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Waiting to give birth

Here I am, a day short of 39 weeks pregnant, waiting for my life to change dramatically at any time.

June was a busy month, trying to get a lot of things done, because I didn’t want to schedule anything in July.  We had the end of the school year for Peter, dentist appointments for the boys and me, a trip to the vet for Malou’s annual check-up and shots, two weeks of Monday-to-Friday swimming lessons for Simon, several Scout events for Peter, appointments with the midwife, an almost week-long visit by my dad and my brother (who came up on their motorcycles–note that this is not the brother I wrote about recently), Don was out of town for a week (during part of which my mom came up to help–she helped me stay sane), and my birthday at the end of the month.  Whew!  That’s a lot to keep up with even if you’re not huge, uncomfortable, and moving slowly.

The idea was that our July schedule would be pretty wide-open, so we could handle having the baby whenever it showed up.  However, things have changed so that we now have a fairly narrow window of optimal time to have the baby.  My midwife has been on vacation for the past week and a half and doesn’t return until the evening of the 15th, and I would prefer to have her at the delivery, so I hope not to go into labor before then.  I have met the doctor who is filling in for her, and she seems nice enough, but I’ve only met her once, whereas I’ve been seeing the midwife for many months, so I have more trust in her.  Then Don’s mom is coming up to help out for a week, from the 17th to the 24th.  My due date is the 21st, so there’s no guarantee that the baby will even be born before she has to go home, but obviously her trip would be more useful if the baby were born  at least a few days before she leaves.  Peter was born two days before his due date and Simon was born five days before his, so there’s a reasonable chance this baby will follow suit and come a little early, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

I feel calmer anticipating this labor than I felt before the previous two.  With Peter, it was my first pregnancy, and no matter how much you try to prepare, you don’t really know what it will be like.  With Simon, I had given birth before, so I trusted that my body could do it.  However, I had an epidural with Peter and I was planning an unmedicated delivery with Simon, so I was somewhat apprehensive about how I would deal with that, since I hadn’t experienced it before.  I had confidence in my midwives, but despite my preparatory reading, I didn’t have a good mental image of how a home birth would go for me.  It had been seven years since I had given birth, so the experience wasn’t very fresh in my mind.  I also wondered how much Simon’s birth would be like Peter’s–with Peter, my water broke before I went into active labor (which only happens about 10% of the time) and from that time until he was born was only 6 1/2 hours, much faster than an average first labor.  In the end, my water did not break until I was in labor, my labor was fairly quick (4 1/2 hours from the time I woke up with contractions until Simon was born), and the home birth experience didn’t go as I had even dimly imagined (mainly because Simon was born in the living room, when we had originally planned to use our bedroom).

This time, I have the confidence of knowing that I’ve given birth twice, that I’ve had an unmedicated birth and lived to tell the tale, and that my most recent birth experience was only four years ago instead of seven.  This birth will be different from the previous two, but I think I have a reasonably good idea of what to expect.  Although I found the experience of having a home birth with Simon to be incredibly positive and much better than my hospital birth experience with Peter, I am not planning another home birth this time, for the simple reason that the closest certified midwife who attends home births is about a two-hour drive from where I live.  Although she does attend births in this area, with my history of fast labors, I am not comfortable with the idea of relying on someone who has to come from such a distance.  There is at least one local person who attends births, but I am also not comfortable relying on someone who is not certified.  I need to trust that whoever is attending my delivery has the knowledge and skills necessary to handle whatever might happen.  Fortunately, there is one certified nurse-midwife in the area (who does only hospital deliveries), and I have been seeing her.  The hospital where she delivers is apparently the only one in the Upper Peninsula that has a water birth tub, which is pretty cool.  It’s rare enough for a hospital to have a tub that women can labor in, and even more rare for them to allow deliveries in the tub.  I meet the criteria to use the tub and I hope to do so.  I don’t know for sure how it will go, but I like the idea of it, and I’d like to at least try it.

Don joked that we need to stop having kids because we’re running out of different ways to do it.  Assuming all goes well this time, I will not have given birth by c-section, which is a significantly more common way to give birth in the US or Canada than having a home birth or a water birth, but I can live without having that experience.  We do plan for this to be our last baby.

Peter’s last day of fifth grade was on Friday, the 10th.  When we celebrated the end of Simon’s preschool year, Peter indicated that he wanted a celebration for his end of elementary school, so I agreed to come up with something for him.

