It wouldn’t be a pregnancy of mine, if I didn’t terrorize a triage resident

A week ago, I started experiencing extremely strong Braxton Hicks contractions that I recorded as coming every 3-5 minutes for over an hour. On the advice of my doctor I made my way to labor and delivery to have them monitored. Because of their strength and frequency the Labor and Delivery nurses thought surely I’d be having our baby boy that evening, but after my examination the on call doctor told me the contractions weren’t causing me to dilate any further and she was sending me home.

I burst into tears.

This would be less embarrassing if this were my first child instead of my second, or if this exact same scenariohadn’t occurred with my first babe. In the midst of my blubbering it was impossible to explain that I wasn’t upset, perse, about going home – in fact, I had no interest in having my baby early, actually, I was just concerned I wouldn’t know when actually to return to labor and delivery.

“Come back when your pain is a 10 out of 10,” the resident said, backing away. It’s something the nurses reiterated, and a measurement I knew to be preferred by the hospital at which I plan to deliver – the hospital performs over eleven thousand deliveries a year and has two floors expressly dedicated to delivering babies – its capacity makes it one of the premiere mother/baby hospitals in the nation but also means little time can be wasted on the Braxton Hicks contractions of an reactive second time mom-to-be.

I left triage a hormonal, sobbing mess, trying to explain to Ian that I was crying because I felt silly, and because I was concerned I wouldn’t know exactly when to return to the hospital – I wasn’t crying because my baby boy hadn’t been born yet. I managed to calm down by the time I got home, relieve my friend who was babysitting Grace, put Grace to bed, and eat dinner before I could laugh at myself, even a little bit.

“Waiting until the pain is a ten out of ten before going to the hospital is just so, so fucked,” I said to Ian. “In what other instance would any patient be advised to do that? You wouldn’t advise someone with chest pains to wait for the pain to grow to a ten – definitely not a cancer patient. You wouldn’t advise someone with a gaping wound to wait, either, or a post-surgical patient. But laboring mothers have to wait until they truly believe their contractions are 10/10 on the pain scale before heading to the hospital.”

“When you say it like that, it does sound ridiculous,” Ian agreed.

Over the course of the last week, it’s dawned on me more and more why this scenario bothers me more than it did the first time around. It bothers me because I know just how badly laboring contractions can be, and with no family in the area and Grace to consider, I feel like waiting until my pain is a ten out of ten to head the hospital means my judgment might be compromised when it comes to making sure Grace is properly cared for. Oh, we have a wonderful, dependable list of friends ready and waiting to take her into their homes, or come into ours, should I go into labor before my parents arrive to help, but friends can never be quite the same as family and Ian and I have discussed the suddenly very real possibility that he could miss the birth of his son if the stars don’t align and my labor begins prior to my mom and dad’s arrival. It is – intensely nerve wracking – to prepare for my son’s birth without the benefit of family in the city.

And, of course, I REALLY hated the pain of labor last time, and our baby’s due date draws nearer that pain becomes more and more of a reality for me! I’ve been debating whether or not to get an epidural but I think I probably will this time, with the hope of the possibility of enjoying delivering my baby instead of desperately clutching Ian, claiming I knew it would hurt but I never realized how much!

So this is where I sit, in the middle of January, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our baby boy but hoping he doesn’t come before my parents can get here and, if we are being completely honest, maybe not before I finish the first book of Game of Thrones,either.

Starting the New Year Off Right – First Bullet Post of 2014

I had really hoped to write at least one or two more blog posts before the conclusion of 2013, but a confluence of events, beginning with a sinus infection for me, morphing into a really rough illness for G, and then a stomach virus (me), combined with family visiting from afar, meant that many things had to take a back seat at the end of the year. For the first time in my life as a grown-up, my Christmas decorations are still up (I usually take them down on New Year’s Eve), many Christmas cards are scattered about the the house, unsent, and we aren’t as prepared for this baby boy as I would ideally prefer although, certainly, if he were to be born today he’d have everything he needs. My brain feels rather cluttered, but there is nothing like a bullet blog post to organize my thoughts!

* Despite concerns I presented in this blog weeks ago, our Christmas was absolutely lovely. I could say it didn’t “go” as smoothly as I had hoped, but by that I mean such *small* things – like, we didn’t make it to Christmas Eve service because family members faced such travel struggles simply getting to us that by the time everyone was under one roof, we didn’t want to leave each other. I got to step back and watch G begin to really form relationships with her grandparents and her aunts and uncles, and I loved every minute of it. Our holiday was full of cooking and relaxing togethers and a little lighter on traditional Christmas activities than usual, but I know it is one I will remember positively for the rest of my life, which, after our last few family holidays, is really such a joyous statement to be able to make.

