Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Good Things Happen Too

The past month has taught me something about myself: I struggle to share the positive things in my life. There are a lot of toxic people around me, the sort of people who twist my words and use them to hurt me, and to protect myself I keep a lot of secrets. This habit spills into most of my relationships, but instead of feeling safe I just feel isolated and lonely.

I need to work on this.

In the spirit of getting started, I wanted to share some of the good stuff that has been going on.

Shroomi turned two a few months ago. She’s big, strong and healthy. She can count to 20 in both English and German, and read the corresponding numbers. We’re struggling a bit with the alphabet, but that’s mostly because she doesn’t understand why some of the capital letters don’t look anything like the lower case letters. She is turning into a charming, polite, thoughtful little girl, and I’m absurdly proud of her.

I finally got around to learning French. Once I found a method that worked for me things became much simpler. There is still a lot of work to do with vocabulary, and my pronunciation is probably terrible, but I feel confident to try talking with the natives.

The website that I’ve been building for more than a year is online at www.languagelearning.ninja/. There is an incredible amount of work that still needs to be done on it, but I faced my fear and put part of it up. Users can register, play some of the games, and work with 6 different languages. Originally I was going to work on the language and content side of the project while a programmer I know did the code, and we were talking about bringing a designer on. Working with other people fell through for various reasons, but I still managed to launch by the original date, and with more languages than we originally discussed.

Following on from the previous point, 18 months ago I only knew how to write basic HTML and CSS. Now I can program in multiple languages and I do full stack development on an almost daily basis. I’ve nearly finished two IT units through Open Universities Australia, and for my programming unit I’m currently sitting on a 100% mark. A bit of external validation was just what I needed.

I found a great physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health. Thanks to her I can now go a full week without needing to see a chiropractor for intense pain, and that’s a week full of activity including running, jumping, climbing and baby wearing. My strength is improving daily, and I don’t have to be careful every time I want to do a basic movement. The relief from constant pain has been exhilarating.

We’ve decided to do a bit more travelling. Shroomi and I will spend a month travelling together through Europe before her father joins us for a few more weeks. This trip is going to be a blending of all the success I currently have in my life: my relationship with my beautiful little girl, my increasing health, my passion for language and finding ways to work remotely.

We pay for the tickets tomorrow.

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An Identity Walked Into an Abyss

I was recently discussing the concept of an abyss and chronic illness, and I have been asked to write down what I was talking about. The conversation started with one of my favourite quotes from Nietzsche:

Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.

It translates into the well known:

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.

Our identity is a fluid, continually evolving thing. The different components of our identity rise and fall in importance depending on the context and their relevance, and the roles those components play vary accordingly. There are aspects of our identity that do not change, and there are aspects that come and go. For instance, I have always been and will always be a woman. This is an aspect of my identity that doesn’t have much importance if I am reading a book or playing with the dog, but it becomes critically important if I decide to bring a new life into the world. On the other hand, my identity as someone who writes computer code is relatively new, and will only remain for as long as I continue to write code.

Illness is something that attaches to our identity. If we are infected with a cold, we do not express it in that way; instead we say “I am sick”. It has become an attribute of who we are, with the same phrasing as saying “I am blonde” or “I am hungry”. For most people in most instances, this addition to our identity is removed in a few days, perhaps after a week, and our identity changes again. We say “I am better” or something similar, and are able to replace the negative identifier with a new, positive one.

When illness is not cured, however, we don’t go through the process of restoring our former identity as someone who is not sick. The longer we wear that negative badge, the deeper it presses on us, into us. We are used to shaking off illness in a negligible amount of time, and so this new aspect rises in importance. “I am sick” is a statement that needs to be dealt with now, not in a day, a week, a month or a year. It is more important than identifying statements such as “I play tennis on Tuesdays” or “each year I go hiking through the mountains for a week”.

As illness continues it becomes chronic illness. This is the place where identity begins to suffer. It has been at the top of your awareness for so long that other aspects of your identity are stripped away. How can you call yourself someone who plays tennis on Tuesdays when you haven’t stepped onto the court in six months? Are you really someone who goes hiking through the mountains every year when you’ve told your friends that you will sit this one out?

