Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pregnant in Jerusalem or The Tale of Thirty Pounds

We found out on Chanukah. I must have taken ten home pregnancy tests since we started trying, only two months before. And believe me, these home pregnancy tests add up – almost thirty shekels a box! Nevertheless, I peed on a stick, and into a cup (depending on the brand) until we coerced that tenth test into giving us the answer we wanted: two thin pink lines instead of one.
                We lit candles that night in acknowledgement not only of the miracle of Chanukah, but of this strange new miracle happening inside of me. Of course, I didn’t actually believe I was pregnant. The second pink line was quite faint, and I hate to have my hopes dashed. Better to doubt and be pleasantly surprised than to believe and be disappointed. But my husband, the great optimist, was certain. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t make him come with me to a lab to get my blood tested. Only after the private lab results came back positive was I convinced.
Pregnant, how exciting! Newly married with a baby on the way! While my husband always (for all of the two months that we were married) treated me well, suddenly I was a queen. No more sweeping and sponga for me on Fridays before Shabbos – he took on the job with gusto. Of course, at four weeks pregnant, I was quite capable of doing these things myself; but why turn away kindness when so lovingly given?
We basked in our secret and stayed up at night going over the minutia of my experience – how did I feel, was I nauseous, tired, hungry? Nauseous, no.  Tired and hungry, yes. Oh was I tired. Oh was I hungry. I went to bed at eight every night and after ten hours of sleep woke up tired. Then I ate from morning till night. I ate and ate and still could not be sated. Or maybe it was just the exhilaration of eating whatever I wanted that kept me going and going. No more counting calories and carbs; I had an excuse to eat like I’d never eaten before.

At three months we had a scare. A separated membrane, the doctor said. Of course, he said it in Hebrew, and a “separated membrane” is the literal, not the medical translation. I still don’t know the medical term in English. But whatever it was, it got me a week of bed rest and no exercise for a month.
Now, I’ve never been the most fit person, but I did have a regimen of walking and jogging since high school, and yoga since before my wedding. When I got pregnant, I vowed to continue my regimen. Not only that, I added a pre-natal exercise workout that I found on YouTube. Don’t scoff – this video was 30 minutes, and it was intensive. It included exercises such as “rock the baby,” “baby-go-round,” and “listening for baby.” I loved it. Every other day I woke up early in the morning so I could do it before I went to work. On the days I didn’t do it, I walked to work – a brisk, 45 minute cardio workout.
But the separated membrane threw a wrench into my plans. I tried to eat less but had already gotten used to my gluttonous ways. Still, I vowed I would not be one of those women who, when you look at their wedding albums, you do about five double-takes between the album and the woman, not believing that they are one and the same.  I was beautiful at my wedding, and damn it, I wanted to be beautiful after my baby.
So once I got permission from the doctor to exercise, I resumed, but found it was very difficult to kick the habit of stuffing my face. And let me tell you, after years of being on low-carb diets and only eating bread on Shabbat, every day when I bit into a fresh roll from the bakery beneath my work was a little bit of heaven. So I guess you might say that my determination in the face of pregnancy weight was ambiguous; I wanted so much not to gain, but on the other hand, if not now, when?
My confidence in my ability to eat without gaining weight was compounded in the first few months –despite eating bread every day, I didn’t seem to be gaining weight! And I didn’t actually show until my fourth month, though I thought I was showing since my second. I took pictures of myself standing sideways with a hand over my belly to accentuate the little bump that appeared (but could be easily hidden by loose sweaters); during my seventh month I looked back at those pictures and laughed. You call that a belly, I thought.  In my ninth month I looked back at my seventh month pictures and thought, just when I thought I couldn’t get any bigger…

My doctor never weighed me. I was surprised. Rebecca, my pregnant friend in America, told me her doctor weighed her each visit to make sure she was gaining enough but not too much. But that’s the way doctors in Israel are. They give you a few terse sentences of instructions (never actual explanations), and that’s it. You’re on your own for the rest. My doctor, he was one of the best at keeping things to himself. But I wanted warmth, explanations, reassurance and more explanations. After all, a first pregnancy only happens once, and after hours of reading the dos and donts on the internet, the bottom line is always “Consult your physician.”
So I consulted my physician, asking questions that I thought were quite important, wondering why he didn’t offer the information without me having to ask (I was na├»ve in the beginning, and didn’t realize that Israeli doctors are secret-keeper). For example, can I eat fish? Well, duh, not only can I eat fish, but I should eat fish, twice a week. Good to know, I thought, all the while smiling in my sweet American way. Sometimes I wish I could be like my Israeli husband, who says what’s on his mind. I wish I could have said to this doctor, “Don’t you think this is important information for me to know? What else should I know that you’re not telling me?” Of course, Rebecca told me her doctor emphatically told her DO NOT EAT FISH.
The one thing that Israel has is tests. Oh, do they have tests. Every few weeks I found myself at the main branch of my healthcare service, thankfully only a seven minute walk from our apartment. The way it works here is that your doctor tells you what tests you need, but doesn’t administer said tests. You go to a clinic of sorts and they deal with you there. You then return to your doctor with the results. It can get confusing. But that’s socialized medicine for you, and at least we didn’t have to pay through the nose for these tests. We did pay through the nose for our doctor though. We went private, idiots that we are. While my husband maintained that ours was one of the best doctors in Jerusalem, I maintained that if I wanted a tight-lipped secret-keeper, I didn’t need to pay five hundred shekels a pop for him (roughly a hundred and forty dollars).
Still, we paid and paid and paid, and I ate and ate and ate, and eventually we started seeing a decrease in our bank account and an increase in my everything. I tried to cut back, but by seven months I had trained my body to eat so much that it was just second nature.