* Last year, my main New Year’s resolution was significantly improved fiscal responsibility. I did fairly well in this area for several months but things sort of fell apart in October during my mother in law’s stay with us when my purse was stolen and I had to put a fraud alert on my account and our bills got messed up, only to be quickly followed by my account being screwed up thanks to the Target breach as well. On the plus side, we paid off a couple of bills, one of my student loans will be paid off this month, we made significant improvement on our house, and paid for most minor crises (car troubles, house troubles) with cash. We also saved money for Christmas and even had a small bit leftover! On the negative side we still carry credit card balances and I don’t feel like I have good sense of budget – I also feel like the bill-related paper work in our house is ludicrous, so this is an area I plan to concentrate on again in 2014 with renewed vigor.

*For a long time, I beat myself over the state of our finances. I felt this was one area we should constantly be doing better than we were and I wrapped up parts of my identity in in the way other people wrap up their identity with their weight. Ian has helped me settle down about this somewhat, pointing out that we paid for most of our educations ourselves and we chose to have kids – two separate choices many of our friends and family haven’t made. We prioritized education and are still paying for that priority, but I have absolutely no regrets about it – and I wouldn’t change motherhood for anything in the world. To that end, instead of constantly choosing to look at our financial situation and think we don’t have enough, I’m instead working on changing my attitude and offering thanks when I handle our finances – thanks that we can afford a home and children and our bills. Coach bags, diamond earrings and extravagant vacations might not be a part of our lives, but our lives are infinitely rich and blessed and gorgeous. Changing the way I look at money has actually made me quite a bit better with it – a skill I hope to build on in 2014!

*Other than that, my only resolution for this year is more of a mantra than anything else: day by day. I intend, quite simply, to take this year day by day. Knowing what kind of chaos a newborn can bring, I really want to focus this year on establishing, in the words of our pediatrician, our family’s “new normal.” I’ve given myself permission to cease worrying about postpartum weight loss or my writing or my career for one full year and instead concentrate on the growth of our family from three members to four. If we rebound particularly well and I have the focus and energy to move outside of this mantra then I absolutely will, but if I don’t that’s okay too.

*Which brings me to this blog. When I started this space this time last year, I did so needing a more anonymous space from which to write. I shared my old blog with too many friends and family members over the years and gradually began writing from a place of fear (what will my mother think if I reference my past smoking? What will my cousin think of my interpretation of our uncle’s death? Etc) I posted 34 times over the course of the year and while it was difficult in a way to leave my previous, somewhat established blog and watch much of my readership collapse, it’s been a wonderful decision overall. My readership here is steadily, quietly growing, I am able to experiment with subjects I want to write about (some succeed, some fail) and I’m able to use the blog to write around the edges of my life. It is tempting to create some lofty ambitions for this space in 2014 – I have so many ideas – but whenever I start ruminating on those ideas I remind myself day by day. There will be time enough for a loftier blog in the future.

* I started the year off reading Game of Thrones.Initially I thought it might end up being too complex in terms of number of characters and plots happening at once for this pregnant lady’s brain to handle but I decided to go forward anyway and I’m glad I did – parts of it are the tiniest bit campy but otherwise it’s the perfect January read – I enjoy starting the year off reading a “chunkster” and this book completely transports the reader to a different world -I’m glad I finally decided to tackle it.

*My television watching has slowed to a crawl in recent months which is never a bad thing, but I thought I’d give a quick shout out to two programs I enjoyed in the fall – The Black List on NBC and the Crazy Ones on CBS – both excellent shows that continue to uphold my theory you can never have too much James Spader or Robin Williams in your life.

I hope your 2014 is off to a wonderful start, whether you are taking it day by day, like I am, or whether you have larger ambitions for the year. I am looking forward to another year of blogging in this space – thanks so much for reading, commenting, liking and all the other sundry internetish actions we take to show we like one another – we really LIKE one another!

Reading – My Year in Review

I can’t believe it’s already time for end-of-year reviews! 2013 was the fastest year of my life to date – when I was paying bills last weekend I told Ian I had just become used to writing 2013 in the dateline. I’m looking forward to 2014 mightily, however – with it comes the birth of our baby boy and the completion of our family. As his birthday draws closer I am growing more and more eager to meet him, so bring on the end of year bloggage!

