Tag Archives: Pregnancy

Six Things I Resolve to Never Do to Other Pregnant People

Before this year began, I really was pretty clueless about pregnancy and childbirth. I had several friends, a sister-in-law and a few other acquaintances who had been pregnant, but I don’t think I really realized much about the entire process. I didn’t really have an understanding of how drastically my own body would change, all of the crazy symptoms that come along with pregnancy, and perhaps, most surprisingly, I completely underestimated the ways that common strangers might begin to approach me in new ways.

So, as I sit here, about 10 days from my due date, and feeling like more of a spectacle each time I leave the comfort of my air conditioning and brave the outside world, I offer you my list of the top six things that I resolve never to do to another pregnant person again, now that I have personally experienced them for myself.

1. I will not just assume that it is ok to rub her belly. I get it. Bellies are cool. It’s pretty amazing and impressive to know that every pregnant person you see is growing a baby inside there. And really, I don’t have big personal space issues. I love it when my friends and family rub my belly as a sign of love for their coming granddaughter/niece/cousin/friend/etc. And if people I know are fascinated by the belly, and they ask whether it’s ok to rub, I usually give them the green light. But to you, random 50-year-old man in Starbucks whom I have never met before: walking up to me, rubbing my belly and saying, “This baby’s dropping soon, huh?”, is not appropriate. At all. This is my belly. It’s still attached to my body. If I weren’t pregnant and you came up to pat my abs, people around you would be horrified and it would be called sexual harassment.

2. I will not simply volunteer to tell her my pregnancy horror stories. Since I hit seven or eight months pregnant, I have been really curious to hear other people’s birth stories. I’ve been asking friends and acquaintances to share their tales with me, and when I ask, I expect that I’ll hear some of everything: great, relaxed birth stories, tales of births that didn’t go quite according to plan, and testaments of very long labors. But what I didn’t expect was that strangers would, out of the blue, offer me stories of the worst labors they (or their friends) have ever experienced. Stories of incompetent doctors, labors that lasted for 56 hours, etc. This is not encouraging. If you’re going to inundate me with something during pregnancy, shouldn’t it be with stories about how glad you were to have your baby or how memories of labor pains fade over time…

3. I will not make value judgments about the size, shape or placement of her belly. At the beginning of pregnancy, I couldn’t wait for my baby belly to start showing so I could stop looking “nebulously chunky” and start looking full-blown pregnant. For awhile, I thought that perhaps I would never get large and I was crushed every time a stranger would say, “Oh, there’s no way you’re 5 months pregnant” or “You’re too small to really be that far along.” I was sure that I was doing something wrong and was somehow growing the world’s puniest baby who might never reach full size. But now, my how the tables have turned. Beginning a month or so ago, people began coming out of the woodwork to tell me, “Wow, you must be overdue,” or “What have you been feeding that baby?!” Again, not so reassuring for a woman who is getting ready to push this child out, and who still has a month (or maybe more) to go before this baby is even overdue. So, a word to the wise, which I never really would have understood prior to being a paranoid pregnant person: It helps no one to make random value judgments about my belly.

4. I will not stare at pregnant people in public.  I know, I know.  I do look a bit more like a sideshow attraction every time I venture out in public, and I’m probably wearing clothes that have more in common with a tent than they do with the clothes I was wearing 9 months ago or that regular people like yourself are wearing today. I know this and you know this. BUT, you brazenly staring at me while I navigate my way through the grocery store and climb in and out of my car does not make me feel less conspicuous. The occasional glance is cool, but remember, I’m just pregnant, and it’s still ok for me to be out in public. I can offer you about a 99% guarantee that I am not just going to drop this baby on the spot.