With every realisation of what we have lost, we step closer to our personal abyss. “Who am I?” is a question that has to be asked. If the only way you can answer this question is to say “I am someone who is sick” then you are staring into the abyss. You have given it too much attention, too much importance, and now it is consuming you.

None of us want to stare into that abyss. It means seeing all we have lost, all that has been sacrificed, and all that might never be again. You realise that “hitting rock bottom” is a myth spread by people who think they were there only because they have no idea of the many things they still have left to lose. But you know, and if you stare into the abyss then you find yourself wondering what else will be sucked into it. As long as you keep breathing, there is still more to lose.

Stepping back from the abyss is the most obvious thing to do, and it is the focus of many programs that are designed to help people with chronic conditions. You might not be able to say that you play tennis on Tuesdays ever again, but you can still say that you enjoy listening to Mozart during dinner or reading XKCD cartoons. It is a conscious process to push the illness down your list of priorities, to see all of the things that remain, and to embrace what is left.

The problem with this type of therapy is that it will never solve the real problem, which is being sick. Life becomes a carefully constructed series of behaviours and habits that provide equilibrium. We hold the stories that we tell ourselves like a talisman to ward off further evil. “If I do all of these things, I can get through the day.” We have stopped fighting the monster, and instead we have struck a deal with it. Consciously ignoring the abyss saves us from its return gaze, but the price is to accept it as an unchangeable part of who we are. For good or ill, we have become the monster.

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My New Standing Desk

After years of discussion and general procrastination, I finally took the plunge and bought myself a standing desk. Today is the first day that I am using it, and I’m already convinced it was the right thing to do.

My original plan for a standing desk had been one built around a treadmill. Standing still isn’t much better than sitting still, and the treadmill would have given me the incidental exercise during the day that I generally lack when I am working. Since the arrival of Shroomi, however, my incidental exercise has risen enormously and my desire for moving objects that little fingers could get stuck in has plummeted. The old standing desk design was out, and I needed something new.

For the last few months I have been working from the back of a tallboy. It has been a nice alternative to my regular desk, but the height on it was a compromise between the height I needed for the keyboard and the height I needed for the monitor. My shoulders were always slightly too high and my neck was always slightly too bent. I couldn’t use the setup for very long before fatiguing.

During the week my partner found the dimensions for the proper setup of a standing desk at iamnotaprogrammer.com. We got out the tape measure and worked out what the numbers would be for my body. He was keen to go with the suggested Ikea solution, but I wasn’t thrilled about it. It’s not that I don’t like Ikea’s products, it’s just that I hate their store design so much that it tends to influence my opinion of what they sell. I kept looking for an alternative that didn’t require going to Ikea.

I went through a few local furniture stores to find pieces I could combine with each other. My initial idea was that I could put one piece on top of the other and bolt them together. Nothing I found fitted this plan, so I changed tactics and decided to look for pieces that I could put beside each other.

Yesterday we realised that my mother’s old filing cabinet was the perfect height for the keyboard component. I’ve wanted to buy a filing cabinet for years, so I decided this was the time. After a quick search online I found the Stilford range. The three drawer cabinet is slightly lower than what I need for the keyboard, but it’s so comfortable that I’m not too concerned about the angle of my wrists. The four drawer cabinet is slightly higher than what I need for the monitor, but this height is also so comfortable that I’m not concerned. Here’s what my new setup looks like:

Standing desk image

Red, because you always want your desk to go faster.

The pair of cabinets cost me $659 at Officeworks, which I was happy to pay since these are bright red and totally hot. No assembly was required, and when I rang the store to tell them I was coming they had them ready at the front door for me to collect. The boxes that they came in are quite sturdy, and my Ikea loving partner has decided that he might use them to make a standing desk of his own. Shroomi has had a great time thumping them, so I need to fill them quickly with something to kill the noise, but they are lockable so I don’t need to worry about her getting her fingers stuck in the drawers or tipping anything onto herself.