This year I felt like I was ALWAYS engrossed in a great book, so I was surprised to find, looking back, that I’ve only read nineteen books this year – my lowest by far since I started blogging and, I imagine, my lowest probably in my lifetime. It’s a good thing I’m not solely a book blogger! The year began with Justin Cronin’s trilogy and hours of time on the couch in January as Ian, Grace and I all convalesced from bad winter colds, and I’m ending it fully immersed in Anne Patchett’s Bel Canto, although it’s probable I’ll finish it and move on to something else prior to the start of 2014. At any rate, here is my 2013 Year in Reading Review:

Book That Kept me up Far too Late At Night – The Passage, Justin Cronin
I’ve been glad to see Justin Cronin remain fairly silent on twitter – I hope that means he’s writing away, completing the final novel in his post-Apocalypse, vampiresque trilogy. I read the first two books at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and am now eagerly awaiting the conclusion. While his vampire-like creations that have taken over most of humanity are the stuff of nightmares, the underlying heart of Cronin’s books carries them forward, and the characters he has created stay with the reader. I’m so anxious to find out what happens to Amy and Peter and Sarah, and all the rest. I imagine a quick skimming of the first two books will be necessary in order to prep for the final read!

Novel that Made Me Realize How Little I Know – Book of the People, Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks continues to amaze me with her ability to combine historical research with a powerful, fictional narrative. I was constantly making notes about subjects I need to learn more about as I read, including Judaism and the Bosnian War (which I thought I was fairly well-versed in until I read this book!). The narrative structure was perhaps a little pat (a criticism I’ve read in other places) but I didn’t care because each story that combined to create the larger narrative was so exquisitely written.

Books That Left Me Wanting More – The Girl Who…Stieg Larsson

I read the final two books in this trilogy earlier this year and found myself so disappointed that they concluded the way they did. Well, not actually sad at the actual ending, but I could have easily followed these characters for another book or two, at least. I want to know what happens with Erika Berger and Mikael and Lisbeth. I suppose their stories could have gone on ad infinitum, and I think it’s really sad Mr.Larsson died so prematurely, never able to enjoy becoming a successful novelist as well as journalist!

Best Book for Better Understanding Obsession – Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling

Unlike Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which was a veritable hit among so many of my friends and family, Kaling’s book was hit or miss. I, however, loved it, and while at first I thought maybe it was because she and I are closer in age than Tina Fey and I are, in actuality I think I enjoyed it so much because of the way it delves into her obsession with comedy from the time she was a young girl. I think I can say I’ve been truly obsessed by two things in my life – theater and writing – but my level of obsession never reached the level of Kaling’s with comedy. The way she began examining how comedy works, from a young age, and followed that obsession through years at Dartmouth and then New York City, is really incredible. She always, always managed to follow what she thought was funny and that obsession has turned into a brilliant career. I’m absolutely in love with her television program “The Mindy Project” which I’ll write about in my next post.

Biggest Surprise of the Year – Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

I have Andi from Estella’s Revenge entirely to thank for discovering this series (although I have yet to get my hands on the second in the trilogy!)- I never would have picked up this time-traveling adventure that BEGINS immediately after WWII and then goes BACK in time if it weren’t for her, but I have to admit this is one of the greatest love and adventure stories I have ever read. I don’t really know how to talk about this book without giving away key details, but if you like historical fiction and/or time travel I think I can guarantee you will love this book. I intend to read the next one very soon

Oh Wait I Take it Back – THIS Might Have Been the Biggest Surprise of the Year – The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
My brother gave me both this book and Freedom during my last pregnancy. He was worried I was “losing my smarts” – as it turns out, if you fall down the morass that is Teen Mom 2 on MTV, nobody cuts you any slack, pregnant or not. I can’t explain why it took me so long to start it but once I did I was blown away by this portrait of the Lambert family. I found this novel terribly funny in spots – heartbreaking in others – but most of all I fell into the lives of Franzen’s characters utterly and completely. Essentially one overriding question drives the entire narrative – will all of the Lambert children make it home for “one last Christmas”? But within that narrative, so much is contained – I am greatly looking forward to reading Freedomin the new year.

Best First Novel – The Dog Stars, Jonathan Heller
I think this novel is a wonderful example of what more first novels should strive to be – thematic, straight-forward story, beautifully written…about halfway in I wanted to quit the book, not because it wasn’t gorgeous or suspenseful, but because of a very specific thing that happens…but it HAD to happen for the narrative to move forward and I quickly came to peace with it. In many ways, I dread a post-Apocalyptic world like the one Heller creates more than I dread the kind Cronin creates, simply because the idea of humanity turning so drastically on one another almost doesn’t feel realistic to me – or maybe it just scares me, who knows – but ultimately this book is a powerful story about what keeps us living against all reason, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a great way to start their reading off in 2014.