Nursing will take care of everything, I told myself over and over again. Ha!

Once the baby is born, I’ll go walking in the park every morning, with baby in stroller. Ha!

Listen, there are some mothers who run marathons six weeks after giving birth. I’m not exaggerating; a friend of mine did it (and through a big effort on my part, I manage not to hate her). But most mothers aren’t able to do that, I discovered. I certainly wasn’t.
After 42 weeks, I gave birth to a 3.5+ kilo baby girl (about 8 pounds). And although everyone had warned me that I wouldn’t get any sleep once the baby was born, I didn’t really understand. You can’t really understand until it happens.
I actually did not sleep. Because I had issues nursing, a lactation consultant put me on a schedule of nurse, bottle-feed, pump every three hours. That left about an hour or so in between for just the option of sleep; usually I was too stressed to do so. So with nursing not being the savior I thought it would be, with subsisting on virtually no sleep for three months and thus not having energy for my power-walks through Gan Sacher, the weight didn’t come off.

                “Nine months to gain the weight, nine months to lose the weight,” my aunt reassured me.

 Except that I became pregnant again three months after I gave birth. Oops! My grace period diminished by 66%, my dreams of being one of those women that doesn’t necessitate five double takes between her and her wedding album photos are dashed. If I thought I was big during my first pregnancy, I had no idea what was in store for me with the second! In my seventh month now, I am basically carrying the weight of two pregnancies, since I didn’t have enough time or energy to lose the weight from my first.
But there’s something else I have this time around that I didn’t have before (besides the extra thirty pounds).I have a beautiful baby girl who lights up my life.
Cor-ny, I know! But it’s the truth. While of course I still want to lose weight (and yes, I’m planning a perhaps-delusional exercise/eating routine for post-partum that is sure to make a dent, if not an impact, in my aspirations), now at least I see the fruits of my labor, no pun intended. And while I have my whole life to lose weight, I don’t have my whole life to have more of these beautiful babies.
And hey, the second time around, we’re much smarter. I don’t have to worry that my doctor is a secret-keeper; I know all the secrets already.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Married people have feelings too

There’s an idea in the single community that once a friend gets married, he or she falls off the face of the planet. I know this idea very well – I believed it for a long time.

When I was single, if a friend of mine got married, in my mind I said goodbye. What did she need me for now that she had a husband? After all, a husband was the ultimate goal – once you achieved it, how could you possibly be lacking anything? How could anything else deem to find its way into your life when a husband, the sought-after prize that every girl dreams of, is meant to fill your life so completely?

Then I got married. And don’t get the wrong idea – my husband is great and I love him – but boy was I thrown through a loop when I realized that marriage had not magically transformed me into a self-sufficient, self-contained wife to the exclusion of all my other identities – friend, daughter, sister, colleague. I was still the same me, with the same emotions and idiosyncrasies, the same me that wanted my friends to be part of my life. Because, contrary to my previous notions, husbands do not create vacuums that suck out all else; instead, a husband is a wonderful addition to the already existing universe of your life. But a husband can’t replace girl-talk-friends, shopping-friends, going-out-for-coffee-or-a-drink-friends. Who else would I invite for Shabbat meals if not friends?

Not to say that I don’t understand how it can happen – how someone can get married and simply disappear. The beginning can be very overwhelming. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, budgeting (all the fun things you didn’t have to do while you were dating) plus making time to talk and have real fun (the way you used to when you were dating) all take enormous amounts of time and energy. 

Then there’s your husband’s friends and family – your world has virtually doubled in size, rapidly. So I understand how you could be overwhelmed and accidentally neglect those friends who worked so hard to organize your engagement party, mitpachat or bachelorette party, Shabbat Kallah and Sheva Brachot.

Not to mention if you’re working full time, which I was. Not to mention if you get pregnant very soon after being married, which I did. All these things mean adjustment, and so, the first year I was married, I found myself checking my husband’s schedule before planning coffee or dinner with a friend. I waited till he was on the phone before I made my own “just saying hi” calls. I had a new best friend, and it was natural to want to spend as much time with him as possible.  

But even though I now had a new center around which to arrange my activities, I made a point of keeping in touch with my single friends. Not from a place of superiority, i.e., “I feel so bad that you’re not married that I must shine my lovingkindness upon you.” Not at all. If anything, I was grateful to my friends for still hanging out with me, since I was very familiar with the feeling of “You’re married, why should I bother investing in you?”

