Monday, September 21, 2009

Dr. Seuss

We have entered the proverbial final stretch, having passed the 34-week mark, with (less than?) six weeks to go. And I am feeling an unprecedented combination of excitement and anxiety. Luckily, to help unfray our nerves with comic relief/shocking pronouncements, we have Dr. Seuss (rhymes with her real name). Dr. Seuss is our OB/GYN, who comes highly recommended by former expat patients. She speaks fluent English, which helps. Her bedside manner is laconic, which sometimes doesn't. And, most importantly, she can be counted on to provide at least one slightly-to-very racist comment per visit. The first time we saw her, she asked about my mother's labor history. I replied that both my sister and I arrived via difficult births, which perhaps could be attributed to the fact that my father is a good ten inches taller than my mother. To which Dr. Seuss replied, "So, your father is not Korean?" No, I explained - in fact, neither of my parents are, as they are both Chinese. She seemed quite dumbfounded by my response (implying that she didn't think there could be such a thing as a tall Asian male).
On another visit, I inquired about counting kicks, a practice that is recommended by What to Expect When You're Expecting after 28 weeks. Looking at me like I was crazy, Dr. Seuss replied, "That is just silly. Do you really think they do that in Africa?"
But it was only in the last visit that Dr. Seuss outdid even herself. After a fairly satisfying discussion about the details of labor (epidural, episiotomy, etc.), she attempted to reassure me by saying, "But you will be fine. Your labor will be easy, because you are Asian." Before I could even say "Excuse me?" she explained, "It is true . . . labor is easier for Asians. And also for blacks. But for whites, it is harder."
While completely preposterous, I found her positive stereotyping interesting in that it seems to represent a broader tendency here to idealize more "primitive" cultures. And while I don't really doubt her medical competence - which is why I have decided to keep her as my doctor for this birth - I do wonder whether (and shudder to think that) her biases might influence important intervention decisions during labor. And, once again, I have to ask myself the question that seems to come up again and again: whether this behavior can be attributed to outright bigotry, narrow-minded provincialism, or both. (And at the risk of sounding prejudiced myself, to what extent Dr. Seuss is simply being . . . Belgian.)              

Friday, July 17, 2009

Parents Magazine and Parental Fuss

Part of the charm of living abroad is that we receive the New Yorker on the later side - and the delay is consistently inconsistent. (I could read it online, which would also be cheaper, but it's just so much nicer and easier to navigate in print.) One article I read belatedly was Jill Lepore's Baby Talk, ostensibly a review of two recent parenting books/memoirs, but even more so an interesting run-through of the founding of Parents magazine and the birth of the parenting literature genre. (In other words, an article I would have skipped six months ago.)
As Lepore notes, "Middle-class mothers and fathers turned out to be a very well-defined consumer group, easily gulled into buying almost anything that might remedy their parental deficiencies." To which, having bought and studied Baby Bargains and agonized over our registry for longer than necessary, I would have to respond: "Um, yeah."
Lepore does a pretty good job - and, of course, is not the first to do so - dispelling the myth of perfect parenting as hawked by these publications. With which I am in general agreement: there is a concept in psychology (specifically, within the object relations school, attributed to Winnicott) of the "good-enough mother" that makes a lot of sense to me.  Although, on the other hand, I must also admit that - as a first-time, middle-class, and probably insecure parent-to-be - I don't mind getting all the help and support I can get.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

He Looks Just Like J!

Last week we had the opportunity to go the hospital where I will be delivering, Clinique Edith Cavell, for some serious sonography. Amazingly, the screen on our doctor's machine, which seems to date back to the '60s, can no longer accommodate our future arrival's full body. I had never seen a 3D/4D (does anyone know what the 4th dimension is?) ultrasound, so I was pretty amazed. The level of detail is mind-boggling . . . down to the very last vertebra and rib, and each of the heart's four chambers - wow. We even got a preview of the little guy's face (complete with nose smushed against my stomach), and the resemblance to J is striking.   

Unwarranted Abuse

I read with shock and horror the comments posted recently to a Motherlode posting on the NYT site about one woman's first-hand experience adopting a girl with special needs from China. (Full disclosure: my sister works for this person, Jenny Johnson, at Hometta. I've only met Jenny once.) Granted, any comments list on any blog in any corner of cyberspace tends to be populated with at least biting acerbity, if not malignant slander. But Jenny, whose contribution I found quite moving, is actually going through the effort of adopting a girl with scoliosis all the way from China. And trust me, counter to some of the commenters' suggestions, this little girl would not be better off if she stayed in China, even if that would spare her the culture shock of intercountry adoption.