5. I will not judge her birth choices. Frankly, there’s enough guilt out there surrounding motherhood to go around, without everyone feeling like they need to get in on the action. I am really excited about our birth plan, and I will happily share with anyone who asks how we are planning. We’re hoping to go natural, avoid medication and intervention as much as possible, etc. But I’m certainly not under the impression that this is the only way to give birth, and I know that often circumstances can change. So, I’ll respect your birth choices if you’ll respect mine. Let’s just make a deal on that one.

6.  I will not comment on her sweaty, flushed countenance. OK, now this one seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s August. I’m pregnant. It’s hot. If you haven’t had a chance to experience this personally, try sticking a warm watermelon under your shirt and carrying it around outside for 20 minutes. I guarantee: you’ll be sweating, too. And seriously folks, it’s not that I don’t know that I look “hot” (and not in the sexy sense, either). And, frankly, you remarking that, “I seem warm” will not help either you or I to feel better about my melting mascara.

To be fair, there are so many ways that people have responded that I appreciate and I want to remember to emulate when I see pregnant people in the future. I will: compliment her appearance, tell her a happy pregnancy tale, offer encouragement, be willing to let her share her own stories and thoughts when she’s excited and scared, offer to help carry her groceries to her car, help her family move across campus in the dead heat of summer, etc. I have been blessed to be surprised by kindness from family, friends and strangers all throughout pregnancy.

But I will always carry these six memories with me as a reminder of the patterns that I don’t want to foist onto any pregnant people who cross my path in the future.

If you are or have ever been pregnant, what are your favorite and/or least favorite memories of other people’s responses to you from that time?

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The-almost-end-of- pregnancy-freak-out

I might be feeling a little overwhelmed…

About four months ago, one of my co-workers jokingly told me, “So, you’ll need to call me when you really start to freak out about pregnancy.” At this point, 20 or so weeks into pregnancy, I was past the morning sickness phase, had seen images of a healthy baby on an ultrasound screen, and I was feeling pretty good. It’s not that things weren’t sometimes stressful, but a large freak out didn’t seem particularly imminent. So, I laughed along with this co-worker and agreed to let him know when – and IF – that happened.

But now – at 37 weeks pregnant and careening quickly towards the eventual conclusion of this pregnancy – the freak out has officially arrived. Sometime in between washing Baby H’s clothes, readying her room, figuring out how to use a Moby Wrap (seriously: way more complicated than you might think) and being told that our little girl might be a bit on the larger side of normal, healthy baby weight, I’ve officially entered freak out mode.

It’s not that we haven’t gotten educated. For the past 12 weeks, Justin and I have been faithfully attending Bradley Method classes (if you live in SoCal, I highly recommend our teacher),  where we’ve learned about the physiological phases of labor, learned and practiced healthy nutrition habits, and been challenged to learn new techniques for relaxation and stress relief, prior to and during labor. We’ve hired a doula and met with her to learn a variety of techniques for massage and movement during labor, to help the process move along smoothly and naturally.

But for some reason, all these things seem to pale in comparison to the realization that my body is about to undergo something that it has never experienced before and over which I have little to no control. Right now, it’s just a waiting game.

And it’s not that I’m not super excited to meet Baby H. On the contrary, I’ve spent the last 37 weeks talking to my belly and wondering about who’s in there, what she’ll be like, what she’ll look like, what kind of personality she’ll have, etc. I can’t wait to meet her.

But there is also a sort of sinking sense of dread that comes when I think about the very real responsibility that comes with raising a child once they flee the womb and enter the world in a new way. I mean, who are we Heinzekehrs kidding?! We love to hold babies, and we’ve watched kids every now and again, but the occasional babysitting stint is way different than being responsible for a little newborn 24/7.

We are going to have one of these in a short amount of time…

In the midst of this freak out, which my co-worker tells me is apparently inevitable and strikes most first-time moms right about this time, I attended some meetings. One of the best parts of working for the church is that work and worship are often blended, and these meetings were no different. We opened our time together by dwelling on scripture, and specifically on Romans 8. As the passage was read, we were asked to focus in on a word or phrase that jumped out to us.

