Heartburn, Planning a Border Run

This week, the heartburn started. I’ve had reflux before, and while unpleasant, it’s not a huge deal.  The pickles keep it under control. The heartburn is a whole different story. Heartburn is a whole new experience for me, and while the pickles help a little bit… they’re not a cure.  Staying upright after dinner has become very important to me. And dinnertime has been creeping earlier to accomodate.

One of the awkward things about being here is that, while it’s totally easy to get a six-month visa on arrival, there is no way to renew it if you want to stay longer. And in the interest of not having to go home, change care providers and re-enter the absurdly expensive US health care system to have a baby…   getting another six months is essential. Theoretically, of course, we could just let our visas expire and pay a not-too-hefty fine when we leave, but…  there are some legal concerns with that. They won’t throw us in jail or anything– they like tourists who stay and spend money for a while– but it doesn’t seem like a good idea to have expired visas while we are trying to wade through all the bureaucratic paperwork to get a passport for the baby, register the birth with the embassy so we can sort out citizenship properly, etc.

What this means is that before our visas actually expire in a couple of months, we will need to travel to a neighboring country, spend the night, and then come back home, crossing the border and getting our passports stamped for another six months in the process. It’s a fairly common thing to do, and there is a regular bus service to the nearest border crossing. It is, however, a 19- hour bus ride. Each way. I’ve made such trips before, and since I can’t sleep upright, it’s very, very unpleasant. We could also fly, but that would be considerably more expensive.

Timing is key. Right now, I feel up to the trip, but it’s too early to do it. We have to wait at least a few more weeks to avoid our visas running out *again* before we have all our papers together to make the trip home. It’s also important to make the trip before I get to the too-uncomfortable-to-travel stage of things. I feel like time is running out on that one, at just about five months now.  Decisions, decisions…

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Ach! It Itches!

It’s nice that the constipation has eased off a little bit. Things have not returned to normal in that department, by any means, but they have reached some sort of manageable. This was just in time to develop a new delightful pregnancy experience: itching. My belly and boobs are itchy itchy itchy. As much as I would like to, it will never, ever be OK to reach into my shirt, in a public location, and scratch. I’m assuming this is an inevitable consequence of my skin stretching. I have two concerns:

1) Oiling my skin doesn’t help with this. Ngh! Short of slathering myself with hydrocortisone cream, does anything help?

2) Does this mean my boobs are going to get even bigger?!?

My Sweet Little Scallion

One of the slightly-more-useful web resources on pregnancy I’ve found is the totally generic Women’s Healthcare Topics site. They have a pretty comprehensive week-by-week pregnancy guide. Each week’s entry starts out with an estimate of the baby’s size, then adds highlights of the baby’s current development milestones, and what changes can be expected in the mother’s body. It’s pretty neutral, and it’s a quick read.

In the size-of-baby intro, each week compares the baby– either its weight or length– to a different fruit or vegetable. The early months were mostly legumes. Week 14 listed a small guava. I’m really not sure how big a guava is, but I’ll take their word for it. 16 weeks compared my child to a “small mango”. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a small mango. All the ones I’ve encountered have been pretty large. 17 weeks saw a return to familiar fruits: my kid was now grapefruit sized. I trust they meant that as a weight measurement and not a shape? At 18 weeks it gets weird again:   my baby was the length of a medium-sized banana pepper. Week 19 is a coconut with the outer shell removed. Last week it was a plantain. At this point I am thoroughly confused and I just try to ignore the listed fruits and vegetables, because when I go to market there are about five kinds of plantains for sale, and they vary from about four inches long to maybe a foot, depending on the variety.

But then, week 21: my baby is now (drumroll please) A SCALLION. Yes, comparable in length to a scallion. What does that even mean? I had only wondered before, but now it is a sure thing: the vegetable comparisons are some kind of weird in-joke with the folks at Women’s Healthcare Topics. I used scallions for dinner two days ago, and the darn things were two feet long. That’s nowhere near the 10.5 inches the paragraph listed.  They sat around the lunch table thinking up bizarre food items to add to the weekly updates, to see how far out they’d have to go to provoke head-scratching and confused emails. I’m now trying to ignore the produce of the week, and look at my tape measure instead.