Has anyone else tried a standing desk? What worked for you and what did you need to change?

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Old Environment New Pace

The past three months have gone so quickly that it has been difficult to keep up. We left Canberra at the end of June and moved to Melbourne. For me it was just going home, but for my partner and daughter it marked the start of a new chapter in their lives.

Before we had a chance to settle in we were on a plane bound for Germany. Shroomi was seven months old when we landed, and she learned to sit up by herself on the flight. Before we knew it she was crawling and pulling herself up to stand. Two more teeth made an appearance, and a third began emerging when we were in Frankfurt preparing to go home again seven weeks later. She met most of her extended family, attended her first wedding, attended her first funeral, and learned how to form friendships on the streets of France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria and Denmark.

My partner and I broke the paleo diet more often than we could count, and each instance reinforced our decision to begin it in the first place. I was on a rollercoaster of health symptoms that came and vanished as we switched between meals we could control and meals we could not. One day I could run up a flight of stairs while carrying Shroomi and 20kg of luggage, the next I could barely walk along a flat street without puffing.

Our attention turned towards career while we were away, and we began to ask ourselves what type of life we wanted to live and provide for our daughter. Which country did we want to live in? What type of work did we want to pursue? Would particular opportunities be open or closed to us with different choices? How important is extended family when making these decisions?

We came home in August, exhausted from our holiday, and immediately caught a series of nasty winter colds. After a few rough weeks of looking after a sick baby while we weren’t feeling so good ourselves, we began settling down to life in Melbourne. Job applications were written and sent, employers were called, and business plans were written. Shroomi has developed strong bonds with her grandparents and our days are now filled with a different energy to what we knew in Canberra. For the first time as parents we have genuine support, and we are able to turn our attention to things that are much more satisfying than just making it through the day.

It is difficult to comprehend how much has changed. Memories of Canberra are fading quickly and losing their emotional power. So many of our questions have been answered that we can start asking deeper ones. We are once again able to be more than just parents. We have been in Melbourne for a month, and there is a strong feeling of having arrived. There is so much left to do, but for now I am content to rediscover who I am when I don’t have to spend each day worried about the future.

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10kg And Counting

My partner and I are now two months into our paleo diet, and the physical changes have been dramatic. I have already lost 10kg and my partner has lost 5kg. His hair is thicker and my energy levels are higher. The rash our daughter had along her arms and legs has disappeared, and in the past week three different strangers have commented that they have never seen a happier baby.

The diet is going well, but there are definitely things that we need to be aware of and do something about. Specifically, we need to:

  • Tell people that we are eating paleo, and explain what that means. We had a party over the weekend, and our house ended up filled with food that neither of us can eat. In accordance with social rules, our friends refused to take it home with them when they left, because it had been a gift. My partner ended up taking an entire bag of junk food to the office and dumping it in the kitchen. We’re still finding items tucked away in odd places.
  • Cut out the sugar. We’ve done a lot of work to find substitutes for the foods that aren’t included in this diet, and then we’ve gone a bit mad eating them. That we’ve collectively lost 15kg is either a miracle or an indication that our previous diet was atrocious.
  • Be careful about cutting that sugar out. My body is dropping weight faster than I had expected, which is placing a much higher demand on my pelvis because the muscles need to readjust to both the weight loss and also to the birth of our daughter. There is a long list of pelvic floor problems that I would rather not deal with for the sake of dropping a few kilos faster.
  • Work out how to maintain a paleo diet away from home. There are a lot of options to eat out paleo or very close to paleo. We’re about to do a lot of travelling, and I don’t want to get caught in the trap of eating what is available rather than what is healthy.
  • Get more variety into our meals. We’re going through a lot of stuff right now, and looking up new meal ideas is additional work that neither of us is keen to do. The internet is full of delicious recipes, so this isn’t a particularly difficult step.
  • Taste some of our food cravings. I appreciate that this is essentially breaking the diet deliberately, but I am also aware that at this point our cravings are mental rather than physical. At the party we tasted a few things that we have not had for months, and neither of us enjoyed the flavour. Any longing to eat or drink those foods vanished immediately. It is so much easier to resist the temptation of something you don’t like than to resist the temptation to eat something you have nostalgic memories for.

