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Dec 27 2013

Torah MOMentary: What Pharaoh & New Moms Have in Common

By at 10:47 am

frogs plagues

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Vaera. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

This week’s portion, Vaera, contains seven of the 10 plagues that God sends Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.

After each plague, Pharaoh begins to relent, but then he (or, weirdly, God) “hardens his heart” and decides he actually does need those Israelite slaves after all. And so the plagues increase, all the way into next week’s portion.

Reading about these plagues and Pharaoh’s resistance to let those Israelites go, I thought about how hard it is to change after a long time. What does it take to convince a stubborn person to loosen their grip, to be more gentle, to change their life? And why do I feel so sympathetic to Pharaoh even though he’s clearly the bad guy here? Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 17 2013

What If I Have a Girl?

By at 9:57 am

Pinky

I’m afraid of raising a girl.

I’m 20 weeks pregnant and very soon we will find out the gender of our third child. This is the longest we’ve gone without knowing the sex of our babies and the longer we wait, the more anxious I’m getting. I’m anxious because I’m afraid this baby will be a girl. And I’m not really sure what to do with a girl.

My husband has always wanted a girl; one he is convinced will hang onto her Daddy’s every word like a sunbeam. With both of my previous pregnancies my husband was sure we were having a girl only to find out they were both boys. I, on the other hand, breathe a huge sigh of relief when we see that little arrow on the ultrasound pointing to the boy parts. I joke we’ll have an entire men’s basketball team before he realizes genetics are working against him.

I can deal with boy parts. I had two younger brothers and am now the mama of two little boys. I have a general idea of how to do the boy thing. It was once said, “If you have a boy you only have to worry about one penis, if you have a girl you have to worry about all of them.” I’m not sure if that’s funny or horrifying. Boys are rough and tumble or sweet and sensitive. They wear shirts, pants, and shoes–no accessories required. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 13 2013

A Father’s Letter to His Unborn Son

By at 12:17 pm

father holding newborn son in arms

You are coming soon. And when you arrive, we will bless you. But for whom is this blessing? Is it for you? Or is it for us?

I can already feel the moment. It’s January, and the wind is leaking through the window. Your mother will be spent, and in the drafty night, crankily demand that I try to soothe you.

You will be at my shoulder, both of us stuck between sleep and alertness, barely able to see.

And then will come my blessing for you, remembering how my father and I recited the Shema together before bed. We would name each aunt, each uncle, each cousin, and then finish with a patriotic flourish that invited God to look after “all the Jewish people, the United States, and all Earth.”

Jacob to Manasseh and Ephraim. All the way down, from me to you. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 12 2013

The Only Pregnant Jew in Rural Maine

By at 5:03 pm

rural

I was raised by my secular, humanist Jewish family in the woods of central Maine. We were surrounded by lakes and maples, heard loons at night and occasionally, a moose and her calf wandered into our backyard, much to the consternation of our golden retriever. There were no sidewalks in our town, no traffic lights. My sisters and I played Laura Ingalls Wilder in the backyard until dark. It was isolated and idyllic.

That same isolation became disruptive once we entered the small public elementary school in the next town. We were raised to be proud and outspoken about our heritage, to speak up when teachers talked about Hanukkah in the context of “Christmas Around the World,” to bring in our brass menorahs and wooden dreidels and explain our customs to our classmates.

You may already know how this story goes. Sixth grade boys drew swastikas on their notebooks and showed them to me. “Do you know what this means?” they asked, feigning innocence. My sister’s classroom teacher referred to Judaism as a branch of Christianity, and her classmates called her a “stupid Jew” when she corrected her. A small blonde girl in my class kicked me as I walked up the stairs to the bus, hissing “Jew” in my ear as I fell. In middle school, well-meaning friends urged me to become a Jew for Jesus, to avoid my inevitable damnation. Our bus route took us past hand-painted signs nailed to a grove of trees that read “Jews = Sinners” and “Sinners Damned to Hell.” Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 10 2013

I’ve Been Talking to My Son About Death Since the Day He Was Born

By at 10:13 am

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I kneeled by my mom’s side as she lay at home in her bed under the care of hospice. “Bittersweet,” she said as she smiled through tears and put one hand on my small belly. That moment together would be one of our last. She died just two days later. I was eight weeks pregnant.

Prior to the very end of the year in which my mother battled cancer and then battled the side effects of the chemotherapy intended to attack that cancer, she was an active and involved nana to my niece and nephew–the kind of nana who got down on the floor to play, who sang and danced the hokey pokey, who listened on the phone with endless delight to impromptu cello rehearsals, and who worried, like any good Jewish grandmother, whether or not they brought a sweater.

My son has no other grandmothers. My husband’s mother has been quite ill for many years. Even if she was told she has grandchildren, we are not sure she would understand or remember. My husband’s stepmother, a lovely woman, has seen our son only twice.

