PUSH!” yells the doctor. And out came the rest of her. I opened my clenched eyes just in time to see my beautiful, bloody baby stare at me with her huge eyes and start screaming. I collapsed as they whisked her away to the NICU team.
They were able to get her stable right there in the room, and, thank God in Heaven, and let me hold her for a few minutes before they took her to the NICU and got her started on her monitors and IV antibiotics. At the end of 27 hours of anxiety, determination, surrender, and plans being shot to hell, I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for modern medicine, pain medication, interventions, and highly-trained professionals who are compassionate, skilled, and empathic (let’s just forget about that first horrendous on-call OB). We survived. Les was a rock-star. My back-up back-up doula saved my sanity. And our feisty, skinny, wide-eyed little girl was worth every single second.
This is an excerpt from the essay I wrote and workshopped in my writing class this summer. It is the foundation essay to the essay collection I hope to finish and publish.
I didn’t know my mother kept a diary. I discovered it in a stack of books perched on the crowded nightstand in the upstairs bedroom of her house. A bedroom she had not been able to reach for months, her body unable to summit the staircase. She had been living entirely on the first floor the year before she died, and she had been dead for over a year when I found the diary. My siblings and I had finally started to clean out the house that she and my dad had built together; sorting 30 years of life into Dumpster, Donate, Sell, Keep.
My sister sat on the floor in front of a heap of wrinkled clothes she had pulled from mom’s dark brown carved-wood dresser. “I think this is mom’s diary. What should I do with it?” I handed my sister the purple hard-back, but she waved it away without looking up. “Don’t read that, Jill. It’s private.” I wordlessly tossed it onto the bed beside me and moved on to the rest of the stack. When my sister dragged a white garbage bag full of stained t-shirts and snagged hosiery to the dumpster, I lurched for the book and sat down on the floor with my back against her bed. The blood throbbed in my ears as I cracked open the spine and leafed through the entries. The daughter reading her mom’s diary, hands sweaty, expecting to find notes about her marriage or my dad’s illness and death, or my meddling grandparents, or me or my siblings. I expected her diary to look like mine – chronicles of heartbreaks and everything I couldn’t say out loud, with a few private joys woven in to hold it together. Waves of grief, guilt and curiosity trembled through me as I flipped through the pages. There were only twenty or so entries spanning over a decade. None were more than a paragraph long.
Please, God, help me lose some weight. I don’t want to be like this anymore.
Went to Weight Watchers tonight. It feels more doable this time. They’ve changed their program since the last time I tried.
Shortly after she completed her chemo she wrote:
Well, the Lord works in mysterious ways. All those years asking God to help me lose weight. Looks like the chemo has finally helped with that! Be careful what you wish for.
Nearly every entry was about her weight or her body shame or a new diet she was trying. Prayers scribbled in exhausted script. “Please, God, help me have some self-control. Please, God, help me lose some weight.” My dear mom had suffered so much, and the only griefs spilled into her diary were sorrows over her weight and failed diets. My heart tore wide open and I gulped back a sob. The sharp sting of this breach of her privacy compelled me to run the book out to the rust-orange dumpster and hurl her secrets over the container’s wall into the tangle of broken lawn chairs and mouse-chewed craft supplies. I never told either of my siblings what I had read.
I never thought of my mom as “fat” when I was growing up. She was soft and mom-sized. She shopped for clothes in the plus section but seemed to me to be similar in size to many of her peer moms. She was always on a diet. Weight Watchers, Slim Fast, Bible-based diets, soup and Special K diets. She never really lost any weight. My dad made relentless commentary about what she cooked and ate.
Do you really think you need seconds?
None of us really need dessert every night, you know.
Is that on your diet?
I saw the pain in her eyes even though she never retorted. “Probably not” she’d sigh.
