Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Thought You Were Smuggling Something Under There!*

Or, How I Came to be 30 Weeks Pregnant

Last Wednesday afternoon, Matt and I got to see the bean for the first time since our 18-week ultrasound. Same drill as before: we spend a few minutes in overwhelming waiting area, get progressively more nervous while waiting and staring at other mothers-to-be, we walk into the dark ultrasound room and make stupid small talk with the ultrasound tech while I climb up onto table and pull down the elastic "waist" of my maternity pants. I forget that the ultrasound tech is going to squirt jelly on my tummy and I gasp when she does, and then I turn towards the screen because there! right there! is that perfect little heartbeat.

And then I smile and cry a little and relax, finally, because the tech is saying things like, "there are the four chambers of the heart," and "there are the kidneys," and "look at those cute feet."

All of a sudden, time slows down and it's just me and Matt and our bean, suspended in that dark cocoon of a room, like we're all swimming around on that black screen while someone waves a magic wand over us so that we're projected on some other, different screen, and larger than life.

The bean looks and feels like a real little person now. It moves around during the day, making my belly and abdomen twitch. If you were watching me at all times, you would occasionally see me frown as the bean pressed on my bladder or stuck its little fist up and under my ribs, like it's trying to do right now.

We had a chance to find out if we were having a boy bean or a girl bean and debated the option right up until the very moment when the radiologist matter-of-factly asked us if we wanted to know the gender. It is an important detail that the radiologist was matter-of-fact; radiologists seem to never think about the patient attached to the magic wand, and speak only in abrupt, short sentences. "Let's wait," I said at the very last moment, and as the radiologist casually tossed some construction-paper-masquerading-as-tissues in my direction and walked out of the room, Matt smiled at me and said, "fine by me."

So we don't know whether it's a boy bean or a girl bean, only that it's definitely a bean. With a heartbeat, and a spine, and a bladder, and more or less Matt's nose.

I can't believe that there are only 9 weeks left in this pregnancy. It's 9 very important weeks, I know, but the fact that I'm almost 31 weeks pregnant means that I'm 3/4 of the way through the whole thing. Even though I know that time will slow down in these next 9 weeks, much like it sped up during the past 9, there is a part of me that just can't even wrap my head around this final home stretch and is eager for it to slow down. I know I will rue the day that I wrote this, probably sometime around March 16th, when I will read this post and think, "dummy, you tempted karma and basically asked for this to happen!" But right now, I want to freeze the moment, like a picture I could print out from the ultrasound machine, and carry it around with me.

I am 31 weeks pregnant. I am okay. Matt is okay. The bean is head down and ready to go, organs formed, Matt-like nose ready, arms waving and moving so much that it's almost impossible to snap its photograph.

It seems like forever ago that I first found out that I was pregnant. But it was 31 weeks, just over 6 months ago, and yet almost an entire lifetime. And then in 9 (probably 10) weeks from now, the bean will be more than ready, it will be HERE. I cannot put into words how amazing this feels for me, how far it feels like I've come. So I will say this instead: my arms get tingly when I think about holding it, my chest feels tight when I think about kissing its little head, and I am excited and nervous and scared and thrilled that life is actually about to become larger than life.

*The title of this post refers to something our hostess said when she seated us at a table last night. As I was taking off my coat to sit down, she said, "I thought you were smuggling something under there! Congratulations!" And it made me laugh out loud. Smuggling, indeed.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Twenty Years in the Making

I was sitting in my oncologist's office last Friday, waiting for her to come in and give me my routine exam, when it occurred to me that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago. The fact stunned me, and I sat there on the exam room table, looking out at the tops of the buildings I could see from the 4th-floor room, marveling at the fact of those 20 years.

My doctor pronounced my breasts, "perfect" and my belly "so cute," and scheduled me for another routine appointment in six months. "Bring the baby!," she called as I was finalizing the details of the appointment. And I smiled at her, because it's nice that she wants to meet the baby, nice that she would be interested in knowing what the bump turns out to be.

Twenty years ago, my mother's initial instinct was to keep me shielded from her cancer. I knew about it, but in a very peripheral way. I clearly remember that she wrote a letter my teachers explaining what was going on at home, and I will never forget the look on Mr. Deluca's face when he read that letter. I remember going to the wig store to pick out a wig that matched her tight brown curls, and I remember that was terrified that the wig would fly off when she was lifted up on a chair at my Bat Mitzvah. But I remember these things in a way that is fuzzy and distant, and not just because it was 20 years ago. You see, she wanted me to be able to erase these memories, to move on with my life as though they didn't have to be part of it. She wanted to try to shield me. I know this for two reasons: one, there are other memories from the same time in my life which my mother crystallized for me, carved into stone and handed back to me wrapped in a bow. And two, with just three months until I become a mother, it occurs to me that this is part of what it means to be a parent, that you pick and choose those things from which you incorporate or shield your children, to the best of your ability, anyway.

When I was a month shy of my 24th birthday, just barely on the cusp of my first year of law school, I found a lump in my right breast. The fear I felt that day is indescribable. In fact, when I think about the way that I felt the night I first discovered that something hard and foreign was residing inside my body, I associate it with the color white, which only makes sense if you know that I often associated strong emotions with colors. White is fear or panic, and when I think about having cancer, I feel the color white with every fiber of my being.