Not surprisingly, I was struck by the following phrase: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Labor pains! Ha!

The passage goes on to describe the longing of all creation that waits in hope for the coming of the Spirit and the revelation of God. Later on, the chapter reads, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

I was struck anew by this passage. I have certainly never been one for redemptive suffering, and I’ve been hesitant to ascribe a purpose to any form of pain or suffering. I think these theological trajectories have too often been mis-used and/or misconstrued to condone abuse of all sorts.

However, as I think about pregnancy and the labor that will eventually come sometime over the course of the next few weeks, I was struck by the ways that pregnancy, and probably labor itself, can prepare one for parenthood. It’s part of the inevitable waiting process that must be undergone. And it’s certainly not a process without hope, because at the end, if everything goes smoothly, we’ll have a healthy little girl to hold. And we’ll take her home and figure things out (with lots of help from friends and family, I am sure).

But, as Romans 8 notes, the waiting over the next few weeks may not be without its groans and its eventual labor pains. These are

A very pregnant me.

inevitable parts of the pregnancy process.

So, in the midst of my “almost-end-of- pregnancy-freak-out,” I am grateful for the reminder that the waiting is really an exercise in the spiritual practice of cultivating hope.

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Pregnancy, Expectations and Safety

Krista Dutt

Guest post from…Krista Dutt is the city director of DOOR Chicago where her love of Chicago and of faith development come together in relationships.  She is a graduate of Bluffton College (1999) and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (2002).  She and her husband, Jim, have been foster parents and are cat parents to MJ.  Krista attends First Church of the Brethren, a church body that she can’t get enough of.

“You are pregnant,” my husband, Jim, says over and over.  Though sometimes he says “You are preggers.”

It gets on my nerves. As if I could forget! Especially over the course of the last two weeks when suddenly I went from, “Maybe she’s pregnant” to “Are you due next month?”  Recently, I asked Jim why he felt the need to remind me over and over that I was with child.

“Well, you know how lots of men don’t think of being a dad until the baby comes?  I don’t want to be like that.  I want to remind myself that we are growing a child now.”

He wants to remember, and I don’t exactly want to forget, but I don’t want this pregnancy to take over my life. 

I didn’t think I would be like this.  I loved talking about our foster process and then our foster daughter and our two foster grandchildren.  I am, by nature, an extravert that loves external processing.   But, this just feels so different.  This feels like a 9-month intimate moment between Jim and me and in my case, doctors and more doctors.

I feel stuck between the privileged world’s message that I am supposed to be so excited, happy and buying stuff until my heart is content and what I really am most of the time – scared and worried and sick.  I want to be happy; I want to be excited – but generally I feel grounded in the reality of getting through the day.  I don’t feel I can share these feelings, because where is the safe place to do so?

Early in my pregnancy I heard from my doctors, “You are too sick to be pregnant.”  (Note: I doubt the kind woman that I am trusting  my baby’s and my own life to actually said this in this exact way, but it’s what I heard.)  While there seems to be significant healthy progress, I have become a case study for the ob/gyn doctor’s practice.  So, while I try to think of the cute baby that has Jim’s eyes and my nose or vice versa, most of the time I wonder if I will ever get to that part of this natural process.  Morbid?  Probably.  Realistic?  Maybe.

Then there are the issues of how I plan on parenting.  Even before the infamous Time article  or the New York Times round tables  about parenting styles, we have gotten all “those” questions : Are you quitting your job?   Why is Jim so worried about not getting a good paternity leave deal?  Are you finally going to move to a safer neighborhood?

I get that my lifestyle may be odd to some, but parenting is probably going to make me more odd, not less.  But again, I am shying away from such conversations, because I don’t want to be the crying pregnant lady all the time – sometimes is fine.