As I noted, I read several other books and magazine articles over the course of the year, but these are the books that really stood out to me in 2013. I’ve long since ceased making any sort of reading resolutions since I rarely am able to keep them – I am looking forward to the quietude of January and the time it allows for reading, and I hope after the first several months with my son I’ll hit my reading stride again! I also should have thought to include some of the most successful books G and I have read together over the last year – if I can find time before the year is out I’ll make a top-ten toddler book as well! (Upon re-reading this, it has become terribly clear why I don’t do a ton of book blogging – I basically use the word “love” and an exclamation point and that’s about it. Literary criticism has never been my juggernaut.)

An Open Letter To My Family, in Advance of Christmas

all the easier to write since my family doesn’t read this blog

Dear Family -
Early last week, prior to Thanksgiving but not terribly so, I was listening to the radio as I made a last-minute run to the grocery store for cranberries and cinnamon, and The Little Drummer Boy came on. Now, I know this song is reviled the world over, but I happen to love it for its solemnity, humility and story. A sense of calm came over me and I remembered that yes, of course. It’s time to prepare our hearts for the miracle of Jesus’ birth.

Let’s face it – the holidays can be enormously difficult, emotionally-speaking. We all bring our own baggage to Christmas and, in the case of our family, we don’t see each other very often and so emotions are further heightened because of the distances traveled to see one another. This has resulted, in years past, in some highly combustible situations on all sides that have made many of us Christmas-wary and reluctant to see one another. Since Ian and I are hosting this year, and have hosted for the last several, I thought a few ground rules might help us release some of our issues and embrace the love, instead.

(1.) To both of our mothers: Yes, I know about the loss of cattle in a freak snow storm in one of the Dakotas but I can still afford the price of prime rib for Christmas dinner. Yes, really. No, seriously, I promise. I have a second child on the way for God’s sake – I wouldn’t buy beef if I thought it was going to us in the poor house – I’d whip up a lasagna so fast it would make your head spin. So really, it’s okay. And yes, I realize it might be the last beef any of us eat, ever. Grocery prices these days…

(2.) Which, yes, dad. I realize grocery prices these days are at least in some way related to the clearing of too many forests for ethanol production, or something like that, and while I can’t precisely remember whether or not said ethanol production was supposed to be a positive thing for the environment or not, maybe we should just stay away from this conversation at the dinner table. Heck, for this Christmas, maybe we should avoid topics like whether we really need to see another Clinton in the White House, the haplessness of the Republican House of Representatives, and, I don’t know, gay marriage and abortion altogether. Just at dinner time. Deal?

(3.) On Christmas Eve, the daughter of the house and I will be going to church. Our going to church is not a reflection of what we think of you for NOT going to church – I realize there is a new Hobbit movie out and last minute presents to wrap, and etcetera. See, we generally go to church so Christmas Eve? Sort of a big deal, for us. There is absolutely no need to hem and haw and worry about whether or not you should attend with us – we aren’t judging. And for those of you who we know will definitely be coming with us? Our cathedral is HUGE – we don’t need to arrive an hour in advance for a seat. I promise.)

(4.)These things WILL happen, so we might as well accept them as fait accompli and move on: I WILL cry during Silent Night during Christmas Eve service – this is not a bad thing. My dad WILL get emotional recalling the Christmases he spent in Vietnam – not only is this not a thing, it’s one of the healthier things he does all year. Someone WILL drink too much – one person always, always does. Instead of crying intervention, let’s just chalk it up to exhaustion from travel and/or heightened emotion, and put him or her to bed with love.

(5.) No, I’m not getting rid of alcohol because of the above. Are you completely out of your mind?

(6.) Ian and I are the only children on both sides of the family to have children – our sisters and brothers have chosen to pursue entirely different kinds of lives. We are fully supportive of this because, please, having children is NOT for everyone – I say this with love and earnestness and as someone in the midst of potty-training a toddler who ended up with poop on her face last night and a toddler laughing hysterically at the fact. kids. not for everyone. This situation, however, has created a sort of weird family dynamic wherein G is sort of expected to fulfill the role of sole perfect grandchild at everyone else’s convenience, without significant change on the habits of those around her. Look, I’m not blaming anyone here – but Ian and I have observed far too many high expectations set for her without any real concessions made to the fact that she is a child, a YOUNG child, so the next few items shall be about her – here we go:

(7.) If you want to witness the best your grandchild/niece has to offer, you have to wake up sort of early in the morning – no later than 8:00 or so. Do not come down for breakfast around 11:30 – immediately prior to her lunch and nap time – and expect to be blown away by her sparkling personality and general wit.