I put up streamers and blew up some balloons to provide a festive atmosphere.  I intended to put the balloons in our mini-van to surprise him when we picked him up from school (not something I usually do, but his bus ride home is an hour long, so I picked him up as a special last-day thing).  However, Peter only had a half day of school, I forgot to blow the balloons up first thing in the morning, we went to Simon’s gymnastics class, and then we went to Peter’s school right from there.  I was disappointed that I forgot, but Peter didn’t know the difference, so I guess no real harm was done.

I had a special lunch for the boys (Spiderman macaroni and cheese with broccoli), but we did the actual celebration after dinner so that Don could participate (he was at work during the day).  After searching the internet for inspiration, I had bought a few special snacks.  I decided to put each one in a paper lunch bag and wrote on the bags.  The first said, “Congratulations, fifth grade graduate!”  Inside were Fruit Roll-Ups with ribbons tied around them to make them look like diplomas (except that they were bright green).  The second bag said, “You’re o-fish-ally done with elementary school!” and contained Goldfish crackers.  The third bag asked, “Orange you glad you’re done?” and had orange Powerade.  The fourth bag proclaimed, “You’re one smart cookie!” and had chocolate chip cookies inside.  I should have checked my notes instead of working from memory because I forgot to do one of the snacks I planned (the only one I didn’t have to buy anything for)–the bag was going to say “Elementary school is toast!” with a piece of toast inside.

All in all, it was a success–a fairly simple, inexpensive celebration that recognized Peter’s big day and made him feel special.

Peter's celebration

“So the news is out, I’m transitioning.  In the last year I have found who I truly am and that I’m much happier living a female life.”  Thus began a message that my brother posted on Facebook about a month ago.  I stared at it in disbelief, along with the photo of him in pigtails, wearing a low-cut purple top.  Was this really my brother—who rides a motorcycle and shoots guns as a hobby?  I was shocked by both his news and the way I learned it.  Courteous people in this day and age share major personal news with close friends and family before announcing it on social media.

Reaction to his post was swift and positive.  The “likes” and “loves” added up.  Comments included “I’m so proud of you,” “It takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing,” and “I’m glad you found yourself.”  Our aunt who lives in North Carolina wrote, “You are welcome to use any bathroom in my home.”  I “liked” her comment, but I couldn’t bring myself to “like” his post.  When I was 7 years old and my mom was pregnant, I wanted a sister—but 29 years later, it’s a different story.

I am reasonably open-minded.  I support gay marriage.  I attend a church that is intentionally welcoming of LGBT people.  I figure other people’s sexual preferences and practices are none of my business as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.  However, being transgender goes beyond what happens behind closed doors.  Gender is a fundamental part of a person’s identity.  I’m having difficulty adapting to calling the person I knew as my brother by a different name and using different pronouns to refer to him (I know, I should be saying “her,” but I’m not there yet).  I suppose that I shouldn’t think of him as my brother anymore, but I can’t think of him as my sister.

It would be easier if he were just gay.  If he were gay, at least he’d still be my brother.  Now it seems like he has an entirely different identity.  I don’t know who he is or how he fits into my family anymore.  I’m worried about his future.  Although society seems to be moving in the direction of greater acceptance, being transgender is still not easy.  I’m sure that’s why, although he started hormone therapy last summer, he didn’t go public about his decision until now.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent too many hours in the middle of the night reflecting on what it means to be female.  It’s more than just wearing a skirt or pigtails (I rarely do the former and haven’t done the latter in decades).  It’s more than wearing pink and purple (I’ve never been a fan).  Part of the experience of being female is being perceived as female by society—which is where the pigtails and purple come in—but that is not the whole story.  One of the major factors of being female is living in a female body.  Even a post-surgery transgender female won’t share some of the most common physical experiences of women—menstruation, using birth control, or being pregnant.

At the personal, psychological level, I am concerned about the long-term effects of trying to live out of accord with one’s biological reality.  While hormone therapy and cosmetic surgery can make a biological male seem quite convincingly female, an artificially-created female will never be the same as a natural female.  What does it do to a person to try to live as someone that person can never really be?