Many of the critics attacked Jenny for what they viewed as her shallow motives for wanting to adopt, specifically, a girl: Jenny wrote that she has always wanted to use her grandmother's name, Rosemary, for one of her children. But, alas, she had two boys. Now, I can understand why such pronounced gender preferences can irk, and the fact that she can remedy the absence by paying the sky-high administrative fees (which does not equal "buying") to adopt from China may feel . . . inegalitarian. But isn't there a counter-proverb (because there always is one) to "The road to hell is paved with good intentions?" (And why can't I think of it at the moment?) I also do not buy the argument that she could have much more easily adopted from the same special needs population domestically when so many parents choose to adopt from abroad precisely because domestic adoption is a time-bomb-like logistical nightmare.

So, go Jenny! Don't be too upset about the commenters - they can't even tell "complement" and "compliment" apart, so they must not be able to help themselves. I hope you and your family are having the experience of a lifetime on your trip to welcome Rosemary into your home.       

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Toxoplasmosis Et Al.

Please tell me I am not the only pregnant woman googling "safe to eat beef tongue pregnancy?" and "duck meat red meat cooked rare safety during pregnancy." To say that I miss a lot of my currently forbidden foods is an understatement. Add to the usual list one might find in the U.S. (no soft cheese! no sushi!) those foods decreed taboo due to the increased danger of contracting toxoplasmosis in Europe, and I'm surprised I can eat anything at all. Okay, I am exaggerating. And I am certainly grateful the tri-1 nausea has passed, and that I can eat at all. But I certainly do miss my (not-so-carefully-washed) restaurant salads and medium-rare red meat. Which, it turns out, includes magret de canard.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sonogram Says . . .

We just had our monthly visit with our doctor this week and found out we're having a boy! This was a bit of a surprise, as most of my friends (and I) had, rather unscientifically, predicted that it would be a girl - I had terrible nausea, I was not experiencing "boy food" cravings, etc. Even the proprietress of a wine store in San Fedele, Italy, had pronounced the arrival-to-be a girl (even though I wasn't showing yet). So a boy it is . . . I can't say I feel overly confident about being a mother to a little guy, but at least now I won't go broke buying little girl outfits. Also, it's been rather interesting hearing people's reactions to the news. Some comments:
"Funny, I never imagined you with a boy." Well, you will have to now!
"That's so fantastic! So now you can have whatever you want the next time around!" We were thinking perhaps orangutan, or maybe even that less desirable option, a human girl. 
"Congratulations! Boys are much easier." Phew - guess we're on easy street now.  

Monday, May 4, 2009

Breast Feeding, Home Birth

A couple of articles that have caught my attention recently - probably because of my "condition," but certainly interesting in their own right:

- Via Judith Warner's excellent blog Domestic Disturbances, the Hannah Rosin article I've been waiting for, The Case Against Breast-Feeding. Full disclosure: when the time comes, I plan to breastfeed. We'll see if it "takes," and I hope it does. But I cannot support anyone who argues at all cost for breastfeeding, particularly at the expense of the mother's needs/concerns/mental health. Because if there is one thing I learned in psych grad school (and it may only be one thing), it is that the studies on which we've based our religion of breastfeeding are fundamentally flawed, because we cannot randomly assign mothers to the breastfeeding or non-breastfeeding category. And that these two categories oftentimes naturally fall along the lines of socioeconomic status. And that the supposed gains in intelligence scores are often little more than the margin of error. And, as Warner and Rosin point out, those who say breastfeeding is "free" (like my mom, who works for WIC) are not taking into account the opportunity cost involved in pumping, pumping, pumping - all day long. (Moo!)

- Controversy-stirring (gotta love NY Magazine, even when you're not living there anymore) article about "new leader of the home birth movement" Cara Muhlhahn, who is willing to oversee home births even for high-risk cases, but is accused by her detractors of, among other things, using St. Vincent's as a dumping ground when cases go awry. Article talks about the nearly viral power of the Ricki Lake documentary The Business of Being Born (which I haven't seen and probably won't be able to, given my geographic location). Also makes you wonder why some of the most "nonconformist," fringey New Yorkers are also some of the herdiest - to the point of risking their newborns' lives. Compare and contrast with, say, the Netherlands, where home birth is neither a trendy elective nor a Big Deal - and they have it down to a science.