Monday, March 19, 2007

The Bizarro Prenatal World

Being pregnant has been like living in Bizzaro World for months. I anticipated that watching my body change so much would be weird. But I did not know I’d feel so tired, so achey, or like I have a nightclub attached to me and have to wake every few hours to my baby's dance parties.

There has been so much to not comprehend. First all I could marvel at was how could there be people (especially skinny teens) who don’t know they’re pregnant until they deliver. And women who love being pregnant? What is that about?

Then there is the consumerism. It’s both out of control and in your face, and mysterious and a bit hidden. For instance, we needed to buy a crib. Where do you go? Okay, we understand that there is the plastic Vegas world of Babies’R’Us. So we went there. It frightened me. It had taken me three days of studying to make a baby registry on Amazon, learning the lingo and the uses and needs for various gear. Once I got home, I went straight to the registry and removed a bunch of items. Too scary.

We tried the big chains like Sears and Target, and learned the world of differences between them and how you have to know WHICH one to go to, and then find things like sample cribs that are a foot wide and don’t give you any sense of their stability, or sample cribs on high shelves. Everywhere we looked cribs were put together incorrectly, or beat on in the stores so badly that seeing them in person was unhelpful. We called friends who said they didn’t know, they ordered from Boston Baby just before they swindled everyone on their way out of business.

We eventually learned that the Burlington Coat Factory is a great place to look at cribs. And it’s a store. That doesn’t specialize in coats. And it’s not in Burlington. At least not Burlington, MA. “Yes, of course: Baby Depot,” nod our friends with kids, “Duh.”

Oh and cribs have different model names in different stores, like bed mattresses do, just to make it harder. And you can’t tell if it’s easy to lean over a fixed side crib when your stomach sticks out like there’s a baby in it. Did I mention that twice we picked one out that was suddenly discontinued the minute we chose it? We finally found our second choice online and ordered it from an evil empire we do not believe in giving money to, because they still had it and we’d do anything to be done with it.

Cribs do not include mattresses. Mattresses with coils might have a high coil count but they could be super thin wire, which they will not tell you. Hard foam mattresses are best but hard to find.

And every crib you ever see in a store is bedecked with things you supposedly Need. Unless of course, you read. In which case you are confused by why every single crib has a bumper a kid can kill themselves with, a blanket they can suffocate under, and a mobile they won’t be able to see well for sometime, and then you’ll need to remove soon after. Don’t get me started on strollers. They’re like committing to a Lifestyle, like car buying. All hail capitalism and its rule over safety, education, and sanity.

I was once a consumer columnist. I now feel powerless. I’m pretty sure when the self-check out computer tells me there is an “unexpected item in the bagging area” it is talking about my brain cells that are leaking out on everything.

I’ve mentioned the weirdness of gender-oriented infant clothes before. But also, what is with all the writing on infant clothes. “Baby Animal Friends” says one onesie. Is it for equal opportunity parenting? I mean in case I’m only barely literate, have no mental ability for knowing the picture is of baby animals? This seems possible, given that safety tags have to inform me that my child should not be in boiling hot water, playing with plastic bags, or operating heavy machinery without a nap.

Maybe infants can read baby talk, just not adult words? And who knew this was TWO tags on top of each other and that the bottom one Needed to tell me not to put down a lit cigarette on her tub?

I learn the most when I act as dumb as everything expects me to be, however, so maybe it’s all appropriate. Really. I’ve asked really dumb questions. “What do you receive in a receiving blanket?” But even so, sometimes I got seemingly magic information like “You can tell if the clothes you’ve been handed down are big enough for your infant if they’re around 22 inches.” Yesterday we took out a yard stick and a onesie and were mystified before we realized the kid’s head and legs will not be IN the onesie. We need a new magic number, but I think we’ll just ask our daughter.

The unsolicited comments are of course the best. The people who ask but don’t want you to tell:
“Do you know the gender?”
It’s a girl.
“Oh I know. I can tell.”
“What are you thinking for names?”
Well, we have some strong candidates…
“Oh god, you should never tell anyone.”