(8.) Christmas breakfast will be at 8:30 – present opening will commence immediately afterward. For those of you that have bemoaned this as much “too early,” please see above. Christmas dinner will be at 7, which is our dinnertime, and not at some odd hour like 4 in the afternoon, because, again, schedule + toddler.

(9.) Do you remember that Christmas we all spent in New Orleans, eating and drinking our way through the city? I do too – it was absolutely fantastic and I can’t wait to do it again someday. For now, though, we are more about stockings and Santa and snow and magic so let’s keep the shot-taking in the kitchen. For the younger set – I get it. I wanted to party over the vacation when I was your age as well. You are welcome to do so in our home if you can keep it to the dullest of roars – otherwise, Pittsburgh offers a dazzling array of affordable bars you could relocate to – cab information is on our fridge. Oh, how I miss/don’t miss my twenties!

(10.) Foodies of the family – it is five weeks before I am due to deliver this little boy. I relinquish my kitchen to you without argument. Stir and fret and compete to your hearts’ content – just don’t mess with my grandmother’s tomato pudding recipe or the prime rib. Go forth and be fabulous!

(11.) Our families are flawed, but also full of love. Christmas gives us the opportunity to open our hearts, not only for the miracle of the birth of Jesus, but to love each other better than we have in the past. Let’s concentrate on the love, instead of on our flaws. And, once again, yes, I can afford the price of beef. For now.

Thankful

So, I originally started this post out with this graph:

Last night as I was showering, I found myself momentarily overcome with happiness. Our small family of three had a wonderful weekend -the kind of elastic weekend that stretches inexplicably, allowing for a visit from an out of town guest, one grand sleep-in, staying up late to watch a movie, as well as the weekend chores that must be accomplished when both parents work during the week. Our house was warm, we were expecting some of our favorite friends over for dinner, and I found myself so terribly grateful – grateful for a wonderful husband, my high-spirited, independent daughter and for the little boy knocking around inside me – his constant kicking and stretching a regular reminder of his impending arrival.this is what happiness is, I thought, and I said a spontaneous prayer of thanks. I thanked God for good books and warm beds and for recognizing that while sometimes I want more…more money to travel and decorate my home and spend, spend, spend – my needs have always been easily met.

but as I continued writing, I realized the above graph is really the conclusion (or near conclusion, at any rate), not the beginning, of this post. So I’m going to try this again, with the end as beginning and the beginning as the end.

I’ve struggled a bit emotionally throughout this pregnancy. Not about expanding our family – I am thankful every day to have another child, another baby – for Grace to grow up with a sibling instead of as an only child. Instead, I’ve struggled with other issues – some very concrete and real, like handling the inequality with which my in-laws treat me and realizing I’ll never have the large, loving extended family of my dreams (as a side note, if you ever find yourself thinking it’s a legitimate point to make that “all your boyfriends’ mom and dads LOVED you and would have been thrilled to have you as part of their family) to your husband, it’s time for, at the very least, a nice long walk, although a touch of therapy probably couldn’t hurt either. Other emotions I’ve struggled with are more self-generated and run along the lines of everybody’s life is moving along without me while I sit at home pregnant! I’ve also had to face some very concrete truths about myself and my job, and come to the realization that I am not considered a top-tier talent within my organization. This has been a rather depressing realization, first of all because I feel this is something I’ve battled against my whole life – I’ve always been considered “very good” at whatever I was doing, whether that’s acting or writing or public relations – but never possessed that intangible talent that pushes you to the next level. Second of all, when I consider the amount of hard work and dedication I’ve poured into the my job over the last five years when I could have been leaving at five o’clock and pursuing other interests, well, it’s better to just not go there.

I once had a boss who told me, for working women, there are constantly three “balls in the air” that need to be managed – family, work and health – and at no time do all three of those balls balance perfectly. Receive a promotion to do your dream job? Your dad comes down with cancer. Entire family healthy and happy and getting along? A new vice-president comes in and wants to clean house with the staff. Job and family both rolling along smoothly? Expect a plague of chronic sinus infections with no identifiable cure. It’s just the way life works, she explained – so keep trying to balance those balls and have fun along the way. It’s proven to be one of the truest things anyone has ever said to me, and I still return to her advice on how to get through it all when I find myself muddled – I just try and do the right thing, in each instance, in every day.