As a child psychologist, I’ve spent time thinking about how to talk to children about death. I’ve read the literature. I’ve talked to my young clients about death and dying. I’ve advised parents. When and how do you tell them? How much do you share? What age is too young? Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 4 2013

How My 3-Year-Old Took the News of Another Baby on the Way

By at 12:22 pm

So with Jordana birthing her absolutely beautiful baby girl last week, somebody has to keep the Kveller baby boom alive so it might as well be me. I’m just finishing up the longest, most tiring first trimester of my life but we’re thrilled to welcome another little one in May. In case you had any questions,

….nope not an accident

….nope not just trying for a girl

…..yes we will need a bigger car

…yes we are staying in our two-bedroom apartment

….no I have not been feeling well

….yes I’ve lost weight, dry heaving day and night will do that but don’t worry I’ll get fat soon enough Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 31 2013

It’s Time to Get Aware of Pregnancy-Induced Breast Cancer

By at 2:00 pm

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“I’m a word person, but for this I have no words.” That’s how I started an e-mail to a good friend the day I found out she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. It took me a full hour to process the news, and I spent the next several in tears. That was four weeks ago. Three weeks ago she told me what caused the cancer: her second pregnancy.

Today I’ve found my words again. Chalk it up to going through the steps of grieving–grieving over her diagnosis–but ever since she told me that because she created life, she’s now fighting for her own, I have been angry. Not angry at my friend, who wishes to remain nameless–“The message is the most important aspect,” she said–but angry that after having two kids myself and knowing a very fair share of other moms and having an OB/GYN in my family, I had never heard of pregnancy-induced breast cancer.

My friend never heard about it either, so when she noticed a lump in her left breast, she figured it was a clogged milk duct. She had no genetic history of breast cancer and felt fine. In September, when her second child was 10 months old, she sought treatment for a cough and pain in her chest, back, and shoulders. The doctor diagnosed pneumonia. At a recheck a week later, he found the antibiotics had done nothing. He sent her for further testing, and on September 27th, she was diagnosed with stage four (metastatic) breast cancer.

About 1 in 3,000 pregnant women will get it, according to the American Cancer Society, and it’s the most common type of cancer found during pregnancy or within the year after delivery. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 30 2013

Nesting For My Fifth Child… Who’s Already Born

By at 10:00 am

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Jordana Horn recently wrote about nesting before the birth of her fifth child. We are also awaiting our fifth child, and this nesting period is different from our previous ones for several reasons. Most significantly, our fifth child is already born. He’s waiting for us in an orphanage on the other side of the world.

After our fourth child was born, darling husband and I were fairly sure that we were done procreating. We were less sure that our family was complete. Since my husband was adopted, adoption seemed to be a natural way to grow our family. A small part of me also hoped that by choosing adoption I might avoid some of the worry that I experienced during each of my pregnancies.

Parents in the adoptive community sometimes talk about the similarities between pregnancy and waiting to adopt. Personally, I have definitely experienced moodiness, anxiety, and weight gain again as I wait for this fifth child. I have also, once again, felt the impact of generations of superstition. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 24 2013

How My Pregnancy Cravings Led to a Quasi-Conversion

By at 2:13 pm

moroccon food

When I was pregnant with my son, I knew he was going to have blond hair and blue grey eyes like my father. I knew he would take after my American side–rather than his Israeli father–because all the time I was pregnant, I craved pizza, hamburgers, and Coca-Cola.

I was not surprised when he was brought to me: a skinny old man with blue eyes and strawberry blond hair. I gave him a name my Israeli-Jewish husband approved of: Eitan. In America we would call him Ethan, a Puritan name, to reflect my own American Protestant roots. I called him Eitan ha katan because it rhymed. Ethan the little. When my son was 2 years old, we moved, for six months, to Israel.

Conversion to Judaism had never really been a question. My husband and I married just seven months after meeting and I knew I had no chance at an Orthodox conversion. According to Israeli law, I would never be Jewish, nor would our son. And anyway, my husband had grown up on a kibbutz. His childhood was largely secular. His own father had been rumored to eat sausage on Yom Kippur. When we’d lived on the kibbutz for those few months, my father-in-law took great pleasure in bringing me wrapped deli ham from the Russian butcher as a Friday night treat. Read the rest of this entry →

Preparing for a Newborn With or Without a Superstorm

By at 12:45 pm

superstorm sandy boys

It was, as they say, a dark and stormy night. The power had gone out hours ago, and we’d put the kids to bed on the early side with flashlights and tiny battery-powered votive candles. That was when it was just a heavy rain.

But just a few hours later, the noise outside was cacophonous. Rain slapped the windows with a fury. Trees snapped like twigs, as gusts of wind pounded our old house and sent broken telephone poles like toothpicks scattered into the street. The dark sky lit up over and over with jagged lines of lightning, and an odd green luminosity that we later learned was produced by exploding electrical generators.

Among the many miracles of that Superstorm Sandy night a year ago: our old house remained standing and intact, and our children, including our week and a half old baby, O, slept through the night unperturbed. I, on the other hand, huddled under my husband’s arm as though he could protect me if a tree fell into our house. Submerged in exhaustion, fear and postpartum stress, I cried. Read the rest of this entry →

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