There are a lot of myths about pregnancy, and not all of them are bad. For instance, the Difficulty with Car Seats. Glenn went outside with two infant car seat bases and was done installing them both in our aging cars (one with the latch system, one without) in ten minutes. We’re not sure what the problem is for the rest of you. Maybe you’ll laugh when we launch our kid through the car window accidentally one day, but until then, how hard is it to put a few straps through it?

And what about this one…“Do a lot of people come up and touch your stomach?” So far, only you. This stomach touching business is also a myth. No stranger has touched my stomach. Maybe if it were summer and I were out more and wearing fewer layers? Maybe it’s not a New England thing? It’s interesting touching my stomach, someone generally touches you back from the inside. But not even my friends do it since they think strangers are mauling me all the time.

Mostly I’ve found that as two people rather than one I am LESS visible, not more. I have been nearly hit by cars more times, fewer people move out of my way on the sidewalk, and the only times (twice) anyone has offered me a seat on the subway were when glenn was with me. Oh sure you’re all so busy Reading. Get the fuck out of my seat, assholes. How do you think you got into the world?

In fact, one day at Trader Joe’s a woman (with a small baby in her cart) who I’d been shopping next to in the aisle for some time, turned her cart to leave the aisle and full-force Rammed it into my extra-visible flank. I took stock, knew I was okay, and just stared at the floor, using my violent laser anger vision to make holes in the tiles. She mumbled “sorry” and Ran. I concentrated on the tile. If I looked at her, I knew I’d wait for her outside and run her down with my car…and Then, well for starters the frozen food would thaw before I got home.

At our baby shower there were cute cut-outs of girls from colored paper clothes-pinned on a line for people to write advice on. We received a lot of cat and dog training advice that could be applied to humans and other snarky, tongue-in-cheek advice. Our friends scribbled these as they busily attacked each other with stuffed animals and wore baby sweaters on their heads. We understood this. "Always keep a shotgun handy," read one. A couple of days later, after being bored by the Parents Paper ads for birthday party clowns in the waiting room, I was sitting alone in the doc office waiting for the OB and the one magazine left for reading there actually was Soldier of Fortune – the Best Guns of 2007 issue.

The other day a good friend sent some funny onesies, including one that is a picture of the GooGoo search engine. I wonder if my daughter will see pictures of herself in this and have any idea what the joke is about. I was putting away some old photos and saw an old Girl Scout leader of mine camping in her t-shirt that said "I Have Dual Floppies" and thought how someone who saw that today and didn't know what floppy disks were and knew that was my GS leader might think that seemed vastly inappropriate….

So we soldier on through the mysterious landscape, bumbling our way toward parenthood as clueless as our baby will be when she arrives. Luna has taken to sleeping in a baby snowsuit, Moki often runs by with baby socks in his mouth. We have no way to expect them to know what is a baby toy or a cat toy, what is an infant parking pillow, plush changing pad, safety tub, or a cat bed any more than I can understand the difference between a bassinet, a Moses basket and a laundry basket. At least I can read price tags for clues.

In my last two months of pregnancy as I have slowed down making jewelry with my swollen fingers and super butch industrial studio situation. Yet suddenly I’ve taken on a bunch of web work again, sorting out problems at The New England Journal of Medicine. Glenn wants to know why the hell I'm doing this right Now, when getting in and out of the car or off the couch is a major accomplishment. Here it is: I know about UI. I know about web content. I had to prove that somewhere in there, I was a) good at something b) had evidence of gray matter and c) was a breadwinner. Besides, this bizarro prenatal stage inspires me to better user interface and working with clients lets me tell people who want to listen that they shouldn't make people think too hard about any decision they have to make.

So look, stop being so bizarre. Be nice to pregnant women. Be nice to me. I have the most flippy baby ever and a heightened sense of priorities. Together, we will kick your ass. But maybe later. Right now, it’s time for a nap.




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