Sympathy Weight Gain and Chopped Liver

One interesting phenomenon I have run across several times in the popular pregnancy literature is “sympathy weight gain“– where the husband gains weight when the wife is pregnant.  So far, this is definitely not the case here. In the time I have been pregnant, my husband has actually lost the little mini-potbelly he’d been busy growing since we got married.  In fact, he looks pretty darn sexy these days– lean and healthy and manly in a way I’ve never seen him before, even when we were dating! The blurb I linked to may explain both the sympathetic gain phenomenon, and my own husband’s losses:  usually the wife is in charge of feeding the family. When her dietary habits change, his dietary habits change, too.  So I imagine that between first-trimester nausea (“I can’t stand the sight of food, maybe you should pick up some take-out”) and weird cravings (“hon, why exactly did you get a case of super-salty pretzels and five gallons of ice cream?”), it’d be easy for the whole family’s eating habits to suffer.

Our dietary habits have changed a lot, but sort of in the opposite direction. We now have no snacky foods around the house, because there’s no fridge to keep them in, and because the kind that don’t need a fridge are very expensive!  It’s amazing what a lack of agricultural subsidies will do to the price of junk food. No matter how much I may (or may not) crave chips or cookies, we can’t afford that stuff!  Before the move (and the pregnancy), we ate dinner separately, because I worked evenings. Now I cook dinner for both of us, every night. Nothing complicated, just your basic meat, veg, and rice or tubers. Also, we no longer have a car, so we walk everywhere. Probably, there will be weight gain for both of us, if/when we return home. But it won’t be sympathetic, it’ll just be returning-to-our-bad-habits weight gain.

One of the less exciting changes I’ve made to my diet is that I’ve started eating liver once a week. I have almost no previous experience cooking the stuff, and I really, really don’t like it. I certainly don’t try to subject my husband to this– I eat it for lunch, chopped very small and sauteed with ground beef and tons of paprika to hide the taste, and then he makes lunch with the remainder of the ground beef (minus the liver and paprika). The paprika does a pretty good job of making it palatable, and I’m slowly working up to eating a respectable serving. So far, I’ve gone from a thin slice the size of two postage stamps to a thin slice the size of maybe six postage stamps. It helps to squeeze a lot of lime juice into my glass of water.  I’m glad they sell it by the slice here, though. I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I had to buy a pound or more, like I would back home. Ick. If you know any other good ways to cook the stuff, I’m all ears. It’s not a form of self-torture or anything, I’m just trying to find ways to get the most nutritional bang for my buck, and liver is an awesomely good deal. We’re talking 10-20 cents a serving, for something that probably has more vitamin content per gram than anything else in the supermarket.  The more crowded my stomach gets, the more important it seems to make everything count more.

21 Weeks: Where are the Geek Pregnancy Podcasts?

I did get the maternity jeans, but right now they are drying on the clothesline– I had to wash them sometime!  So in the interest of being able to sit down without taking off my clothes, I have resorted to using the rubber band trick on my regular jeans. Not stylish, but that’s what long shirts are for, right?  Which reminds me, I need some longer shirts. I’m down to just two that will reliably cover up everything they need to cover up. I have a third that I can tug down that far, but when I do, I expose acres of cleavage at the top, so… no.

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts these days. They’re really handy when most of what I have to do around the house– laundry, dishes, cooking dinner, etc.– is pretty repetitive and requires almost no thought. I’m not complaining. It’s strangely confidence-building to know that I can keep up with my little household, and that as long as I don’t procrastinate it takes surprisingly little time, even without modern conveniences like a dishwasher, washing machine, etc. I begin to think that those “labor-saving” devices may not be much of an advantage. Is there any place for a dishwasher in a house with only two plates? Would it be wasteful to use a washing machine for two shirts and four socks?