Switching to paleo has been a significant adjustment to our lifestyle, but it was worthwhile. It has been a rewarding journey so far, and I am curious to see where it will eventually take us.

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Back In The Kitchen

Things hadn’t been going well between us, so I decided that Thursday would be a perfect time to extend a peace offering. It was my day off work so that I could go to uni, and I decided that instead of spending my afternoon studying I would spend it in the kitchen. I was in there for quite some time, blending fresh ingredients and spices to create a new taste for dinner. The table was set, an atmosphere had been created, and I was determined that this would be an evening where we could set aside our petty differences and focus on the good parts of our marriage.

When my husband came home from work, he seemed oblivious to the scene I had created. He went straight past the table, where dinner was waiting for him, sat down on the couch and turned on the Wii. After grinding my teeth for a few seconds I decided to be an adult, so I picked up our meals and put them on the coffee table. I sat beside him on the couch and watched him play his game for a little while. Eventually I asked if he was going to eat his dinner.

“I don’t like it,” he said.

“How do you know that?” I asked. “You haven’t eaten any.”

“I could smell it from the front door.”

“Could you at least try it?”

He took a single forkful. His eyes never left the television as he chewed. “Still don’t like it,” he said when he swallowed it. Then he got up, went into the kitchen, and made himself a milkshake.

In that moment, my desire to put in effort took a beating. I had spent more than a year listening to criticism after complaint after whinge about my cooking. If it didn’t come from a packet, he didn’t want to eat it. The hours I had spent tirelessly sourcing fresh and healthy foods, the hours I spent in the kitchen while he was relaxing, and the towers of dishes that he wouldn’t help me with finally took their toll.

Several years have gone by since that moment with my husband. I gave up on my marriage. I gave up on trying hard in the kitchen. I finally believed that I had no cooking talent, natural or otherwise, and that I was better off not exposing myself to the constant ridicule that I expected to receive. Other people reinforced this negative belief by telling new partners that I was incapable of cooking anything, and it didn’t help when those stories came back to me. Ever error was magnified beyond sense or reason, held up as further proof of my inadequacy.

My current partner has never known me as someone who spends time in the kitchen. He has always been the cook in our relationship. Contributions from me have consisted of a single, highly complicated recipe that I came up with before the incident with my husband, and things that could be made straight from the packet. It was easier to contribute to the relationship in other ways than to open myself up to the same, tired old insults that my husband would happily supply.

For the first time in a very long time, I am finally back in the kitchen of my own volition. I have once again abandoned the safety of my cookbooks and my packet foods. I am blending things, tasting as I go, and hoping for the best.

Cooking new things has been a confronting experience. Each time I tell my partner that I have made something it feels as if I am exposing myself to a significant emotional threat. Despite all the stress, my fears have been unfounded. He loves my cooking. He makes a point of telling me that I need to write down my recipes before I forget them. He asks me to cook things as soon as the previous batch has run out. Snacks where I think I don’t quite have the balance right are devoured as soon as I stop guarding them. I might not be convinced of their quality, but he certainly is.

I am sad about all the years that I spent telling myself that I was a lost cause, that it was better to give up before more people knew how useless I was. I am sad that I let the vicious words of one person shape my opinion about my worth. All of the times when I could have enjoyed the kitchen with other people have been lost to negative experiences where I withdrew and hid from their potential cruelty.

So far my adventures in the kitchen have included soups, cookies and ice creams. There is a long list of things that I would like to try once I find the right ingredients. Every success is a new shield against my old belief. I just need to keep this momentum up, until I either change my belief or I can no longer fit into my pants.

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Starting The Paleo Diet

Two weeks ago Shroomi was visiting the chiropractor. While examining her closely, our chiropractor asked if I had a lot of dairy in my diet. I looked down at the large cup of hot chocolate that I was holding at the time, and thought about how it seemed impossible to have a meal without some form of milk, cheese, yoghurt or cream. Guilty as charged.