The biopsy showed that the lump was nothing to be overly concerned about, but its discovery opened up a whole pandora's box of white. To mitigate this, I was told to get regular check-ups by a breast specialist, something I have more or less avoided, despite two additional breast lump scares, until we moved to Boston. It was here that I decided to take control of my fear, that I determined to overcome the waves of white, and talk to an oncologist who would finally assess my cancer risk.

It is no secret that my single greatest fear is having a child that I do not get to know, of raising this baby until she is 15 or he is 24 and then vanishing from the world. Yes, I have certainly heard that one could get hit by a bus at any moment, but this statement has never worked to calm me and instead reminds me that I should be smart enough to look both ways before crossing the goddamn street. No, for me, the white hot fear is cancer, not rogue buses.

While I was sitting in my oncologist's office on Friday, I realized that try as she might, my mother wasn't successful in shielding me from anything. That's partly because genetics betrayed her and I'm considered high risk for breast cancer, but it's also because in some respects, by working to shield me from the cancer mess, she made me more curious and more afraid. I have spent 20 years worrying that I will get cancer and leave young children behind when I die. I am about to have a young child. In the past 20 years, despite all of the races and the pink ribbons, despite the advances in chemotherapy and hormone treatments and radiation, despite my own measures to overcome my fears, very little has changed.

I don't know whether this baby will worry about breast cancer the way that I do. I don't know if it will understand our family history, or have a girlfriend/wife/mother-in-law who is going through her own scare. I don't know if this baby will remain unshielded from my fears, or if it will live them and devour them as though they are their own. I can only say that I hope that the next 20 years bring some kind of change. I hope that in 2031, when I realize that it has been 40 years since my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I am not sitting in my oncologist's office breathlessly waiting for her to tell me that my breasts look perfect. I hope that this son or daughter knows no real cancer fear, never picks out a wig, or watches their science teacher cry, or harbors all of the memories associated with watching cancer take someone they love.

I realized the other day, sitting on that crinkly white paper in my cotton gown, that I can't really shield this little one from, well, anything. And that is what is making motherhood real for me right now. Twenty years ago, my mother sat in a similar room, wearing a similar gown, waiting for her doctor, hoping that she would hear that her breasts looked perfect. And I imagine her sitting there, thinking of her babies, hoping against hope that she would be able to shield them from whatever lay ahead.

If all goes well, in six months, I will have a 3-month-old at home. I will shave my armpits, put on the cleanest clothes I can find, and go to my routine oncology exam. I will not bring the baby with me, and I will perch on the crinkly white paper in my cotton gown and I will think about the fact that I am nearing the end of my maternity leave. And then I will wait breathlessly for my doctor to tell me that things are fine, that my MRI looked great and that I should come back in another six months. I can only imagine that no matter what I hear, I will go home after that appointment and think, "thank god for you, little one."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Eye of the Storm

The last time I sat down to write something, I was 24 weeks pregnant. Four weeks have passed since then, and for the first time since I found out that I was pregnant, time went quickly. I feel like it was just yesterday that I last heard the bean's heartbeat, last peed in a cup for the nice people at Harvard Vanguard, last skipped out of work on my way to my appointment.

I can't quite figure out why time sped up this past month, and I can only conclude that the closer I get to actually having the baby, the more there is to do, and the less time I can spend fuh-reaking the F out.

A year ago this Wednesday, I was in a conference room in Boston, about to start a day-long conference that I was more or less dreading. But I got a text message that morning from Julie saying this about J and Cris: "It's a boy! A nine pound one!" And I spent the rest of the conference nearly jumping out of my seat, I was so eager to meet Oliver Paul. I showed everyone at the conference his picture, grainy and small on my phone, but nonetheless so fantastic that it was all I could do not to reach into the phone and kiss his enormous cheeks.

I remember walking through the hospital that night, bouncing on my feet and nearly speeding through the halls, Matt close on my heels. I remember whispering into Ollie's shmooshy little face, finally kissing his sweet chubby cheeks. I remember going to eat Chinese food after we left the hospital, ordering a plate of spicy pork buns in honor of the spicy pork bun that had come into the world that day.

The crazy thing is, I remember it like it was yesterday. I literally can't believe that a year has passed since Oliver was born. Today, Oliver walks, eats cheese, says "dada," and sticks his tongue out while concentrating. A year ago, he was just a spicy pork bun.

A year ago, I was living in Davis Square, I'd never met Stephen or Linda, and I was a few weeks into a pregnancy that wouldn't last. Matt had only just started his current job, Ike wasn't even sitting up yet.

And yet here we are. 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days later. I both can't and can believe everything that's happened this year, just like I can't and can believe that I'm 28 weeks pregnant, counting down the weeks until I become somebody's mother.

I think that the last four weeks have moved at lightening speed because some months have to do that. Some months have to leave you surprised at all that's happened, bracing yourself for what's ahead. Some months move like molasses, forcing you to examine your life from every possible angle, wonder whether or not you're comfortable with what you're living, whether it really suits you.

And no matter what, there are some days in every month where you're granted the gift of freedom from your thoughts, the rare moment where you can look at a little boy who was once just a spicy pork bun and think, I am so glad I get to know you.

Happy (early) birthday, Ollie-bear. Thanks for slowing me down.