What I’ve started practicing, lately, is attempting to breathe, and let go. I want this pregnancy to be my last and plan to take steps to make sure that it is, so I want to make sure I allow myself the time to enjoy these last few months, to revel in the kicks and flips my little boy is capable of performing. I also want to enjoy our time together during my maternity leave, having learned so much from my first one, and I want to take the time to establish our “new normal.” All of this means ignoring two innate instincts – my natural competitiveness that tells me if I can’t break through the glass ceiling in my current position, it’s time to find a new one, and letting go of my need for everyone to be happy (and, let’s face it – for everyone to like me).

I was talking with a good friend about all of this recently – about slowing down, and reprioritizing my life somewhat – she finds herself in the same place. Together, we wondered why we feel so much guilt about our decision to slow down, even spend a little more time at home and less time at work. Maybe it’s because we’ve been encouraged for so long to achieve, we reasoned…you get good grades in school so you can get into a “good” college and pursue your dreams, you then pursue your dreams and bust your ass climbing upward, and for many people this works out really, really well. For others, like my friend and me – well, we see possibility in pausing the insanity for a bit…taking a step back, evaluating where we are and where we would like to go.

This is a pretty big change for me, and one that doesn’t feel entirely natural, but I’ve also found myself opening up more and discovering pure pockets of happiness lately in a way I haven’t in a really long time. For instance, last night as I was showering, I found myself momentarily overcome with happiness. Our small family of three had a wonderful weekend -the kind of elastic weekend that stretches inexplicably, allowing for a visit from an out of town guest, one grand sleep-in, staying up late to watch a movie, as well as the weekend chores that must be accomplished when both parents work during the week. Our house was warm, we were expecting some of our favorite friends over for dinner, and I found myself so terribly grateful – grateful for a wonderful husband, my high-spirited, independent daughter and for the little boy knocking around inside me – his constant kicking and stretching a regular reminder of his impending arrival.this is what happiness is, I thought, and I said a spontaneous prayer of thanks. I thanked God for good books and warm beds and for recognizing that while sometimes I want more…more money to travel and decorate my home and spend, spend, spend – my needs have always been easily met.

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful, not just for having what is, truly enough, but for the ability to recognize that it IS enough, and I’m also thankful for flexibility, and patience, and the moments of time that seem to move too slowly, because they are unusual and precious and provide more opportunity for introspection and thoughtfulness than all fast-moving, on demand quick thinking days and weeks that come before.

I just smelled something like French onion dip

and it changed my whole post for today.

A few short minutes ago, I was one paragraph into writing about Serious Stuff on this blog, like career development and choosing where to live for the next several years. Then someone from a cube or two over decided to open up a package of some food or the other and it smells JUST LIKE FRENCH ONION CHIP DIP and now I can’t think about anything except Ruffles potato chips and French Onion dip.

This is a pretty good example of what this pregnancy has been like for me, overall – I possess a disturbing aversion to the whole food, clean eating lifestyle I tend to enjoy normally and instead gravitate toward non-food as much as possible, and my sense of concentration is pretty well shot, too. I’m not sure what it is about this pregnancy that is creating such dramatic food aversions, but I’ve been this way since the first month. At various times throughout my pregnancy I’ve been able to at least tolerate healthy, wholesome foods – during the summer I gorged on farmer’s market veggies sauteed in olive oil and garlic and served over pasta, and I went through a long period of enjoying veggie sandwiches with avocado, tomato, cheese and mayonnaise, but each time I found a dish that WASN’T a hot pocket or cheerios enjoyable, there was only a finite time for me to enjoy that particular meal until I thought about it too much and suddenly, the smell of fresh veggies simmering in olive oil ended up turning my stomach – the thought of a piece of avocado mushed between pieces of bread necessitating me putting my head between my knees until the nausea passes.

Frozen waffles, however? Ambrosia. Frozen flat bread from Trader Joe’s? There has never been a dish more lovely. I know, of course, this is no way to a feed a baby and so whenever I can manage it I throw a bunch of fruit and yogurt in the blender and give my little guy a powerful bunch of probiotics and antioxidants, and I can manage, for whatever reason, large spinach salads with a variety of toppings, so I do those as often as possible. None of these foods, however, should be confused with actual cravings, which I don’t really have this time around. It’s not that I crave frozen waffles – it’s simply that they are infinitely more tolerable than an omelette made with whole eggs (shudder) and full-fat cheese (gag) ((but American cheese product? Bring it on!!)). Honestly, it’s becoming somewhat embarrassing – a colleague was showing off her lunch one day – a leftover quinoa bake from a wonderful restaurant in Pittsburgh -and it was all I could do not to visibly gag in front of her, even though I have eaten and loved the very same quinoa bake in the past. The grocery store is a veritable land mine for me – my sense of smell is as heightened as it was during my first trimester and I can’t stand spending time in the fish or meat sections, but I have no issue trying to convince Ian of the obvious health benefits of the new cheddar-cheese flavored Texas Toast I spotted.