Family members have asked how my husband and I are going to tell our kids.  We are delaying that conversation until it’s necessary.  Our 4-year-old does not have rigid conceptions of gender roles—he told me the other day that I was the king and he was the princess—but he is actively trying to make sense of them, for example, asking why road construction workers are men.  The preschool sex ed book I’ve been reading to him starts, “From the moment your life begins, you are either a boy or a girl.”  How do I explain that sometimes that might change?

In an ideal world, everyone’s gender identity would match their biological gender.  Life would be simpler.  There would be less confusion, fear, and hurt.  However, there are transgender people and we need to deal with that reality.  I recently saw a meme on Facebook about the appropriate Christian response to various categories of people—straight, gay, bisexual, black, white, rich, poor, etc.  For every type of person, the response was, “Love them.”

I’m trying to figure out what it means to love my sibling in this situation.  While I don’t whole-heartedly support his choice to transition, I also don’t want to hurt him.  I am striving to be respectful of his experiences and decisions.  Maybe the day will come when I can comfortably use a feminine pronoun to refer to the person I knew as my brother for almost three decades.  In the meantime, I am trying to keep an open mind as I wait to see how this story plays out.

Today was Simon’s last day of homeschool preschool.  Our preschool year has been a great success.  He has enjoyed read-aloud time and Montessori activities, made various art projects, learned basic French vocabulary, and started building a foundation of literacy and numeracy skills.  For me, it feels good to finish a year of homeschooling on time for the first time (because of the disruptions of moving, Peter’s grade 3 year got extended into the summer, and he returned to public school in March of his grade 4 year).

We had a family end-of-the-year celebration.  I put up streamers–they’re festive and cheap.  Every week, we did an art project making an animal whose name starts with the letter of the week.  Not all of the animals are still in existence, but those who are were all invited to the party.  Another weekly project was cutting out uppercase and lowercase letters from paper plates and decorating them.  I saved all the letters and we laid them all out in alphabetical order to review them.  We ate alphabet noodles.  We also had mini marshmallows in paper cups.  Each cup had a different number of marshmallows in it.  Before eating the marshmallows, you had to use pretzel sticks to make tally marks (which we’ve been using in our math lessons) to show how many marshmallows were in the cup.  Then you got to eat the marshmallows and the pretzel sticks.  It was nice to celebrate by highlighting some of the things Simon has learned.

Preschool animals

Simon’s animal friends

End of alphabet

The end of our paper plate alphabet–X-ray X, yellow yarn Y, and zig-zag Z

I am looking ahead to next school year, which we are calling junior kindergarten (that’s what it’s called in Ontario–kids there have two years of kindergarten, starting at age 4), with mixed feelings.  I am a little sad that Simon doesn’t have the opportunity to go to a French-language school like Peter did at that age; I am doing activities with him to help him learn French but I don’t expect him to develop the fluency that Peter has because he won’t have as much exposure to the language.  On the other hand, school was not a completely positive experience for Peter at that age, so I am glad to spare Simon some of those stresses.  I am excited about being able to continue homeschooling him; it’s so rewarding to see him learn.  The plans I have for next year are similar to those I had for this year, so enjoyable, quality educational experiences should be in store.  Finally, I am also nervous about how homeschooling is going to go with a baby in the house.  I remember how exhausting the early months with a baby are, and how much work babies are, so I expect homeschooling to be more challenging.  However, like preschool, junior kindergarten is not super-demanding, so I trust that we’ll be able to make it through.  This year was a success in large part because of the flexible way I scheduled it, and I suspect that my flexible scheduling will be even more important next year.  For now, though, it’s time to get into summer vacation mode and get ready for this baby (due in two months).

 

Of course, as soon as I got around to posting some reflections, I realized that I missed others.

My brain works just as fast as ever, though my body has slowed down considerably. This can be frustrating, because I notice and think about the things I should be doing, but I just don’t have the energy to do them all.

Another of the annoyances of pregnancy is dealing with maternity clothes. Maternity clothes can be very expensive, you only wear them for a relatively short time, and the way they fit keeps changing. I suppose if I had a huge budget for them, I might have a selection of clothes that I was happier with, but that’s not me, especially as I expect this to be my last baby. When I was pregnant with Simon and working as a teacher, I spent some money to develop a reasonably professional-looking maternity wardrobe. I still have most of those clothes–the majority bought second-hand and a few things I bought new. One of Don’s colleagues had a baby in the fall and then passed on her maternity clothes to me, which was a nice surprise. Not everything fits me well or is exactly my style (which is true of all my maternity clothes), but at least it gives me more options. To me, wearing maternity clothes is sort of an exercise in humility, not getting too attached to things like clothes and appearances. As long as I have clothes that sort of fit and cover my body, I shouldn’t really complain. Plus I get to reflect on the temporary-ness of my situation; I don’t have to wear these clothes forever. How wonderful it will be when I can wear my own, normal clothes again!