I have shared this with trusted people in my life, but when the everyday acquaintance wants to chat me up about pregnancy, I will pass.  Clearly, it’s not socially acceptable to dump this kind of information on the sidewalk or maybe even on a blog.  But, for this girl – who usually revels in the socialness of life – pregnancy has made me feel unsafe in social settings. 

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Pregnancy and the Culture of Fear

Early on in my pregnancy, I had some abnormal blood tests. I will preface this story by saying that luckily, by now, we have learned that nothing is seriously wrong with me. But at the beginning of pregnancy, we didn’t know that. And frankly, we were already feeling a bit nervous and overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming parents and taking care of this small child. We knew many stats and stories about miscarriage in the first trimester of pregnancy, and the fact that something could be wrong with me, and therefore wrong with the baby, too, was overwhelming. So, I spent the first few weeks of pregnancy receiving vague voicemails on the phone from doctors, sitting in waiting rooms at doctor’s offices (some of the worst places in the world when you are nervous), getting my blood drawn, waiting on lab results, worrying, trying not to worry so I didn’t hurt the baby, etc. At each of these appointments, doctors would warn me about a variety of possible outcomes, but would give me very little real information about what was happening.

Coupled with this, I began to read a lot online about pregnancy. BIG MISTAKE. One thing that I had not realized was just how exhausted and foreign your body can feel to you during the first few months of pregnancy. Popular culture likes to make references to morning sickness , women’s extra keen sense of smell and the fact that you may visit the “ladies’ room” more often than you used to. But what they do not tell you is that your body starts to change. My abs started to ache, I got a weird metallic taste in my mouth, the site and/or smell of chicken was enough to send me running, and I fell asleep every evening between 8:30 and 9 and could have slept straight through until 9 or 10 in the morning, if it hadn’t been for those pesky alarm clocks. The worst part of this was that, when I “googled” each new symptom (which I did), you could find some healthy information about normal pregnancy symptoms. But for each web page telling you that you were normal, there were 50 “messages from doctors”, pregnancy forums or hospital sites that told you that this symptom, as well as many other perfectly normal bodily changes, could be a sign of many terrible things.

And added to this was the food culture. To anyone who ate with me during the first months of pregnancy, I apologize. I was terrified of hurting our small baby by eating anything incorrect. I carried my smart phone with me everywhere and diligently “googled” everything I ate. And, just like you can with symptoms, you can find web pages to convince you that any and every food is off limits. At one point

Avoid unpasteurized cheese at all costs!

in time, I refused to drink herbal teas because an article I had read about the possibly damaging effects of too much chamomile and peppermint (seriously) and I even got nervous about eating peanut butter on celery because I wasn’t convinced the celery had been adequately washed.

Add to this the list of other things that you should avoid around the house: beauty products (Scented soaps! Dandruff shampoo! Hair dye! Nail polish!), household cleaners (although I didn’t mind making Justin the primary user of these), cat litter (again, not so sad here), and a myriad of other, random things to be feared. There was never a safe space or moment in the day! You had to be constantly vigilant in order to be pregnant!

Part of my obsession with following these rules obviously had to do with my own issues of hypochondria and nervousness over carrying a child for the first time. It felt like, and is, a big responsibility. I do want to be a “healthy vessel” for this little human.

But I also think the issues go beyond me personally. I think that our health care culture, and our culture in general, is really into scaring pregnant women. Increasingly, the list of foods you should avoid is growing, along with the activities you should be wary of and the symptoms that are “harbingers of doom.” In another article, journalist Marie Baca describes the world of “middle class pregnancy” as full of hysteria and paranoia. It’s a world where, “… having a baby can feel less like participating in an ancient biological process and more like taking on a high-stakes independent research project.”

We can see this by not only by looking at the laundry lists of things that you should fear and avoid like the plague during pregnancy, but also through the number of interventions that occur in pregnancies. The number of ultrasounds that each pregnant woman receives has grown astronomically over the past few years. In addition, the rate for C-sections has risen to almost 33 percent, and about 23 percent of women have their labor induced. Some women choose these options, because serious complications arise. But it also seems that doctors and hospitals alike are just much more likely to paint pregnancy as a high risk endeavor and to not trust childbirth to proceed in healthy and natural ways.