I’m trying, however, to be a good example for my daughter. I’ve suffered through endless broccoli and green beans at dinner even though I think they might kill me, but can’t bring myself to even consider some of our favorite autumn vegetables (brussell sprouts roasted in olive oil, cauliflower, don’t even get me started on cabbage…) Ian is yearning for a return to my normal appetite, and I am, too.

As if my propensity toward plastic-wrapped plastic food weren’t enough, I’ve turned into a space cadet lately, leaving remnants of my scattered self all around Pittsburgh – a bracelet in a cafe I took off because it bothered me while I typed, my ipad on a city bus (long since gone), my purse in my bosses’ office. I’ve started running through a mental checklist for things I used to remember automatically, like unplugging my curling iron and turning the coffee maker off before leaving the house each day. In the evenings it takes an enormous amount of discipline to turn my attention toward a book instead of staring at my newly painted bedroom walls and wondering what kind of modern day furniture will fit in our Victorian-designed bedroom. I mean, I can barely watch television! Instead of choosing from one of the many programs I tend to enjoy, I endlessly scroll through the dozens of choices while wondering whether it makes sense to start Treme with the third season or not. Actually settling on a show takes a mental discipline I seem to be seriously lacking right now.

So, that’s my dispatch from my corner of Pittsburgh. I want to write about big life topics but whenever I try I end up distracted by the thought of probably Monsato-owned food stuff or and whether or not I should hang proper art on my bedroom walls. I hope my next week’s missive is more meaningful but I have my doubts.

My tips on how not to become a married martyred mommy

I remember one fight my parents had when I was teenager not so much for the content but for something my dad yelled at my mother in the heat of the moment – it went something like this: Oh, just climb up higher on your cross, Mary – because no one can match the sacrifices you make.” It stopped my mom cold – in part, I think, because my father’s mother was the class martyr-type and my mom was doing everything in her power to avoid becoming that way as well. I don’t remember her response but I do remember thinking this remark was terribly funny, and trying not to laugh. The majority of my parents’ fights ended with the decision – regardless of where the checking account stood – to go out for a drink and a burger – water under the bridge, so to speak. They have been married for 40 + years so obviously, this approach has worked well for them.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve witnessed more of the martyr-like behavior many people are capable of, and actively tried to avoid it. It’s so much easier to start “keeping score,” as the priest who married us put it, than it is to to remain open and generous in a marriage – if you have kids, the temptation to “count” what you’ve done versus what your partner has done only increases. But finding virtue and feeling superior based upon your daily to-do list doesn’t make you happy, and it can put a serious dent in your relationship.

One of the more insidious side-effects of martyr-like behavior is how hard it is to dig yourself out of that way of thinking once it starts. It is rare for me to reference one of my former posts in a current one, but as background for the rest of this story, you might want to reference my last post.

A few weeks ago, when our family was going through a particularly stressful period of care-taking for my mother-in-law, and we were trying to balance her surgery and recovery with the rest of our lives, I could feel myself on the verge of martyrdom. Partially because of Ian’s particularly hectic work schedule in October, and partially due to long-determined notions my in-laws hold about gender roles in the household, I found myself doing what felt like way too much – way too much for a normal person, let alone a six and half month pregnant person. I was handling everything from getting up with G in the middle of the night (she was suffering from the stress in the household like all of us were) to cooking dinner to physically caring for my mother-in-law, all the while trying to keep up with my job.

So I did what I thought the most anti-martyr thing to do would be, and turned to Ian and asked for help. In the midst of our struggle, I felt very proud of myself – asking for help instead of accusing him of not doing his share felt very grown-up and smart, marriage-savvy. So I was more than taken aback when he told me in so many words that he was at capacity as well, that he had nothing left to give to the situation. His response seemed so patently unfair in light of fact I had done the hard thing – asking for help – instead of the easy thing – accusing him of not carrying his load.

Friends, it wasn’t our best marriage moment. It’s possible I may have stormed out of the car in the middle of a parking garage, leaving him to park and find me. It’s also possible he was so appalled by my behavior that he DIDN’T follow me. I’ve also heard a rumor that we took over a patient waiting room on his mother’s floor and scared away any other potential patient families with the heatedness of our conversation.