My dad was dying, slowly, of Type 1 diabetes, which is the type that has nothing to do with how much you weigh or brought about by what you eat but is rather a ruthless genetic glitch. He had been managing the disease with a strictly sugar-free diet and daily insulin injections since he was five years old. He was also taking lithium for bi-polar disorder, which was still called Manic Depression in the 80s. His life depended upon careful label reading and strict sugar avoidance. He lived on meat, baked potatoes and Diet Coke. He occasionally indulged in strawberries or a swig of beer when his brothers were in town, but only if he was at home where he could check his blood sugar and stab another hit of insulin if needed.
When I was 14, he was let go from his job as a computer systems analyst because he couldn’t physically sit at a desk all day or type. Diabetic neuropathy in his fingers made it impossible to feel the keys of his keyboard. He was eventually granted permanent disability and stayed home all day for the next nine years, propped up in his brown faux leather recliner at first, and eventually a home hospital bed. By the time I was 18, he had only five modes: sleeping, yelling, laughing, crying, or watching M.A.S.H.
His comments to mom were, I believe, rooted in love and concern for her but mixed with vanity, jealousy over an abandon with food he had never experienced, and full buy-in to patriarchal, capitalist norms about what a woman’s body is allowed to look like. He was a good man, addled by disease and mental illness. He was a good man, who policed my mother’s food intake and bemoaned her inability to return to her svelte pre-baby body.
I’ve gained fifteen pounds since my daughter was born five years ago. Fifteen new pounds since the round-the-clock breastfeeding of a struggling newborn and the bleary nineteen months of sleeplessness that followed as my babe woke every two hours to eat. I had to oblige her. “She’s right at the edge of falling off the growth curve” her pediatrician told me. “You can switch to formula if it’s too much for your body”. I did supplement with formula, but kept drawing her to my breast, over and over, throughout the long nights. The lactation consultant didn’t find anything amiss with my breastmilk, or her latch. “She’s just tiny. She can only hold so much at a time in that tiny tummy”. She all but refused to eat solids, so I felt compelled to keep going despite the crushing exhaustion. She needs it. She’s so small. And also, feeding a hungry human from your body burns a shit ton of calories. I felt free to eat almost anything I wanted.
The medical establishment concludes that the “typical Western diet”, obesity, and low levels of exercise all increase your risk factor of developing colon cancer. I can’t “get” Type 1 diabetes, but because my dad had Type 1 and my grandmother had Type 2, I am at higher risk for Type 2, which is commonly believed to have a strong link to obesity and visceral fat that pads your organs around the waist. I’m predisposed to at least two lethal diseases whose trigger seems to have at least something to do with what you choose to eat. On the other hand, years of data shouted by the anti-diet, body positivity folks say that diets don’t work, almost always do more harm than good, and that weight has less of a correlation with health than the patriarchy wants you to believe. The conflicting science haunts every grocery list, every meal plan, every daily decision about what to put in my mouth.
My new fifteen pounds snuck up on me over the last three years because I kept eating whatever I wanted even after I stopped breastfeeding. My husband doesn’t comment on my weight or what I choose to eat, but despair over the soft cushion of my middle keeps me awake at night. I read anti-diet-culture manifestos and try to buy into intuitive eating and body positivity. Every day, I hold up the genuine urgency of accepting my body and setting a better example for my daughter and weigh it against the deep, deep fear of succumbing to the colon cancer that took my 59 year old mother while I still desperately needed her, or the diabetes complications that ultimately took my dad at 51. I want to confidently stake my tent in the anti-diet and body positivity camp, but I never get there. The tangle of fear at my feet trips me. What if the medical establishment is right? What if the unbridled bloom of my belly triggers a deadly disease? What if my lack of self-control leaves my young daughter motherless? What if there is a limit to my husband’s solidarity with my self-acceptance? What if I, like my mother, just don’t want to look like this anymore? If I get a terrible disease that I could have prevented, all eyes will be on my waistline. I want to love my body, but I also want to control it.
I am the unbeliever who lies awake at night, worried that she might be wrong about hell.