My Kid Speaks German! I Don’t!

Today I revealed that I don’t understand most of what my daughter says speaks German. Luckily for her, I don’t. Motherhood is so complicated.

Head on over to the Washington Post for my take on language acquisition, the power of circumstance in shaping parental identity, and children’s earliest individuations — or, put more simply, on being the dumb American at my kid’s daycare.

xox

The Secrets We Keep

It’s October! Which means that two years ago (!), right around this time, I thought I had the stomach flu found out that I was pregnant. It was a pretty miserable miraculous time; I felt very confused about the fact that I wasn’t supposed to share the news until I hit 12 or 13 weeks, when the pregnancy was deemed “viable.” So between watching serial episodes of The Good Wife trying to teach my students without puking, I wrote about it.

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This week, the Archipelago on Medium published my essay, I’m Pregnant. So Why Can’t I Tell You? (How’s that for a direct title?) This is a subject that people have wildly differing views about (SHARE! DON’T SHARE!). The discussion about it out there in the cyber world is already mind-blowing. (I especially love the comments made by people who clearly don’t read very closely.) I’m always curious to hear what you think. xo

The Edge of the Diving Board

When I was 26, I taught prenatal yoga. I knew absolutely nothing about babies or pregnancy, but I was already teaching yoga, my older sister was pregnant, and I was eager to channel my interest and excitement about my sister’s impending arrival into my life. The thought of having my own was not even on my radar, so instead I took a weekend-long prenatal teacher training. In three days I was certified, so I waltzed into a room full of pregnant ladies and proceeded to tell them what to do.

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They were very kind to me, these women who came week after week for close to six months, folding themselves into odd positions I thought—I had been told—were good for them. The truth was that I had absolutely zero understanding of how moving through a sun salutation felt for someone who could smell the fries from the deli six floors down and across the street, or for someone with a foot lodged under her rib. We balanced and OMed and practiced bizarre “labor-simulating” exercises, in which the women squatted against the wall and, in yoga speak, I encouraged them to breathe through the sensation for a full minute (the length of a contraction, I had read). No one ever reported back about whether these exercises were, in the heat of the moment, of any help at all.

I loved teaching these classes, not so much because I wanted to be one of them but because these women were on the precipice of something huge and scary and wonderful and unknown with an inevitable ending and beginning—and I wasn’t. I didn’t need to worry about my water breaking on the subway, or of a long, difficult birth, or of an emergency C-Section. I certainly didn’t struggle through downward dog, unable to see my own feet, pondering the sleep deprivation ahead. Sore nipples and colic and an altered relationship with my husband never crossed my mind (mostly because the idea of having a husband at all was unfathomable).

All of this meant that I could sit with my legs folded in lotus and my hands pressed together at my heart, and with total unfounded assuredness, tell these women who were inching closer to the edge of the diving board that they were strong and capable and could handle it all.

And then I could leap up in my little body—all mine and unchanging!—and go on with my day.

*

Of course there invariably came a morning when someone wouldn’t show up. And then wouldn’t show up again. And again. And we all knew why: She was having her baby. How or when or who had appeared we didn’t know, and given that this was before the age of social networking and mass emails, we rarely found out. The silence around the birth was the most remarkable part. After months spent together, watching each other’s bodies morph week by week, exchanging complaints and tips, cultivating a community that was built exclusively on this common, I’m-so-glad-to-not-be-going-through-this-alone, you-have-that-problem-too? experience, one at a time, they would step off the precipice—on their own—and never come back.

Obviously they didn’t come back because this was a prenatal class, so they no longer belonged, but something much more profound had happened: Most of them were first-time mothers, so they no longer belonged in their old lives either. They had crossed over into another reality in which their lives—as everyone says but is utterly incomprehensible before it happens—were no longer theirs alone.

*

Nine years later, I am on that precipice, and although I know more now than I did then about everything from the stages of labor to the dangers of Mastitis, the extent of this change makes no more cognitive sense to me now than it did then.