We discussed my diet for a while, and the chiropractor recommended avoiding dairy for six weeks. Blemishes were forming in Shroomi’s silky soft skin, and the chiropractor thought they were from dairy. If the blemishes cleared up, then they were probably caused by proteins entering my milk. If they didn’t clear up after six weeks, then they were probably coming from another source.

My desire to be an excellent mother suddenly clashed with my desire to keep eating exactly as I wanted to. I compromised with myself and decided that I just wouldn’t buy foods that contained dairy once the ones that were in the kitchen had been eaten. That tub of ice cream would be the last. Those fresh chocolate chip muffins would be the last. That loaf of garlic bread would be the last.

As I sometimes sing during Shroomi’s tantrums: so sad, so sad. Sometimes she feels so sad.

Since it is almost impossible to cut out dairy without reducing a large part of the grains in our diet, my partner and I decided to cut those out as well. I’m not a big fan of elimination diets, so if I was going to start one I figured I might as well go all the way and be done with it.

We decided to follow the paleo diet. The theory behind this diet is that you eat the types of food we evolved to eat, instead of rubbish that has the nutritional value bleached out of it and is mixed with worthless chemicals and other exciting things. The diet has fairly simple rules:

  • No excessively processed foods. If the ingredients list is full of numbers in brackets, the food probably hits this category. If it has been dunked in bleach, chlorine, or other chemicals that you might use in the laundry, it hits this category.
  • No dairy. Dairy is a food source that came to us with agriculture, not with evolution.
  • No grains. These foods are apparently full of proteins that are difficult for people to digest, so grains require a lot of preparation just to be edible.
  • No legumes. These foods are high in nitrates. I’m not sure what the problem there is, but since I don’t often eat legumes anyway I don’t particularly care.

Looking at the diet this way, which is what we did at first, makes it seem rather depressing. Here is how the diet looks if we focus on what can be eaten:

  • Meat. Meeeeat. Grass fed is better than grain fed, and wild is better than farmed. The fresher the better.
  • Vegetables. Leafy green vegetables are full of many nutrients that have heaps of health benefits. This category can be improved dramatically by also eating all the other types of vegetables that aren’t quite so boring.
  • Fruit. As with any sugary food, fruit is best eaten in moderation.
  • Eggs. Free range is better than caged. If you can find them from a farm that isn’t so riddled with disease that the eggs need to be treated before they can be sold, that’s much better.
  • Herbs.
  • Spices.
  • Nuts.
  • Seeds.

Most of the foods that are banished on this diet can be substituted easily if you know which websites to look up. There are paleo pastas, made with arrowroot powder and almond flower. There are delicious breads, made from zucchini and bananas. There is fake rice, made from grated cauliflower. This morning my partner whipped up some banana and egg pancakes for our breakfast, and they were great. We’ve even been stuffing ourselves with an incredible fudge that he found somewhere online.

I have to confess that I have been eating like an idiot on this diet. Cutting out certain foods is one thing, but feeling hungry and dropping my milk supply is not an option. After a week of this I decided to face the fear and get on the scales. I needed to know what the damage was.

I’ve lost 1.5kg. I’m ok with that.

The physical change in Shroomi is already visible. She is still gaining weight at her normal pace, but she is putting on more muscle than fat now. Her stomach looks trim compared to this time last week. People who don’t know about the diet change have commented that she looks less chubby and more grown up.

I doubt that we will be able to maintain a strict paleo diet. Our friends and family are not joining us on this journey, so either we will prepare all joint meals or we will have to accept that other people have different food priorities. Regardless of how many wobbles we might have on this path, it is already clear to both of us that this diet will be here to stay. I like the compliments too much to give them up for a bowl of grainy, milky deliciousness.

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Pregnancy Horror Stories

I am almost 39 weeks into my pregnancy. In simple terms, this means that I could potentially have the baby today (although Shroomi seems rather comfortable in there, so probably not). In practical terms this means that, unless something changes, my plans are set and all systems should be good to go.