One thing about being married for thirteen years – we’ve developed an excellent shorthand for difficult conversations and within an hour and forty-five minutes had ourselves relatively sorted. We succeeded in avoiding any further, large arguments but didn’t have time to talk things through enough to prevent the spiral of martyrdom thinking I started falling prey to. Every time I had to prepare a proper dinner for Ian’s parents, every time I did a load of laundry that I thought should be Ian’s responsibility, every time G rejected joining us at the dinner table because she could feel the palpable tension, I blamed Ian. It almost felt like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole -I could see what was happening but felt powerless to stop it. I was beginning to feel like my mother-in-law would never get better and our lives would be distilled in this one particular moment forever.

Thank God for those few moments of clarity, when by hook or by crook I was able to pull myself out of my doomsday thinking and realize what was happening. It was during those moments when I was able to refrain from attacking Ian and his family and instead take the proper self-care steps necessary to avoid becoming a married martyred mommy. Here is what I did – I’m sharing them on the theory that they might help people tempted to travel down the insidious score-keeping path to martyrdom.

(1.) I sent out an S.O.S. text to my friends, requesting play dates so G and I could get out of the house. I wasn’t comfortable leaving her at the house, what with my in-laws propensity with leaving blood pressure medication and heating pads around the house. My beautiful, beautiful Pittsburgh friends responded with speed, warmth and understanding and within hours G and I were at our favorite park – she conquering the big kid swings while I cried on my friend E’s shoulder.

(2.) I listened to my mom and relied more on take out and less on preparing dinner each evening. G and I tend to eat dinner alone quite often, especially this time of year when Ian has to attend so many events, and as my pregnancy progressed I grew less concerned with exposing her to new flavors and more interested in broccoli cheese soup, bread and fruit cocktail. But my in-laws are used to a proper dinner every night (and in a way, I get this – in a new world full of rehabilitation and hourly medications, it was the true north they could hang on to) dinner from canned foods wasn’t going to cut it. Instead of relying so heavily on preparing dinner, though, Ian and I instead flooded them with the ethnic flavors from our neighborhood every other day, relying most heavily on the American-Italian for which our neighborhood is known but also throwing Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese their way as well. Sure, this month my pocketbook is a little (okay, a lot) tighter – it kept the dishes to a minimum, gave my father-in-law something to look forward to, and got dinner on the table.

(3.) I stopped working from home. I had permission from my boss to work from home for a few days in order to assist my mother-in-law with bathroom trips and make sure both in-laws knew how to use the coffee maker, the television remote, etc. I also thought it would provide me a little extra time to run the dishwasher and clean down the bathroom. They, however, mistook this flexibility for much more than it actually was. I can’t say I blame them on this – neither of them has ever had the opportunity to work from home so I am sure it is difficult to appreciate the boundaries I needed to set in order to meet my deadlines. I found myself growing more and more frustrated until one day I realized – hey, I have an office. I can go to it. And so I did, and I am certain all of our stress levels dropped considerably.

(4.) I made future plans. I’ve felt a little restless this pregnancy – less inclined to nest and more desirous of evenings out with friends. Some of this has to do with the holiday season, I have no doubt – but I’ve also been missing a bit of the independence I had finally acquired after G turned two. I miss really sweaty workouts – dance classes and hot yoga – that made my body feel like it was returning to itself, and I miss having a couple of drinks with friends over sushi. As I put it to Ian the other day, I’m looking forward to the time when the highlight of my day is NOT getting home from work so I can change into maternity leggings. So now I’ve already had one dinner with one set of amazing friends, and I have another looming with my work friends, and I’m even considering the notion of hiring a babysitter so Ian and I can have a few nights out prior to our second child’s birth.

(5.) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I did not ever let G see my frustration with her grandparents. My own mother had lots and lots of issues with my paternal grandmother, and while I can see now as an adult just how broken that relationship was bound to be from the beginning, I was aware much too early about my grandmother’s preference for her other grandchildren, and how badly she treated my father, and I don’t think I needed to be quite so cognizant at such a young age of such adult brokenness. I believe G’s relationship with her grandparents should develop and flourish without anything but minimal guidance and rule-setting for me (the first two years of her life were guided by the rule – No boats, no bacon, no bourbon before bedtime for the grandparents, if they wanted to spend time with her), and even during periods of frustration, ANY outlet is better than my daughter, when it comes to her grandparents.

I’m not sharing these tips to show off how highly I think of myself, or anything along those lines – rather, I’m sharing them on the chance that other Sandwich Days women are experiencing similar situations, and may not want to travel down the easily accessible, but fraught with peril, path of marital score-keeping.