Having gained so much weight in a relatively short period of time, I can feel the strain in my legs and feet. It gives me an appreciation for some of the physical stresses caused by obesity.

A final reflection is on the weirdness of having another living being inside of me. As you might imagine if you haven’t experienced it, it is strange (and sometimes uncomfortable) to feel the baby moving inside. Even stranger, though, is watching my belly distend and move around as the baby moves. Sometimes a hard lump sticks out and I wonder what body part it is.

Here I am, at the beginning of the third trimester.  Unfortunately, I feel like it’s going to be a long three months until I meet this baby.  I’m already physically uncomfortable much of the time, and it’s not going to get better any time soon.  Do a Google image search for “primitive fertility goddess” and that’s what my body looks like–huge breasts and bulging belly.  Getting up from a sitting position or putting on socks is a challenge.  Sleeping requires a precise arrangement of seven pillows of various shapes and sizes in order to be reasonably comfortable.  I’m looking forward to starting the month of May tomorrow.  I know it’s only one day from today, but July doesn’t seem quite as far away from May as it does from April.

Pregnancy makes me appreciate the power of biology.  My body is going through all these changes and doing all the things it needs to do to grow a new human being, and it’s doing it all on its own.  The baby is growing from a ball of cells into a full-fledged human being.  Its body knows what to do.  All I’m really doing to help is taking prenatal vitamins and vitamin D and iron supplements, as recommended by my midwife.  I couldn’t consciously, intentionally grow a baby, but biology knows what to do and is taking care of it.

 

I wrote a fairly extensive post on homeschooling for preschool back in 2009.  An even more extensive comment that was made on my post a couple months ago brought it back to my attention.  It was interesting to re-read my post six years later and see how my approach to homeschooling for preschool has evolved.

My overall approach to literacy education is very similar.  I still swear by Diane McGuinness’ book Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It.  I am still using The Phonics Handbook by Sue Lloyd.  This time around, I am photocopying the page for each letter and having Simon color it, since he doesn’t mind coloring (Peter really disliked it).  We’re doing slightly different practice activities, such as tracing Montessori sandpaper letters and playing Go Fish and memory/matching games with index cards that I wrote the letters on.  One thing I am doing differently this time is teaching uppercase and lowercase letters together; with Peter, I focused on lowercase letters, but then when he started reading he had to go through a period of learning which uppercase letters corresponded with which lowercase letters.  I’m taking it slow on introducing letters/sounds, going at a pace of one a week, in the order that they are presented in the Jolly Phonics program.  This gives us time to do the Jolly Phonics story/action/coloring page and two art projects per letter, and it’s not an overwhelming pace for Simon, who was 3 1/2 when we started.  Because we took several weeks off here and there, we’re about halfway done with the alphabet (I know there are more sounds than letters, but I’m focusing on the most common sound associated with each letter for now, and we’ll get to digraphs and alternate pronunciations later).  We practice segmenting and blending orally a couple times a week; Simon can identify the first sound in a word pretty reliably, but has trouble with the last (or any other) sound, and he doesn’t have the hang of blending yet.  It will come.

I have added the book Alphabet Art by Judy Press.  Even though I don’t do the rhymes and fingerplays in the book because they focus on letter names instead of sounds, this book has still been a great resource.  Every letter has an art project to make the capital and lowercase letter out of cut and decorated paper plates; for example, M has macaroni glued on and S is “silver” (wrapped in aluminum foil).  Each letter also has an art project to make an animal that starts with that letter.  I have been impressed that all of the projects have been relatively simple and use inexpensive materials that I mostly already have around the house, like yarn, paper bags, aluminum foil, paper muffin cups, and pipe cleaners.  Simon is getting good fine motor skills practice cutting the letters out of paper plates and doing the gluing, etc.  It’s good exposure to the letter shapes, and he enjoys playing with the various animals that we’ve made.  For me, it’s been motivating to have appropriately-scaled art projects all planned out; I always felt like I should be doing more creative stuff but didn’t have the energy to plan it.