Yes, I have a wonderful husband and the pregnancy was planned. We have a car seat (but no car) and clean baby clothes folded in drawers and lots of friends with kids who are offering advice. My parents are here, cooking and freezing meals. I have spent months reading Ina May Gaskin and Naomi Wolf and Rachel Cusk and making choices—choices my mother maintains do, despite the fact that I claim to not know what I’m doing, add up to some kind of parenting philosophy already—but I do not think there is any possible way to wrap my head around the fact that a person (a person!) will come out of my body and the world I know will end and another one will immediately, indelibly begin. How completely the former will feel wiped out, we can’t yet know, but I see my friends waving at me from across the precipice, laughing and knowing and waiting for me to say, “Oh, now I see.”

Right now I see nothing. Or rather I see a whole lot of fleeting, made-up images that may or may not correspond to reality.

And more than that: the (perhaps arduous, perhaps joyous, perhaps terrifying) journey to the baby’s arrival—what my body is about to go through, and when—is a total, enormous blank. It is a story that will one day mean everything to me and my husband, but which no one yet knows. Never have I both wanted and not wanted to know a story more badly.

Tea Time.

People, we have reached the stage where everyone here in Vienna is asking me, “Haven’t you had the baby yet?” “Have you started drinking the tea?”

To which I reply, of course, “40 weeks is ACTUALLY TEN MONTHS. IT’S A VERY, VERY LONG TIME.” “What tea?”

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Apparently once you hit 34 weeks, it is customary to start drinking mysterious teas that you must go to a special Apotheke to get. These aren’t of the standard raspberry leaf variety that you can pick up at any health food store and have been put together by, say, Lipton. You also can’t get it at a BIPA, which is akin to a CVS. From what I can gather — which, let’s be honest, is usually not the whole story — these are special concoctions made on the spot for you by a pharmacist/magician in an off-limits back room. My midwives gave me a whole booklet of items to ask for. It took me three hours of translate the seven-page leaflet and includes a recipe for a power bar I am meant to eat while half-clothed and screaming my head off in labor.

A list of concoctions I should be consuming.

I first heard about these teas from the women in my lovely Pregnant-and-Uncomfortable Ex-Pat-Ladies Weekly Bitch Fest Mom’s Group — a lifesaver, really, so far from home — since most of them are due a few weeks before me. Sitting around at a juice bar staring in jealousy at the ladies sucking on fresh Apple/Mango/Celery Drinks drinking water (because of my borderline Gestational Diabetes diet I can drink nothing else), I would hear them ask over and over again, “Are you drinking the tea?” and also, “Have you started acupuncture?”

In New York, I was addicted to acupuncture — in fact, I had the best acupuncturist ever — but I have yet to try it here, mostly because I am terrified of letting someone I can barely say hello to stick a needle in my ass/forehead/armpit. Back home, if you were to tell your O.B. that you were doing acupuncture to induce labor, the doctor would probably laugh at you might humor you.

Here it is standard practice at the end of pregnancy. In fact, you actually do it at the hospital.

Let me tell you what else is standard practice:

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This massage oil goes you know where.

According to my midwife — who got into a squat right in her office and demonstrated the technique for me — this makes labor easier because you’re all…oiled up. She also said that starting at 34 weeks, I could do it with Olive Oil.

There are so many reasons I am happy to be giving birth in Europe even though the Austrians won’t give the baby citizenship and apparently the nurses in maternity wards give newborns fennel tea — FENNEL TEA!!!: A midwife-centered birthing culture, Kindergelt (a monthly allowance for each kid), free health insurance, a law that makes women stop working up to two months before the baby is born, and a standard one-year-long paid maternity (or paternity) leave. But mostly for these hilarious moments. How often does someone tell you, with a totally straight face, to get your husband to massage olive oil up there?

xo

PS: I realize I’ve been woefully bad about updating you on the pregnancy. This is out of sheer laziness wanting to keep some things off the interwebs. If you’re feeling like the last time you checked, I wasn’t pregnant at all, here are two posts to get you up to date: Number One and Number Two.