A few friends of mine espoused this ideology. At least, I assume that’s what was behind the sudden one-sidedness of our relationships. Or maybe they thought, “Why should I bother with her, she might give me a few minutes, but ultimately she’ll be focusing on her ‘couple friends.’” Well, my husband and I do have “couple friends,” but why should “couple friends” and single friends be mutually exclusive? Whatever the reasoning, it felt like I was constantly chasing these friends; initiating phone calls, text messages, Gchats, Whatsapps, you know, utilizing all technological means available. Sometimes they responded, sometimes they didn’t. Usually they didn’t have time. When I texted one friend asking if she wanted to meet for coffee, she wrote back, “Sorry, too busy.” No offer of a rain check, no smiley face. Offended at first, I learned to laugh things like this off. What else could I do? I mean, everyone’s busy, but the point of friends is that you make time for them! 

Luckily, most of my friends weren’t like that. I called them, made plans to meet up, and we all appreciated it. After calling a specific friend a few weeks in a row “just to say hi,” she said to me, “I’m so happy – you haven’t disappeared!” I was quite pleased with myself – this was exactly my goal!

But as time moved on, it became more difficult to stay on top of things. Pregnancy made me nervous, it made me fat, it made me want to stay at home in bed and sleep, read, relax and spend quiet evenings with my husband while I still could (as veteran parents felt compelled to smugly warn me when they saw my protruding belly). Still, there was Shabbat, and that meant cooking, which I enjoyed, and having friends over, which I enjoyed even more.

We invited different guests every time, but we had our “regulars.” You know, friends of ours who lived nearby, who always appreciated the invite and who we appreciated having, so why not invite them and make us all happy?

I also remembered what it was like to be single and to have to worry about Shabbat meals. How an invitation can bring such a wave of relief. No matter how popular you are or how many friends you have, everyone appreciates a Shabbat meal invitation.

Then I had a baby. And let me tell you, being an overwhelmed new mother on no sleep is not the best recipe for a super-social person. 

Still, my friends surprised me by making meals that lasted us for weeks – I was touched by all the love and food people were throwing my way. I was also validated – all my efforts at maintaining my friendships had really worked – my friends were still there for me!

A month after I gave birth, we were back to hosting Shabbat meals. Shabbat remained a bastion of the old normalcy in my new “abnormal” life, and it remained the best and only time to leave the craziness of the week and to sit down in nice, spit-up free clothes with good friends and good food.

The week was a different story; my phone calls lapsed, and my going out ceased completely, except for short excursions to meet my grandmother for coffee. So I tried keeping up with friends through texts and emails. This way, I could maintain some sort of connection even though I wasn’t feeling up to talking. It took a few months, but I slowly started coming back to myself, adjusting to my new “normal,” and my phone calls increased, as did my going out.

But who am I kidding? I’m not the friend I used to be. How can I be? Pregnant again, with an infant at home, I’m exhausted by the end of the day and go to sleep early (except on special occasions, like friends’ birthdays, engagement parties, housewarmings, etc.). And once you don’t go out on Thursday or Saturday nights, once you don’t go to the Chanukah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut parties, the Wine and Beer Festivals, the big Shabbat lunches with twenty people, you begin to fade from people’s radars.

Maybe not your good friends’ radars. But there are those other people, you know, the ones you really like but for some reason the friendship never took off from the superficial level, but you still really enjoyed seeing at Shabbat meals, parties, barbeques and who you really want to get to know better?  Well, those people disappeared. Because my table can only fit a certain number of people, and when I had a choice of who to invite for Shabbat, I chose my closer friends, not to mention that my husband also has friends – so I never really got a chance to invite these other people, even though I wanted to. And they certainly were not inviting me. Because once you’re married, you’re not really singles’ table material. And with a kid? Forget about it.

I didn’t really understand this until a few weeks ago. One of our “regulars” never made Shabbat meals. And so, I never expected to get a return invite, which is fine - most of our “regulars” don’t make meals and we’re happy just having them over. Except that recently, this person did make a meal, and invited pretty much all my friends, except me. I was quite hurt when I found out about it (and how would I not find out about it – all my friends were there!). Even though most of the invited guests were single, there was a couple as well. And despite my best efforts at giving without expecting returns – well, come on, I’m only human, and I couldn’t help but think: Why did they merit an invitation and not us? When I vented about this to a different friend of mine, she said to me, “It’s not personal. It’s because you have a baby.”

The more I think about it, the more logical it is. Who wants a couple with a baby at their meal cramping everyone’s style? What if the baby makes a mess, cries, spits up, or worst, poops? Moreover, why should my husband and I be invited when we have each other, and there are other people who don’t have anyone? I understand these thoughts.

But it doesn’t make it less hurtful.

So yes, it is possible for married people to disappear, to fall off the face of the planet, to write-off their single friends – but single friends can do the same to their married friends. It’s a two-way street. I believe the main onus lies on the married; it’s our job to make single friends know that they are loved, wanted and that their worth is not determined by whether they’re married or not. But still, for all my single ladies out there – this is just a reminder that married people have feelings too, and we hope you give us a chance at continuing our friendships!