And here’s the thing. Miscarriages and birth complications do happen, and they are sad and devastating when they do. And we need to make sure that women have spaces to share those stories of loss and to grieve. But for hundreds of thousands of years, women have been having really normal, healthy pregnancies, too. And they probably ate soft cheeses and enjoyed seafood and didn’t have to visit the doctor every 4 weeks.

So for now, I’m still following many of “the rules” (better safe than sorry, right?), but I’ve stopped looking online for information, and I’m trying to trust the process.

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A World of Color

I’ve decided that I like wearing bright colors. This was not always the case. I used to be a big pastel proponent, especially in middle school. I think it had something to do with really trying to blend in and not stick out too much. Pastels offered color without any need to announce myself too loudly upon entry into a room. In addition, I felt like pastels drew attention away from my body, which I was awkwardly aware of in those early adolescent years.

But not so much any more. As I’ve gotten older and gained confidence I’ve found myself more and more attracted to bold, deep colors, which add a pop when paired with a black or brown cardigan, and can be layered with tank tops and skirts in various hues as well. I started to embrace the color pink, but not a cutesy, baby-girl pastel pink: a bold, vibrant pink that seemed perfect for my womanly self.

A few weeks ago, I headed to Target in search of some clothes to fit my now rapidly-growing pregnant body, and was greeting by a wash of bright colors as I walked through the door. There were orange and peace tank tops, purses in neon yellow hues, bright indigo scarves and turquoise-studded skirts. I was in love with this “world of color,” and I likely went a little overboard picking out maternity clothes in a variety of hues. I guess I figured that if Baby H is going to start announcing herself more prominently to the world, there was no sense in hiding her. She should be swathed in colors and presented to the world in a spirit of celebration that matches the energy in the air with the coming of spring.

So, for the last few weeks I’ve been wearing these bright colored clothes around and thinking nothing of it. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I wore one of my new maternity dresses: a dress with a navy base printed with bright oranges, light tans and some undertones of pink, and paired it with some light brown boots and a white cardigan. I was definitely looking and feeling bright!

Later in the day, I attended an event for work, where I came into contact with a really good-hearted older gentleman that I am well acquainted with.  After we had talked for a bit, he looked me up and down and said, “So, were you trying to dress like a clown today? You are just so bright!”

He laughed good naturally, but I was a bit stunned. I had not thought twice about throwing on such bright colored clothes, but all the sudden I felt like I was standing on some stage, somewhere, naked and exposed. I wanted nothing more than to find a big, black cardigan in order to cover myself up. I began to look around and notice what other people were wearing: many of them were in blacks and browns, or muted reds and oranges paired with neutral colored slacks. I did stand out, like a sore thumb. I laughed awkwardly along with the man, and mumbled something like, “Ha. Yeah. Not many good maternity clothing options out there…” and then walked away.

As I’ve reflected on this incident today, I was reminded of a passage from Karen Baker-Fletcher’s book, Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit.

She writes, “Once a student responded to a brilliant, Afrocentric type outfit I was wearing, saying, ‘Oh! What beautiful, bright colors!” What a lovely compliment I was thinking, when she continued, ‘I always wear natural colors…’”

Baker-Fletcher was taken aback by this comment, just as I was. She goes on to reflect about all of the ways that bright colors are woven into nature, and are perhaps more natural and earthy than those blacks and browns that we so often refer to as “earth tones” or “natural colors.” She celebrates womanist wear that represents the colors of the sunset, of new budding flowers and bright green grass. Colors that enflesh Alice Walker’s description well-known of womanism: “Womanism is to feminism as purple is to lavender.”

My mother, sister and I dressed for spring!