We have planned to have a home birth. To do this as safely as possible, we have done a lot of reading on things that help and hinder a birthing mother. We have hired an independent midwife to come to our home, and she will bring with her a student midwife who has years of experience as a doula. We have practiced relaxation techniques, and have discussed every possibility we could think of to ensure we are on the same page before something comes up. Our backup plan is fairly solid, and we have a backup plan for the backup plan. Even our birth plan is less like a list of preferences and more like a flowchart that my partner and I can follow if we need to.

Yes, it is possible I have OCD. I would have made a great boy scout with all of this preparation.

In a social sense, we are also at the point of pregnancy where people are realising that I’m fairly serious about this home birth nonsense. We’ve bought a birth pool, we’ve stocked up on supplies. Our money has been put where our mouths are.

Loved ones are falling into two categories: those who are willing to support our decision because it is well researched and thoroughly planned, and those who are horrified that I am wilfully choosing to suicide while inadvertently murdering my unborn baby.

The supportive group are fantastic. My parents fall into this group, and I’ve been able to share with them cool birth videos that I have found online. Dad has found interesting studies on the benefits and drawbacks of home birth to share with me. Mum has started sharing stories from other women about their home birth experiences. Random strangers in the community have told me how much they wish they’d had the option to do what I am doing. With this group, I anticipate a beautiful experience where our baby is gently welcomed with love and kindness.

Then there is the second group. A few people who are close to us fall into this category. They are so terrified of birth – and equally terrified by our lack of fear – that they have launched a crusade to show us how dangerous birthing can be. Every conversation involves a new way for the baby or I to die in excruciatingly unnecessary agony. The stories are new and interesting each time, but they can be collated into the following metastory:

A pregnant woman arrives at the hospital. She labours for hours before exhaustion overcomes her. Medical dramas occur, and the doctors work valiantly to save her. The only option is an emergency caesarean section, where she bleeds so heavily that the only way to stop the flow is a hysterectomy. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, the baby has terrible complications and doesn’t survive.

For my partner and I, there is an interesting link between all of these horror stories: a pregnant woman arrives at the hospital. To the irritation of some and the amusement of others, I now add in the phrase “where the baby promptly catches leprosy”.

Hospitals are fabulous places for people who need them. The only home birth horror stories I have come across are ones where the mother refused to transfer or there were underlying health problems that had not been disclosed to her medical support team. Having spent months listening to traumatic stories about hospital errors and hospital policies killing mothers and babies, I am finally able to understand why women are refusing to go. Hospitals are also utterly terrifying.

In my rational moments, I appreciate that I am told these horror stories because they are so unusual that they draw attention. In my emotional, primitive moments, I am simply a mother who wants to protect her baby, and going to a place where babies die because hospital staff aren’t using simple midwifery solutions fires my adrenal response. Shroomi is precious to me, and each horror story from a hospital setting simply convinces me that the hospital system is not always to be trusted with these tiny jazz hands.

We aren’t sure how to tell the horror story mongers that they are creating that which they fear. They see these stories from a perspective of “imagine how bad it would have been if the mother had been at home”. We see these stories from a perspective of “imagine how much better it would have been if this chain of poor decisions hadn’t been made”. There is a conceptual gap between us that we will not be able to bridge during this pregnancy, and probably not for the ones that follow.

I would be happy to finish my pregnancy without another horror story designed to manipulate me, but unless I give birth soon I don’t fancy my chances. There are just too many stories and too little trust in Shroomi and I to do what women were able to do for millions of years without a hospital nearby. Ultimately, the stories will be irrelevant; either I will birth Shroomi at home without issues, or I will transfer to a hospital in spite of – not because of – those stories. Regardless of the outcome, I am going into the labour with the confidence that I have genuinely done as much as I can to ensure the safety of my baby, and that will always mean more to me than the fears of other people.

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I’m So Fat

I am currently 24 weeks pregnant. I weigh more than I ever have in my life, my belly is the first thing my partner sees when I enter the room, and my wardrobe has evolved to consist almost entirely of stretchy fabrics that have a lot of expansion room.