Anyway, podcasts: I ran through my usual favorites at lightning speed: NPR’s Science Friday, Robert Krulwich, Robb Wolf, Jimmy Moore, Thomas Hopko, and the rest (yes, I am a geek).  Most decent podcasts only update once a week at most. But I can listen to four or five hours’ worth in a day, easily. It doesn’t just make my work speed by, it keeps me from hogging the internet when my husband wants to play with the computer. So I went looking for other podcasts to listen to, and found several addressing pregnancy-related topics. I downloaded a bunch, loaded them onto my mp3 player, and… ouch.  Here’s what I want to know:  is there something unique to pregnancy that makes women like the color pink, and cutesy and saccharine things, more than usual? Or is it just that women who are already like that are also more likely to be SO enthusiastic about babies and reproducing that they make more websites and podcasts about it than women who rely more on their rational capacities?  Where are the pregnancy podcasts by and for… the not-so-girly? Maybe even the geeky?

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Preg TASTIC : Note the inescapable pink-and-purple color scheme. Goes with the gag-inducing name. The podcast is very professional, has some useful information, but…  I can almost smell the nail polish and bubble bath.  Very mainstream, information-wise. Given my obsessive reading habits…  I didn’t get much out of this one, beyond the squirmy feeling I used to get when a group of giggly hairsprayed girls started a way-too-personal conversation in the school library without realizing I was there.

Pea in the Podcast: Isn’t that name just the most clever thing?  The pink is not so overwhelming on this site. It’s just the main header bar. Again, a really, really mainstream collection of info, that occasionally made me want to yell at the audio. And the presentation is downright patronizing. Ack!

Bellies to Birthcast: The name seems pretty neutral– nothing cutesy, and NO pink in the site design, so two points in its favor. Also it is geared toward natural childbirth, which is also a plus. But I’ve had a difficult time downloading the podcasts- not sure if it’s the site or just my connection. I’m still trying, but the one full episode I was able to listen to was really good. The others… I only got the first 3-5 minutes of them and was left hanging. Maybe next time?

Natural Moms Talk Radio:  I’ve really enjoyed this one, but it’s a huge archive, and a lot of it is stuff I’m not all that interested in (for example, interviews with people who run natural-baby and natural-beauty-care businesses). Still, I’ve sorted through and found several enjoyable interviews with interesting people.

Those are the ones I’ve explored. There are tons of others out there, but it looks like quite a chore to try to filter through such a torrent of sludge looking for the odd shiny bit of gold. Somewhere out there, there must be a Geek Pregnancy podcast.

Pregnant Ladies Everywhere, Baby Transport

It could be my imagination, or perhaps just some kind of selective pregnant-lady visual filter, but it seems like there are pregnant ladies everywhere here. The supermarket is not far from our house, but any time I walk there, I can spot at least one, and usually a handful, of obviously pregnant ladies. It’s oddly comforting. I mean, I stick out no matter what, thanks to the pasty complexion and not-black hair, but once I get large enough that my rain jacket won’t hide my belly anymore, at least that won’t actually make me look even more strange. It may even cause me to blend in a little bit.

Logically, there also seem to be ladies with babies everywhere.  What interests me is the way they’re carried. I hardly ever see strollers, which makes a lot of sense since so few people drive– I can’t imagine trying to haul a stroller, no matter how compact, on and off the chaotic buses. Most ladies here in the big city seem to carry their infants in their arms, covered in a blanket. I’m not sure if this is to protect them from the chill, the smog, or the stares of strange gringas in the street. Up in the mountains, where we spent a month before moving here, the preferred baby-conveyance is a brightly-woven shawl, generally tied in a knot at the mother’s collarbones, bulging at her back with the shape of an unconscious baby or toddler. On the odd occasions I saw the children awake, the shawl and the child had been shifted around so that the child could sit upright in the shawl and peek over mother’s shoulder. When the ladies sit down– whether to ride the bus or to nurse on a public bench, the shawl just gets scooted around so the child is in front. This seems like a pretty handy system, and I may try to learn it myself. Up in the mountains, the women don’t just carry children this way. I’ve seen them removing all sorts of things from their shawls: bundles of goods for sale, groceries, lunch, even baby llamas. Down in the city, you don’t see the shawls much– one wonders if this is just one of those things only the “indios” do, and therefore subject to cultural bias, or what. Maybe it’s just more comfortable if you’ve been using a shawl to haul loads since childhood, and city folks aren’t used to them.