Although the comment that I received likely did not carry with it undertones of racism and/or cultural critique, I was and am touched by Baker-Fletcher’s reclaiming of other natural colors that are not muted, but instead bold. Her story is a reminder not to let a backhanded comment or inadvertent joke cramp my sense of what’s natural or normal, but to embrace color as an expression of who I am and the world around me, that is bursting at the seams with color.

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Mennonite in a (not-so-little) black (maternity) dress

About three years ago, the book Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home, by Rhoda Janzen made a surprising rise up the non-fiction book charts (all the way to #1). My guess is that part of this book’s popularity was due to the fact that, for most mainstream United States citizens, the idea of a Mennonite woman wearing a little black dress feels like something of an oxymoron. It’s not that the book wasn’t well-written: Janzen is funny and has a knack for stringing together honest vignettes that paint a compelling picture of rebuilding a life, and the book was lucky enough to follow on the heels of the über-popular travelogue Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

When this book came out, I found myself equal parts amused and annoyed by it. First, I was amused because, like I said, Janzen is funny. And part of writing a good, humorous memoir (and probably a blog, too, for that matter) is embellishment and hyperbole. And, frankly, there were parts of her story, especially those about the ways cultural traditions become intertwined with church, that totally resonated with my own experience. But I was also annoyed, because every time I encountered someone new who had read this book, they assumed that my Mennonite heritage automatically equaled a certain type of conservatism that could never affirm women in leadership, wasn’t kind to divorcees, and would find it inappropriate or, at the very least, shocking for a woman to be cavorting around in a little black dress.

For some reason, since I found out I was pregnant five months ago, this book has been popping up in my mind’s eye again. As I’ve thought about it why this has been happening, I’m guessing that part of it is knowing that people wouldn’t find the same shock value in a memoir entitled “Mennonite in a Maternity Dress.” A cynical part of me wonders if there isn’t something about this image that makes sense to mainstream Christianity, who, if they know anything about Mennonite women, likely picture us as rural, barefoot and pregnant in a kitchen somewhere (and, frankly, the barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen thing hasn’t been that far off over the past few months: pregnancy cravings have led to many baking sprees). This is probably extreme, but pregnancy definitely has made me think about what it means to be a woman, and as Baby H grows, it becomes more obvious to the world around me that I am preparing for motherhood, too. I’d like to think that any faith tradition I would adhere to, Mennonites included, should have a picture of what it means to be a woman that is broad enough to include little black dresses and maternity dresses, too.

And, ever since last Monday, when I found out that Baby H is a girl, I’ve also been wondering what it means to raise a new little Femonite (although she will definitely have to choose her own labels and names for herself when that time comes). I don’t exactly know what or how I will be able to convey to her adequately my hopes and dreams for her, both as a potential new little Mennonite and as a young woman. In fact, you should pray for this child: she has two parents studying theology, and she might be doomed to overthink the church and its trappings from her very beginnings.

I do know that, even now, when I have my little nightly chat with her (yes, I speak with my belly often), I’m dreaming big dreams for her. Dreams that are bigger perhaps than I can even fathom for myself. Her future seems limitless.

But, someday, somewhere, she will certainly rub up against limits: either her own or those imposed on her by others. And it’s my hope that, when this happens, she will have a faith community to help her sort through these pieces and to love her back to wholeness.

Last week, I went to hear Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, speak. As she was talking about the ways that she teaches Sunday school to children, she said, “I teach each of these kids that they are loved. That they are chosen. And then we have a snack.” A simple message, but oh so profound. If I can teach these things to my daughter, I would count that as success. And maybe, as a bonus, she’ll even be able to wear a (hopefully-not-too-) little black dress and be a member of a faith community, Mennonite or not, without feeling like a walking contradiction, too.

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When parenting your children, how did you talk about faith? About womanhood? About Mennonites? What advice do you have for us new parents-to-be?

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