I chuckled when I read that I had written, “I’ve had a hard time finding decent simple phonics readers at a reasonable price.”  I really struggled to find appropriate very-beginning phonics books; most “phonics” books use too many irregular/more advanced words, and most have very little text and rather dull stories.  I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found Little Stories for Little Folks.  For less than $1 per story booklet, the forty-five stories in this program progress from extremely simple (only two short vowel sounds are used in the first story) to what is easily second-grade-level text.  They are broken up into four levels; when Peter went through them, we had a family celebration with ice cream every time he finished a level.  They don’t dovetail perfectly with Jolly Phonics; that’s why I’m skipping digraphs like “ch” and just teaching Simon the most common sound for each letter.  Little Stories for Little Folks develops basic reading fluency before introducing digraphs and other more complicated phonics. I found them a great value, and they helped Peter become a very strong reader (at the beginning of this school year, in 5th grade, he tested at a high school reading level).  Note that Little Stories for Little Folks is an unapologetically Catholic program.  If you’re not Christian, then you might not be comfortable with the content.  If you’re a non-Catholic Christian, you might be okay with using it, knowing that you would have to explain a few Catholic vocabulary words and/or concepts (such as the rosary and the fact that priests are called “Father”).  As an aside, the person who commented on my previous post made me aware of these free phonics readers based on the Jolly Phonics program.  They look like a wonderful resource.  I don’t plan to use them for Simon, however, because I want him to learn to read from paper, not from a screen (I know they can be printed, but that would be an extra expense).  I already have Little Stories for Little Folks and I like it, so I will use it again.

Math is the area that I’m doing completely differently with Simon than I did with Peter.  I started Peter in Saxon Math K, then we did some Singapore Earlybird math, and then I came across an incredible program called RightStart Math.  This program is hands-on, very visual, and focuses on building mathematical concepts; I wish I had learned math this way.  Because Peter had already done two years of kindergarten math before I found RightStart, I started him in RightStart level B.  With Simon, I’m skipping the other programs and starting him in RightStart level A.  Level A is technically a kindergarten program, and we started when Simon was 3 1/2, but I am taking it very slowly for now and he is keeping up (Peter did Saxon Math K full-speed starting at age 3 1/2, but I also think Saxon Math K was less intellectually challenging).  We have been doing one lesson a week, repeating so that we’re doing the same lesson two weeks in a row.

Read-aloud is still a big part of homeschool preschool.  We’ve mostly been reading picture books from the library, but we have recently started on some of the books from Sonlight’s pre-kindergarten list.  Simon was enchanted by the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories and is now enjoying the Uncle Wiggly stories.  I love how older children’s books have sweet, innocent stories and rich vocabulary; they are so different from modern books written for children.

When I was homeschooling Peter for preschool, I was actually afterschooling him.  I was working full-time and Peter attended a center-based preschool part-time while my husband was in school.  This time around, Simon is home with me full-time.  I am making an effort to do things with him (like crafts) that I didn’t do with Peter because I figured that the preschool Peter went to would pick up the slack.  Every month I print out a blank calendar and put it on the fridge.  Every day, Simon and I color the day’s square following a pattern (this month, it’s orange-orange-blue-blue).  We have our Montessori room and we do Montessori activities a couple times a week.  I feel like we should do Montessori more often and I would if Simon were more independent, but he always wants me in the room with him, usually wants to talk to me about what he’s doing, and often wants me to do it with him.  It’s a great learning experience for him, but it means I get nothing else done for an hour or more, and I can’t always afford that.  I try to incorporate some French into every day, whether it’s responding to him in French, playing a game, discussing a book, or just watching tv.  In addition to our weekly grocery shopping trip on Mondays, we have been going ice skating on Wednesdays, sometimes to story/craft time at the library on Thursdays, and to gymnastics lessons on Fridays.  Of course, other things pop up here and there too, like taking Peter to the dentist.  I try to have at least one day a week where we don’t leave home; those are the days that I get (sort of) caught up on housework.

I’ve deliberately taken a flexible approach to scheduling this year and it has been going well.  I suspect that next year will be more challenging, with the addition of a baby to the household, but if I remain flexible and focus on what’s most important, I think we can make it work.

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