I’m so fat.

I love it.

My belly has become the centre of my body image. Every morning I wake up and run my hand over it. I feel the wriggly lump that is my baby, and I marvel at how much it seems to have grown overnight. Each glance in the bathroom mirror is a surprise, and I preen and pose as I admire the roundness that I have grown.

Feminism might try teaching me that I am more than my reproductive capacity. At this point in my pregnancy, I couldn’t give two hoots about all the other things I am ‘supposed’ to be and do. I’m in the middle of growing a baby, and I don’t see too many men able to do what I’m rocking at.

This is the fat club; no boys allowed. Sorry.

A few friends have tried to rob me of my fatness. They come up with statements that are intended to be supportive, to bolster my self-esteem. I am surrounded by an anxious litany of “you’re not fat” and “don’t say things like that about yourself”.  It’s ok, and I understand; they’re just jealous that I get to be so super fat, and they don’t.

Being fat is fabulous. I get a thrill out of measuring my waist. It’s a bit of a challenge to measure anything lower than that, because I can’t see the tape anymore, so I have to make do with just the upper half of my torso. But that’s ok, because I can still see how much progress I am making in growing my baby. I don’t need a full body set of measurements to chortle to myself. I doubt there are many body builders who can keep up with the numbers I’m building on my baby’s body.

Tucked away in my baby bubble, I get to sing to my belly about how fat we are. Sometimes this happens while dancing around the kitchen preparing to eat something. The baby seems to enjoy it, and will happily kick along. I don’t have to feel any guilt about how much food I eat, because guilt doesn’t get membership to this fat club.

It would be easy to write thousands of words about a hypothetical woman’s self-esteem during pregnancy, how her perception of herself has been shaped by the cultural norms that dictate a woman must be thin. It would be easy to buy into the discourse that a woman will be automatically distressed by the changes in her body, and to use this as a basis for rising above cultural conditioning to learn to embrace this temporary reality. I could discuss my decision to embrace every element of this pregnancy, and explain it through technical psychological language.

Or… I could go and dance to She Bangs while jiggling my belly and giggling to myself as I imagine that song being dedicated to all the pregnant girls out there.

Hmm. Looks like Ricky Martin is going to win this time. Again.

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Two Months Off For Good Behaviour

Pain is always amazing to me. When it departs, I forget almost immediately that I had it, how bad it was, and how it seems to change my life at the most fundamental level. When it returns, I find myself wondering how I could forget the depth of something so encompassing.

It has been two months since my last bad flare up. I had grown complacent and relaxed, foolishly believing that my pregnancy had begun to protect me from the terrible muscle contractions that feel as if my body is tearing itself apart.

This episode has begun in my coccyx. I recognise this particular pain, and I can trace its symptoms the way I could recall the touch of an old lover. My body has taken up the steps of this particular dance, and I have been pulled into its rhythms.

If my pain remained where it began, these episodes would not be as terrible as they become. Sitting down aches, so I adjust my weight to take the pressure off the worst parts. It is unconscious and automatic, and I only realise that I am doing it when I feel the pain spreading up towards my waist. This is the first part of the body that is flexed and under too much tension.

When the pain is deeply settled into my waist, I find my next round of compensation begins. The spread continues up, towards my middle back, which is also under tension and shifting to adapt. From here it is a short journey to my shoulders, and I become increasingly immobile because to move is to ache. To ache is to cry in my sleep.

Knowing what to do in these periods is always the challenge. Do I spend a lot of money seeking treatment for something that a hot shower and a day of rest would repair? Or do I put off treatment and risk that my current aches are beyond my ability to help?

It has been several days, and I know that I made the wrong choice when I felt this episode began. Today has been spent booking appointments, wincing at how long I will have to wait, and wondering if I can afford to rest. Pain does not care that I have other commitments, assignments that need to be submitted, a home that needs to be maintained. It cares only for its existence and, while I am trapped in it, I find myself helpless to see beyond it.

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